The Draft To Hot Up War Between the Sexes?

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I
think I came away from my time in the Navy in World War II with
a deep and abiding conviction that it was a terrible thing to do
to take a big chunk out of a young man's life, subject him to barracks
life, turn him, as well as could be done, into a robotic order executor,
send him into real danger, and perhaps take his life – all
for very dubious reasons. Of course I was thinking of draftees or
those who joined either the Navy or the Marines to escape being
drafted. I didn't think much about the people who, more or less
gung ho for war, had got into the services for a career and advancement
therein.

I'd
guess that my strong sympathy for the draftee was a projection of
my own strong sympathy for myself and my diversion from a proper
career path by the war. As it turned out, when I got back home after
three years, I had lost momentum and morale (always supposing I
ever had any), and it took me the devil of a long time to get anything
going in the way of a career or even a life that made any sense
to me. But it is not my purpose here to tell that story. Maybe later,
when y'all have half a day to weep with me over my sad plight back
then.

No,
my purpose here is to talk about the draft of today's young people
that many say is coming. First we need to get the election over;
but if neither party candidate will promise to end the Iraq war,
and both remain committed to sustaining American military strength
at its present level or even at an enhanced level sufficient to
maintain our present world commitments, then it is very hard to
see how either one can avoid implementing a draft. Enlistments are
not great, and reservists are proving mighty touchy about being
forced to stay in past the term they originally committed to.

I
don't have many contacts with draft-age people, but last night I
did get to talk to an extremely bright man, 23, a computer wizard
with a passionate interest in (I think he used this term) videography.
I asked him what he thought was coming as to a draft. He thinks
we are headed into a kind of gridlock over it that will take several
years to work through, and by that time he rather expects to be
too old for service. He is married, although so far without children.

Now,
his idea of the coming draft gridlock (I have a feeling I am into
mixed metaphors here) is a battle over the place of women in war.
I had supposed there were some signs that citizens were beginning
to see that women are bad news at the front, and bad news in training,
and bad news all around in war matters. Certainly the charming ladies
of Abu Ghraib would seem to reinforce that point. I have seen at
least one self-declared feminist say that the Abu Ghraib girls have
let the side down badly.

But
my young interlocutor (let's call him Rob) thinks two very large
contingents will be arguing that women should be drafted. One will
be draft-age young men, and the other will be the cohort of dedicated
feminists of all ages and both sexes. This after all will be an
unparalleled chance to put to the test the feminist claim that women
can do virtually anything men can. They can shoulder the burden
of empire as they never have before, and (from the feminist point
of view) march into a brave future of Woman Triumphant, newly beyond
challenge, at last out from under the long shadow of "him."

It
was plain to me that Rob is no feminist himself, but neither is
he a romantic wanting a return to the days of modest maidens and
gallant knights. What he envisions is nothing less than a world-class
hoisting of our fearless and unpleasantly war-mongering leaders
on their own petard. To get the men they want, they will have to
enroll all the young unmarried women too, or the men will rise up
and yowl to high heaven (so says Rob). But if they move to draft
the women, all the social conservatives in the land will yowl even
louder. The young women themselves will, one supposes add a little
something to the symphony, but I cannot guess quite what and he
did not say. Some will want to march off to war – such fun! Others
will do almost anything not to, which should contribute to unseemly
flights to Canada or Chile or somewhere, perhaps men and women both,
eloping to safety in a far land.

This
situation should contribute to the sense that maybe we need to look
again at our plans to subject the world to our imperial will. We
very likely can't do it with a boy-girl draftee army. Especially
not if we can't even get them lined up to take their co-ed draft
physicals.

I
can't myself say whether I think this is a convincing scenario or
not. It simply had never occurred to me. But it has occurred to
Rob, who is of the generation involved, and who clearly thinks what
he is saying is almost self-evident. The interesting thing to me
is that, in his eyes, any notion that young single women have any
special consideration coming, as a class, from the males in their
age group is illusory. Feminism has done its work. It is indeed
a brave new world.

June
5, 2004

Tom
White [send him mail]
writes from Odessa, Texas. He is the author of Bill
W., A Different Kind of Hero: The Story of Alcoholics Anonymous

(2003).

Tom
White Archives

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