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