The military draft changed a generation who still remembers; should it be re-enacted?
War begets death that too many heed,
From mad, and unconsionable, such dastardly deeds;
Oblivious roads flaming questions in need,
Yet we still lust for decomposed dinosaur feed.
While somebody's mom, Somebody's dad
Somebody's daughter, son, or brother
Rides back home in a black zippered bag;
Parents and loved ones awash in their pride
Too many fallen on this and that side.
In this war arena: gruesome, uncivilized,
A biotoxic reeper beckons to a desert of decorated ties,
Tending the disguise of peace keeper in Eden
Where they, perhaps, don't belong even.
I'd rather our troops make a positive stand
Rebuilding razzed patches of Ponchatrain's jazz.
Build houses, and streets, and fill up the holes
Where water has washed, wasting questioning souls.
Exponetial casuallties like memories grow.
Remains seems as something like rubble to blow
News pictures whisk the air, now faded thumbs shown.
As the United States continues armed military conflict, this summer of 2006, a new generation has inherited the position as the movers and shakers of our society. Those Americans under the age of 30 are the nation’s strength and future. They will, arguably, be the age group most affected by the conflict with Iraq. Computer literate, practically from birth, they lack experience in the direct effect war can have on all our lives. Secure in domestic tranquility, they have no comprehension of the governmental force war has exerted on its own citizens in the past. The draft could change a life of potential, to a fate of conscripted finality. During the Viet Nam conflict, American male youth had no choice about their contribution to the war effort. American had a draft.
As a girl of 16, I passively voiced my opposition to a war that was depleting my pool of available future husbands. Whatever politics were involved, I saw larger and larger numbers of 18 – 26 year olds shipped off to the other side of the world in the 1960s. The nightly news brought the war into view in my living room. It wasn’t a fictional movie, and my classmates were soon to be included as soldiers, fighting the invisible Viet Cong in villages and jungles, following orders they never asked to be given. I asked for a MIA bracelet.
A simple metal band, the MIA bracelet bore the name of a soldier missing in action, and the date he was reported missing; mine said, "Capt. Joseph Shanahan, 8-16-68. Thousands of such bracelets were imprinted and worn by those in the United States, as a personal memento of those soldiers neither dead nor alive.
Viet Nam era movies now show some of the inhumanity inflicted on prisoners of war. That John McCain survived his experiences in Viet Nam, still has a sense of humor, and still remains proactively involved in government, is beyond my personal comprehension. His unguarded admission that he’d still like to “kill Gooks,” is proof, for me, that war doesn’t solve hate.
The metal of my bracelet began to weaken after a few months of being “adjusted” off an on my wrist. I decided to leave it on all the time, and ended up getting a tan over it for two years. It was an annoyance at times. Then, I remembered why I was wearing it, and that Capt. Shanahan didn’t have a choice about the horrors he had lived through for many years.
Capt. Shanahan was eventually located, but what kind of resolution his family adopted for his missing status and life thereafter I do not know. I don’t know if he was fulfilling his family’s historical duty of military service, or if he was drafted. Once one found himself in Viet Nam, I’m not sure it mattered.
The draft changed life for every boy, who became a man at 18. At the end of the "war," 2,585 soldiers were listed as MIA/KIA in the Viet Nam conflict. The government's data base, as of this day, still lists 1,889 as "missing." That's about the number of students in my high school. This number is 14% of the 58,000 known casualties of a war fought in order to keep the communist domino from falling onto California. Imagine, that many, just gone.
The draft ended in 1973, the year I graduated from high school. Men are still required to register with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The draft exists today as only a “to call” option, should masses of soldiers be needed to fulfill American military obligations. Whether you were an 18 year-old entering college on a scholarship, about to be married, or about to witness the birth of your first child, was of little or no consequence to the Viet Nam Era recipients of our Selective Service System.
The draft was originally instituted in 1940, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Service Act. The entire country, though still at peace, was preparing for mobilization into World War II in Europe and the Pacific. Eventually, as men departed the country to fight, women filled assembly line jobs in factories. As shortages of commodities, such as sugar, arose, the government organized a more equal distribution by issuing rationing coupons. Coupons, as well as money, were required to get what sugar was available. The Greatest Generation made tremendous sacrifices in consumption of chocolate and the wearing of nylon stockings
The idea of not being able to walk into a convenience store and select from the many choices of chocolate, is unfathomable to me in 2006. However, during WWII, chocolate was a rare treat to find. Likewise, silk stockings (not 21st century pantyhose) were a rare feminine find. The country’s priority use of silk was in constructing parachutes. Citizens did without for the greater good—not a concept easily adapted to today’s “me first” economy.
The Class of 1940, of which my mother was a graduate, was the final year that seniors graduated as eleventh graders. By adding an additional year to the previously required eleven, senior male graduates were prime age for entry into the service of their country. Society can make great adjustments in order to fulfill its needs. The addition of an additional year of schooling happened in order for the US to most effectively use its human resources.
