The Draft

Shanghai Harbor by Thomas S. Handforth

Reading this week:

  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  • How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything by Rosa Brooks

We’re no longer in the “stretch” portion of content, technically, because I am back from my trip, but I guess the internet was worried about World War III after the strike against Soleimani. This, as we are all aware, apparently lead large swaths of the American Youth to be afraid they were about to be drafted (NYT). In a later article about a fraud centered around the draft, the New York Times also characterized text messages saying people were going to be drafted as “scary” (NYT).

I have a great many complex feelings about this. I’m not sure I can characterize them fully here, but I’ll give it a go. First off, the draft in its most recent iterations is terrible. It is classist, and in America that therefore means it is racist. Theoretically any man of the right age can be called on to join the military, but there are exceptions. There were deferments for college, or if your job was vital to the war effort. The sorts of people going to college or who have jobs vital to the war effort are going to be from a certain social class. And if you can’t get deferments for college or your job, if you have enough money and know the right people you can always find a doctor to give you a diagnosis of bone spurs. So the draft was never as egalitarian as it should have been. The military doesn’t even particularly like the draft; it is way easier to manage an all-volunteer force, because everyone there theoretically wants to be there, as opposed to a force full of people who were, uh, drafted into it.

But what rankles me is that people are afraid of it. That, like I said, the NYT characterizes the draft as “scary.” What, exactly, is so scary about serving your country?

I am going to put aside the conscientious objectors, because those people aren’t necessarily afraid to be drafted. I also understand on a lot of levels why the draft would be scary. Anything strange and foreign is scary. I understand the people that are in no position to be drafted, because they need to support their families or other reasons. But these 18 year olds? These college students? What’s their excuse?

If the fear is that you will be drafted and then go on to be killed or seriously injured, I understand that as a specific fear, but what is the alternative? If you don’t go, then someone else will have to. Increasingly, the military is part of a caste system – it is the children of military that go on to serve in the military (NYT again, these warnings are for the paywall). That was the case for me. I’m 3rd gen military, on both sides (my grandparents were both in WWII, so maybe that’s not so special). My parents never pushed me into the military but at age 18 or so I suddenly woke up and pure instinct pushed me to go to the Naval Academy.

The big advantage of the draft, that although it is in-egalitarian, is it did do something to spread out who participated in the military. It also spread out the burden. When the draft was around, wars meant that your kid might be called up. Without the draft, wars can be fought by other people, those anonymous “boots” that always wind up “on the ground.”

Personally I think joining the military is about the best thing you can possible do at age 18, and, failing that, at about age 22 right out of college. Serve four or five years, and then go on to do whatever you’re were originally going to do. It gives you discipline, it gives you life skills, and at the very least it gives you a paycheck while you get a little bit older and wiser. People are idiots at 18, so join the military and when you get out at 22 or 23 you won’t be quite as dumb and can go to college as a not-dumb-kid.

Here’s what I am trying to get at. I’m not sure if I support a draft or not; I see a lot of pros and cons either way. If we just re-up the last draft law, probably not, because as I said before it is racist. And I don’t think some sort of universal service would work for the United States the way it does for Singapore or Israel, because we’re just too big. But at my grumpy old age of 31, it upsets me that young people should be so afraid of the draft. Sign up. Serve. See the system from the inside. Learn who the people are that fight the nation’s wars.