Letters to the Editor

Week of Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Shafted by the Draft

Who really fights in our wars: The counterrecruitment movement ["Pacifists for War," Nov. 2] is a vast and growing movement not concentrated in one political ideology, lifestyle, class, race, age, or area in the country. Amongst these tens of thousands of people, of course there will be some few who support reinstatement of the draft. But that it is a particularly viable or even popular opinion is another question.

Most people supporting a draft remember that it was a rallying cry against the war in Vietnam, and seemed to be a primary energizer in the '60s and '70s peace movement. What they overlook is that the draft at that time sent to Vietnam primarily children from working-class families. African-Americans disproportionately suffered casualties there. Children from the educated classes simply did not go, unless they were the very rare breed that also came from a military family. In fact, the war started when I was about 9 years old, but it was not until I was 21that I met anyone who had gone to Vietnam. My experience was not that unusual. The reason was educational deferments, by and large. But there were other ways to avoid going -- conscientious objection, statements from family doctors, documented psychiatric conditions precluding eligibility for military service, etc. If a draft were to be reinstituted, even if the educational deferments were eliminated, and even if women were included, the middle classes would still find ways to avoid serving. So we would be back to where we are now. In fact, there is already a draft in place -- the poverty draft. Recently released data show that the poor, particularly in nonurban areas, are far more likely to be recruited than middle- or upper-class urbanites. The point is, a draft does not equalize military obligations. It just makes one more hoop that the middle classes have to hop through to avoid service. The dead bodies are pretty much the property of the poor and uneducated, draft or no draft.

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For this reason, most progressive organizations oppose a draft. It is like the death penalty in that there is no way it can be made fair.

On the subject of the makeup of the counterrecruitment movement, it should be pointed out that it goes far beyond the traditional peace activist. True, peace activists were the first to recognize the increases in the military recruiting budget and its recent history, along with documenting typical recruiter tactics and relevant federal and state laws and regulations relating to recruitment. But the pure outrageousness of the war in Iraq and the persistent lies of the Bush administration have spread resistance to recruitment to every state and class in the U.S. In my experience as a counterrecruitment pioneer, what is particularly heartening about the counterrecruitment movement is its involvement of all generations. Suburban mothers are as likely to be upset about school recruiters as socialist students.

Further, it is ignorance of the first order to say that veterans are not part of the peace movement. In fact they are at the very center of it. I believe that Iraq veterans are currently suffering, to a very, very significant degree, post-traumatic stress, and for this reason many who might otherwise be involved in the peace movement are just now beginning to recover and realize what a terrible price they have paid for their time served in Iraq. I say this after several years spent counseling Iraq personnel who want to leave the military.

Finally, regarding minorities in the military, it is misleading to characterize minorities in general as more likely to sign up for the military today. Whatever the increases in the minority makeup of the military compared with it in the '60s, as for current recruitment, it is being throttled in the African-American urban community. That is because the Bush administration is so extremely unpopular. The only chance the military has to keep up military enlistment is to greatly expand its presence in the Latino community. Thus, as a practical matter, counterrecruiters should step up whatever efforts they can in the barrios.

Elianne de la Vega
Berkeley

A Friendly face:Several things need to be said about your article.

Claiming that the counterrecruitment persons are pacifists overlooks the long history of persons who have logically and carefully refused to be inducted in the military during our wars. The Quakers, Mennonites, and conscientious objectors from many other religions have made it a personal statement that doesn't involve getting involved with side issues, as it would have increased their penalties.

Aside from parents refusing to let their schoolchildren be contacted by recruiters, which is a legitimate issue since the military is having difficulty getting volunteer recruits, there are some issues which might have been mentioned:

The military units are a form of slavery.

The individuals are taught to act immediately without stopping to consider larger issues.

The place of democratic discussion is not encouraged between peons and commanders.

In short, the individual is reduced to little more than an unthinking human being.

I will be showing my copy of the article to friends and Friends. Thanks for having it, even with all the shortcomings it had.

Charles Smith
Berkeley

 
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