Tuesday, May 4, 2004

An Argument for Bringing Back the Draft

I have my own personal history with the draft – I was a conscientious objector in 1970 – but this op ed piece in today’s New York Times makes a very good case for bringing it back.

There are no immediate family members of any of the prime civilian planners of this war serving in it — beginning with President Bush and extending deep into the Defense Department. Only one of the 535 members of Congress, Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, has a child in the war — and only half a dozen others have sons and daughters in the military.

The memorial service yesterday for Pat Tillman, the football star killed in Afghanistan, further points out this contrast. He remains the only professional athlete of any sport who left his privileged life during this war and turned in his play uniform for a real one. With few exceptions, the only men and women in military service are the profoundly patriotic or the economically needy.

It was not always so. In other wars, the men and women in charge made sure their family members led the way. Since 9/11, the war on terrorism has often been compared to the generational challenge of Pearl Harbor; but Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sons all enlisted soon after that attack. Both of Lyndon B. Johnson’s sons-in-law served in Vietnam.

This is less a matter of politics than privilege. The Democratic elites have not responded more nobly than have the Republican; it’s just that the Democrats’ hypocrisy is less acute. Our president’s own family illustrates the loss of the sense of responsibility that once went with privilege. In three generations the Bushes have gone from war hero in World War II, to war evader in Vietnam, to none of the extended family showing up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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If this war is truly worth fighting, then the burdens of doing so should fall on all Americans. If you support this war, but assume that Pat Tillman and Other People’s Children should fight it, then you are worse than a hypocrite. If it’s not worth your family fighting it, then it’s not worth it, period. The draft is the truest test of public support for the administration’s handling of the war, which is perhaps why the administration is so dead set against bringing it back.