No War Without the Draft

The droning on of the Iraq war is a tragedy of middle-class pacifism

The draft, the forced conscription especially of men in their late teens and early twenties forcefully sent off to learn how to behave in a war, has been as unpopular in Western Europe and the USA in the last 30 years as a fact of life since the days of the French Revolution.

But now, its end has paradoxically brought about a situation where wars can be fought without much care for the approval by the people, and hence without real concern for using military power and personnel wisely and efficiently.

The turning point may have been Vietnam, another war of wastefully managed people and equipment. At the time, relatively well-off college and university American students vehemently protested, and many youths got dispatched to premature deaths also because of their families’ lack of economic and political links to find a way around the “call to arms”

Earlier efforts had seen far fewer troubles. The minority today’s American political leaders served in Vietnam, whilst the majority of their fathers fought world-conquering Germany and Japan up, close and personal.

Fast forward to 2007. The draft is no longer, in America since 1973. All soldiers are volunteers. But whilst the Iraqi conflict is going nowhere, popular protests are insignificant, with no danger of a re-run of the killings at Kent State (1970) or the riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968.

In one sense, the droning on of the Iraq war is a tragedy of middle-class pacifism. Even if many people may be unsure, unhappy and/or against the war, they do not march down the streets: because the conflict does not impact the daily lives of most people “back home” (in the USA, but also in the UK),

On the other hand, all those that opted for a military career, perhaps during the Clinton years, have found themselves facing the prospect of multiple trips to Iraq, literally at great danger of loss of life and limb (and their mind, too).

Whatever their original “lifestyle choice” for the military, surely after the second tour of duty the Nation is unfairly taking advantage of them? Either the war is important and all resources should be poured into getting it won, (especially after years and years); or it is not, and so every life lost there, including those of volunteer soldiers, is a tragic waste.

Those volunteers have dedicated their lives to fight for the USA. This does not mean the USA have a right to treat them as consumables: just like even if policemen and medics, having voluntarily joined their professions, are ready to give their lives to patrol the street or fight infectious diseases, still the State does not have a right to misuse them.

And yet that is what is happening in the Iraq war, where 10 dead a week is treated as “good news”; pictures of returning body bags are forbidden; veterans are not given appropriate treatment; and now somebody is suggesting monthly group commemorations, instead of proper salutes to each of the fallen.

With the disappearance of the draft it’s as if wars, always too serious to be left to generals, have been abandoned to politicians.

After all, Presidents, Senators and Representatives live off votes. As so, if votes do not depend on the care reserved to military personnel including casualties, there is no democratic control on wars: the Republic may have its President, but the Armed Forces risk being at the mercy of a Tyrant King with the same title.

That is a tragedy in itself. With freely elected governments and parliaments, and fairly independent judiciary, modern democracies have been fantastically good at avoiding warring each other, whilst in the XX century tens of millions have died in armed conflict. Such a miraculous result has surely something to do with the checks-and-balances of the 1787 American Constitution, whence most others derive. Unpopular and/or incompetent leaders can be voted off the power chair, and delinquent ones can be brought in front of the Law.

The remedy, as in many cases, is in the middle. Don’t just reintroduce universal draft. Don’t just leave conflicts to “professionals” with the result that intolerable amounts of them will die fruitlessly whilst wars will drag on as long as money is still available.

Simply, reintroduce the draft temporarily and only _in case of_ war. And so ultimately empower the voters, that will have to face the real issues, and decide if the Nation has the stomach to start or join the fight.

If it has not, and the citizens refuse the draft, then there is no point in going to war anyway. If instead the Nation agrees it’s time to go to war then, the whole draft-risking electorate will have all the reasons to closely follow the conflict, and get their opinions fully heard: thereby re-establishing the full checks and balances of a healthy democracy.

And who knows, perhaps there will be no more escape clauses for former enthusiasts later to claim they never really believed in the war.