Next month marks the tenth anniversary of the beginning of our war in Iraq. It’s been ten years since alleged war criminals, including Bush and Cheney, knowingly used lies to send our men and women to war . As a result of those lies, over the past decade, thousands of American men and women have died, tens of thousands are wounded, over a hundred thousand Iraqi human beings are dead, and over 15 million have had their lives ripped apart.
So, the question: Would we still be in Iraq today – or even have gone to war with Iraq – if there was a military draft in this country?
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Look at our involvements in past wars. From the Civil War to World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and even Vietnam, the United States had a military draft – and those wars were all far shorter than the Iraq debacle.
Coincidence? I think not…
We need to bring back the draft. Our founding fathers knew its value. That’s why they formed a citizen-based militia. When George Washington, in his farewell address warned us to beware of foreign entanglements, he knew that a citizen militia – what today is closest to a draft – was the best way to prevent us from jumping into foreign military misadventures.
A draft system is a great leveler. When there’s a draft, what our founders called a “citizen’s militia,” every single American has some skin in the game.
Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have been touched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans have experienced the pain and suffering of losing a loved one on a distant battlefield.
But if we had a draft, our involvement in wars would affect everyone, from Main Street to Capitol Hill. The children of our nation’s lawmakers would be serving in the military, putting a very personal face on a war. History shows that when we have a draft, our lawmakers are less enthusiastic to start wars, and more enthusiastic to end them quickly.
A draft also inserts necessary skeptical voices into the military itself. You get more whistleblowers, for example – people who put the well-being of the nation and its people ahead of profits for the military industrial complex or a new star for a commanding general.
Speaking of that military industrial complex, it would finally be held in check if we were to re-instate a draft. The lack of a draft gave rise to the professional military we have today. That professional military is not only a bit too enthusiastic about war – because during war promotions within the military come faster – but also creates a revolving door between the military and the war profiteers.
Then there are the implications that drafts have on public resistance to unnecessary wars. Look at Vietnam for instance. Thanks to the draft, millions of Americans rallied and protested in our nation’s streets. They fought tirelessly to bring an end to one of the bloodiest wars in American history.
Ultimately, it was the American people, and their opposition to their sons, fathers, and brothers being drafted for the Vietnam War, that brought our soldiers home, and ended that devastating war. If we had a draft for the Iraq War, it’s almost certain that Americans would have been in the streets years ago, fighting to bring an end to that purposeless war. We wouldn’t have just blindly plunged into war under false pretenses, and then just stood by and watched – or even ignored – as our men and women died in the Iraqi desert. Simply put, drafts keep and get us out of stupid wars.
And there are other social benefits that come from reinstating the draft. A universal call to national service – particularly one that’s not just limited to the military – asks young Americans to recommit to their country.
As part of a draft, we should be asking young Americans to give 1 or 2 years of their life to serve their country, not just in the military, but also, alternatively, in civilian programs like Americorps, to volunteer in hospitals and schools, or to care for our nation’s elderly and disabled people.
On the flip side, it’s critical that we give back something for that service we’re asking of our young people. Let’s create a system where Americans who serve in the military or in civilian alternatives for a year or two are rewarded with a free college or trade school education.
Reinstating the draft, including civil service programs, will transform our country. Both will greatly help to rebuild this nation’s infrastructure.
And there’s even a psychological and sociological value. A draft provides a clear transition from youth to adulthood, something we’ve largely lost in the past few generations. We’ve always known, as human beings, of the importance of these transition-to-adulthood rituals. Vestiges remain in Catholic Confirmation, and the Jewish rituals of Bar and Bat Mitzvah.
In years past, graduating from high school provided the main rite of passage from a youth to an adult. But now, since it is nearly impossible to get a job with just a high school diploma, that ritual of transition into an adult has been lost. A year or two in the military or civil service programs would bring this developmentally healthy ritual back.
Americans seem content with our all-volunteer military, but that’s because they don’t see how corrosive it is both to our military policies, our spending policies, and our culture itself.
Consider the benefits that a draft would bring. It levels the playing field, and causes everyone to be affected by war. It makes our lawmakers think twice before sending our men and women into battle. It helps to galvanize public opinion, which is the greatest power to end wars. It helps to hold our military industrial complex in check, preventing war profiteers from making profits at the expense of American lives. And it even helps to rebuild our nation, while providing a culturally important a rite of passage to adulthood.
It’s time to bring back the draft, but in a new and improved form.