Another Argument For the Draft
As he has done during the invasion and government-building of Iraq, the president wants to spend money for Katrina-related purposes without asking taxpayers to pick up any part of the additional tab. Michael Rooke-Ley makes a compelling case that this is a time for shared sacrifice:
And so, at home and abroad, the levees have broken, exposing two Americas, rich and poor, from the battlefields in Iraq to the streets of New Orleans. Never before have we been such a divided people. If we are to make meaningful strides toward achieving our goals of equal opportunity and justice - among ourselves here at home, as well as with the rest of the world - we must devote ourselves to building communities, not empires. We must commit ourselves to a principle of shared sacrifice.
He makes the argument that shared sacrifice means equal participation in military service by all economic classes:
Without shared sacrifice, this war has little impact on most Americans. Pay any price, bear any burden? Not the privileged. Rep. Charlie Rangel bemoans the fact that "our young men and women whose economic circumstances make military service a viable career choice are dying bravely in a war with no end in sight. ... The outrage of it all is that no one ... seems to care. ... The silence can be deafening when a war is fought by other people's children."
Clearly, Americans do not want to fight this war. Enlistments have dropped to a crisis level. Now that parents are discouraging their children from volunteering, disadvantaged young people will be even more likely to carry the greatest share of the burden. The affluent stand above and apart from military service, especially from the enlisted ranks - the privates and sergeants - which have suffered more than 90 percent of the casualties and fatalities. Virtually no influential policymakers have children in uniform in Iraq.
We have severed the link between the people in power who make the decision to go to war and the people in uniform who pay the price for that decision. "Only when the privileged classes perform military service, only when elite youth are on the firing line, does the country define the cause as worth young peoples' blood and do war losses become acceptable," explains Charles Moskos, professor of sociology at Northwestern University and an expert on military affairs. "The answer to what constitutes vital national interests is found not so much in the cause itself, but in who is willing to die for that cause."
All true, but shared sacrifice is difficult to attain. The draft didn't put George Bush in harm's way. Rooke-Ley calls for "a truly democratic draft" and suggests that sacrifice has been more equally shared in the past.
Those of my generation well remember how the class-based draft during the Vietnam War era helped to divide America. (Under Selective Service rules established after Vietnam, college deferments are, thankfully, no longer allowed.)
But during World War II, through the Korean War and into the 1960s, most Ivy League men had to spend two years in uniform, before or after college, working and bunking with others of very different backgrounds and races.
Professor Moskos recalls that in his 1956 Princeton class, 450 of 750 men served in the military, whereas in a recent year, only three of Princeton's approximately 1,000 graduates served. At a time when the military was, far and away, the most integrated institution on American soil (though, by no means, immune from the ills of societal racism), this experience was a powerful, unifying force for class and racial integration.
Rooke-Ley thinks a bill by Rep. Rangel to mandate 15 months of active duty service, with no post-high school educational deferment, will be rejected out of hand. He's troubled by the nation's willingness to insist that only the poor die.
Whatever lessons we choose to learn from the war in Iraq and from the aftermath of Katrina, from the deepening divisions in our society and our increasingly unpopular role on the world stage, we must acknowledge that the levees have broken, at home and abroad, and that America's only hope for survival is to find, once again, the moral high ground.
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