Bring Back the National Draft: Its Only Fair
by Edward Allan Faine
I support reinstatement of the national draft lottery as proposed by Rep. Charles B. Rangle (D-N.Y.) on grounds of fairness and equity. All citizens should be eligible for the draft, no exceptions, no deferments, including women.
Fairness issues aside, a socially diverse military would benefit all those who participate, and as such, the nation as a whole. I came to these views early on, before I turned 21.
I joined the U.S. Army in 1954 out of necessity a lower economic class 17-year-old simply looking for an escape route. Out of work, unable to get a job, no family support, Board of Education demanding I rejoin high school and on the wrong side of the law, I had to escape, and the army was my only option.
While I came from a somewhat culturally diverse Southside Cleveland, in the army I quickly became buddies with people I had known only as stereotypes: Blacks, Jews, white Southerners, Puerto Ricans. Soon I began to see the other side of the cliché: Blacks did not live in ghettos by choice; Jews were as varied a people as anybody else; white Southerners were conflicted by race; and Puerto Ricans were as loyal to the United States as to their island homeland.
These new understandings accumulated over time as I witnessed heated discussions in the barracks; the unequal treatment of blacks and Hispanics; and whispered late night confessions by Southerners that they were as ashamed of the treatment of blacks as anyone else.
Equally important was my exposure to people who had experienced war firsthand. Coming from Southside Cleveland with its large population of World War II refugees, I had already become familiar with the human toll of war: the disruption of families, the loss of loved ones, the loss of pride and the daily suffering of the physically and mentally wounded. These refugees spoke of war daily it seemed, never in a glorified way, always in anger or sadness. One never sensed victory, always defeat.
In the army, I was among veterans of WWII and the Korean Conflict. They delighted in telling stories of their off-duty exploits in one country or another, but they never spoke of war, waving it off with, Who wants to hear about that. Just hope you dont have to go. I never heard a veteran of conflict brag. If they spoke of it all, they would recount an incident when they saw a buddys head blown off, or some such, and then grow quiet. When I joined the Army, the thought of putting myself in harms way never entered my mind. At discharge, I more fully understood the gnawing effects of war.
But it was my exposure to people of different economic classes that had the largest impact. I was fortunate to enter the service at the close of the Korean Conflict, when draftees most in their mid-twenties, many with families swelled the ranks.
After basic training, I was assigned to electronics school at Fort Bliss, Texas, with some 300 men, all draftees, all with college training, except me. They took a liking to me and badgered me to enter college after my stint was complete.
I followed their advice. I entered Ohio State University on probation in the field of electrical engineering. I owed it all to my army mentors, men who came from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, who instilled in me the importance of education as the road to opportunity and advancement.
When I left the army in 1957, I remember saying that everyone should serve. I believe it still. What better place to learn humility, various viewpoints and the real meaning of war as well as get along with people of diverse backgrounds.
Some say that the reason the U.S. now contemplates war so easily is that so few in the administration and Congress have sons and daughters in the military. But to me, the fact that so few have served in the military, especially on the ground as infantrymen or marines, is perhaps a stronger argument. How many of these governmental elite have known people relatives, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances who have returned from war injured physically or mentally? How many have heard their intimate heart-rending stories? How many have seen them break down at social gatherings when the pain of war and its many losses are recalled?
So why not citizen soldiers in the military? Its fair and equitable. Second, its educational and leveling, and that aint all bad. President George W. Bush says he believes diversity on college campuses is a good thing. Why not in the military?
Edward Allan Faine of Takoma Park is the author of childrens books, notably the Little Ned Stories, The Balloon Galloon and How The Frog Got His BREE-DUP, all available on amazon.com.