Bugle Call?

Draft. There’s that word again. From the mouths of generals to the souls of babes, a military draft has about as much weight to it as any other subject in this country. And for good reason. In many respects, being forced to serve in a nation’s military is the most vile form of subjugation. A normally peaceful person can be forced to pick up arms, fight and kill for a cause for which they have no belief. But, in the face of existential threats, a military draft becomes necessary to ensure the survival of the nation. The sacrifices that we demand of the draftee become secondary to the fate of all of us. That’s quite a burden to place on a person who did not sign on the dotted line voluntarily. And that is why there has not been a draft in over thirty years.

The issue of a draft, though it never seems to gain much traction, occasionally pops up, it being a time of war. The subject was addressed again this past Friday by President Bush’s war czar, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute. On National Public Radio, he said about a draft, “I think it makes sense to certainly consider it...And I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table.”

The general did go on to say that bringing back the draft would be a “major policy shift.” The White House was quick to point out that President Bush feels “that the all volunteer force meets the needs of the country.” That point is debatable, which is why there has been discussion of a draft. But General Lute was not saying anything new, and saying that all options are on the table has become such a constant political refrain, that it would hardly be wrong to say that any outlandish option one could consider is on the table, just because at some point all options get discussed to some degree. The phrase itself has lost its meaning from overuse. So there will not be a draft.

More than likely, there could not be a draft, and most of the politicians in Washington know this. Instituting a draft at this stage would be giving license for an indefinite extension of the war in Iraq. If the issue was ever seriously considered, there is little doubt that the howl from the nation could not be ignored by the politicians. That is why the White House responded the way it did after General Lute’s radio appearance.

We are not facing an existential threat. Iraq is a mess, Afghanistan is underserved, and there are thousands of real and potential terrorists out there that wish us harm, but, as has rarely been pointed out, terrorist attacks do not threaten the destruction of our way of life nearly so much as our over-response to them. Handing out tens of thousands of extra M-4 rifles to newly conscripted privates will not prevent any terrorist attacks. Such an expanded military could serve as an excuse to overextend it yet again, raising the possibility that the draft could be expanded. And over and over again, ad infinitum, until we begin to see pictures from overseas, like a recurring bad dream of wars past, of soldiers who were forced into the trenches, have no desire to be there, and draw little calendars on the backs of their helmets counting down the days of their deployment like it was a prison sentence.

On top of that, let’s look at the reasons our military is so overextended that people keep talking about a draft. The Army is missing its recruiting goals. Despite what many people think about them, young adults are no dumber than the rest of us, and they have just as fierce convictions. When they see a war of choice being bungled so badly by our leadership, there is understandably less incentive to place themselves in harm’s way by signing up. In effect, we are seeing democracy work its magic. Our military age population is voting on this war, and they are saying they don’t want to fight it. Good for them. They should be listened to, not casually threatened with a draft every once in a while.

After all, our invasion of Iraq was a choice. As it turns out, it was a bad one. Michael Herr once wrote about Vietnam, a war of choice that had a draft, “When all the projections of intent and strategy twist and turn back on you, tracking team blood, ‘sorry’ just won’t cover it. There’s nothing so embarrassing as when things go wrong in a war.”

Our young people should not have to pay with their blood for a war that our leaders in Washington entered unnecessarily on false pretenses, that was poorly planned both strategically and tactically, and that will not result in the collapse of our way of life were we to lose. Unless they want to.