Since draftees have historically filled positions vacant due to insufficient volunteers, the draft was not an issue as the United States entered the Second World War after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Men were proud to do their duty for their country. In addition, in this era, a gentleman always opened the door for a lady. Our social customs have evolved, for the better or the worse, in the past 40 years. Inquiries into military service have increased since 9/11, though the actual number of enlisted servicemen has increased only slightly. Some military personnel have spoken against the continued US involvement in Iraq. Reduction in the number of American soldiers in Iraq continues to be a top topic as the midterm elections draw near. What do most Americans really want? If they tell their elected representaives, will they listen or stand by their political party?
When peace treaties were signed ending the conflicts in the European and Pacific theatres in World War II, the country’s need for soldiers decreased. Men returned home to plant what is now known as the "Baby Boom" generation. A popular song of the time, “How're You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm, After They’ve Seen Paris?” also had repercussions for the tens of thousands of women who had come to know liberation from the traditional “career” of being a married woman raising a family.
During the 1950’s, able-bodied men signed up, and were drafted, for their 18-24 month tour of duty. Soldiers lived a regimented disciplined life, instilled with maturity by necessity, and provided with training in marketable job skills. During the Korean conflict, many men who served their country did so on foreign soil. The catch phrase was communism, and political nomenclature termed our soldiers not as warriors, but as peacekeepers.
When called, Elvis Presley reported for military duty, and served his country in Germany. Americans staff our military bases throughout the world. One memorable recruitment poster encouraged men to “Join the Navy, and See the World.” One wasn't usually able to pick a favorite country as a vacation retreat. Those who were called, have generally served, or found themselves outside legitimate government recourse. The draft continued to fill a need during times of both war and peace.
Military service was, and still is, an excellent opportunity for an individual to learn discipline, job skills, and get paid a living wage while being supplied with food, clothing, and shelter. Let us hope it remains an opportunity, and does not become a requirement. Only those who have lived through it could understand the impact of the draft.
In training barracks, mess halls, and field patrol maneuvers, soldiers live life on the edge. Surviving rounds of ammunition, grenades, booby traps, and innumerable dangers lurking in daily pathways, while watching your best friend blown to bits right in front of your eyes--creates unforgettable and unbreakable bonds, and memories, and attitudes.
Bonding among conscientious objectors to war is more obsecure, though their intentions have been the same. When a draftee declared that he would not serve, he became set apart from the nation he previously called his own. A draft dodger could be imprisoned, or he could leave the country. The movie “Ali” chronicles the trials of one particularly unique conscientious objector, a fighter who refused to kill.
On December 1, 1969, the draft entered its “lottery” phase, which snared most 18-26 year-olds who had previously avoided the draft through deferment, which postponed the date at which one was required to enter military service. Men, who had previously “delayed” entrance into the military by remaining in college or getting married, received their numeric call-to-order. The married with children, and the academically proficient were then needed to fight in southeast Asia.
Blue capsules containing birth dates for all the days of the year were placed into a large glass jar, and drawnout, one-by-one, by hand. All men born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950 received a number. The first called were those born on September 14, the second those born April 24, the third December 30, etc. For more information, visit www.miafacts.org . The drawing continued until all dates had been assigned a number. This random selection sequence placed all eligible men in a numeric list to be called in the year 1970. Lotteries were also held in 1970, 1971, and 1972. The final lottery was held in 1973, as President Nixon deployed fewer troops to Viet Nam and the “conflict” drew to a close.
Students who received their draft number were allowed only to complete their current semester of study before reporting for enlistment. By legislation, anyone who was called from his job, or career, was supposed to have his job waiting for him when he returned. With the passage of two years, what job could be the same? What personal relationship could be the same? After two years of service in Viet Nam, no man’s life, morals, or sense of duty could be the same either.
Conscientious objectors registered, stating their opposition to killing on religious principles. Some people don’t want to kill other people. "War is not healthy for children and other living things." However, non-combat positions were not guaranteed for drafted conscientious objectors.
The question upon entry was not, “Do you support this war?” The question was whether one was able of body. For 10 years, boys became men in the service of their country, or by evading the draft by, among other ways, taking up residence in Canada.
The thought of today’s 18-26 year olds being called to serve their country would undoubtedly erupt into a new wave of vociferous objectors. To be plucked from your choice of life as an adult, just as you’re becoming an adult, is a premium price for a young American to pay for his country’s freedom. So many have already paid the ultimate price, and the toll of dead American soldiers continues to rise with every passing day.
However, be comforted, youth of America. Reinstatement of the draft is highly unlikely, according to ABC news analyst Anthony Cordesman, responding to 2003 rumblings of a returning draft. The level of expertise necessary to fill today’s high tech military positions requires many months, if not years, of training. The draft continues to surface in basic numeric quandries of our future deployment of troops in Iraq..
There is the occasional instigation of some congressional member to reinstate some form of the draft in order to fatten the reserve of especially health workers in the service. For the time being, the draft will not be resurrected.
Nevertheless, be aware, there are no guarantees. Should the United States occupy one or more countries as peacekeepers, there might be an increased necessity for mass ground troops. Likewise, large numbers would be required for situations of conventional hand-to-hand combat.
We entered Iraq in a war to overthrow a dictatorial oppressor, thereby filling the ubiquitous role of world police. In our quest to eliminate despots and terrorists, let us hope that our supply of military volunteers does not exceed the demands associated with pie-in-the-sky rhetoric and best intentions.