"When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that an old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had only one before." ~ H.L. Mencken
Grab Your Sweater: D.C."s Feeling a Draft
Pictures of young men adorn the masthead on the Selective Service website. A surfer dude with his arms outstretched. A black man in a shirt and tie. A guitarist. A cowboy. A pensive wigger with a backwards cap. They're an All-American lot, or at least represent all Americans. Some wear the straight-faced scowls of men who mean business. The rest are smiling wide.
"Register Online," it says beneath them in bright yellow letters, as if 18-year-old boys have a choice in the matter.
I've never been to the NAMBLA website, but I can't imagine their masthead differs much.
Further below, a "Notice" informs us: "Notwithstanding recent stories . . . , Selective Service is not getting ready to conduct a draft for the U.S. Armed Forces... Rather, the Agency remains prepared to manage a draft if and when the President and the Congress so direct. This responsibility has been ongoing since 1980 and is nothing new."
But still, in 1980, we weren't rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004, we are.
That's a point not lost on Nebraskan Sen. Chuck Hagel, who last week suggested we should reinstate the draft after all.
"Why shouldn't we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?" Hagel wanted to know.
Why "shouldn't we" ask our surfer dudes, our black men in shirts and ties -- our guitarists, our cowboys, our pensive wiggers -- to leave behind their hopes and dreams, to risk their lives, to "pay some price" on behalf of people living halfway around the world?
It's no secret things are rough right now in Iraq. More American soldiers died in the month of April than in any other month since the start of the war. Some say things are better than they seem on the evening news, and that may be true, but the numbers tell their own story. And again: More American soldiers died in the month of April than in any other month since the start of the war.
So even if we're willing to live with the death toll, shouldn't we take a step back -- before starting a draft -- to ask what, exactly, these soldiers are dying for?
Is that not the least we can do?
It's often said our soldiers are in Iraq "defending our freedoms." Yet our freedoms aren't quite on the line there. And that's not a knock on the soldiers themselves -- their intentions are by and large genuine. But it's a knock on the policy they're executing. The doctrine of preemption's self-defensive qualities have fallen apart. Saddam Hussein didn't have the weapons the world's foremost intelligence agencies claimed.
And furthermore, we found him hiding in a goddam hole.
The thought of this hobo opening up mushroom clouds over American cities makes Liechtenstein look frightening by comparison.
Still, some say, we must stay the course in Iraq. We've got to do what we've got to do. We didn't ask for this war on terror. It was thrust upon us by the "enemies of freedom."
That's what we've said all along, isn't it? By 8:30 on the night of September 11, 2001, George Bush had defined the war on terror as a battle between good and evil for the future of all things free. "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world," he said. But he didn't have to say this for us to believe it. It was obvious to us. The hijackers "hated freedom." That's "why" we were hit.
As Americans, we see America and freedom as essentially one in the same. And we sometimes define freedom by our actions instead of the other way around. This hinders our judgment, though. It leads us to justify unjustifiable things.
In Iraq last month, we shut down a paper accused of inciting anti-occupation violence. And what did this lead to? Anti-occupation violence, actually. And lots of it. But those who oppose our actions are enemies of freedom and democracy, we say. If they don't like what we're doing, they must be. After all, we've got a First Amendment.
By this measure, we also complain about Syrians and Iranians coming into Iraq. We dismiss them as terrorists. Case closed. End of story. But wouldn't we want Georgians and Floridians to join the fight if someone attacked Louisiana?
And speaking of which, in Louisiana right now, lawmakers are looking to protect people from -- get this -- lowrider jeans. "I'm sick of seeing it," says State Rep. Derrick Shepherd. And so he's proposing, in American Taliban fashion, fines and jail time for those who show skin.
As long as men like Shepherd are running this country, we should lose the "enemies of freedom" shtick.
Look: Hijacking planes, bringing down buildings, and killing civilians is never justified. But to say our enemies are necessarily enemies of freedom suggests we, alone, are synonymous with it. It also ignores the fact that our enemies are human beings with human emotions and grievances. Men aren't perfect. They make mistakes and act terribly towards each other. We shouldn't call these people evil. We should call them people, and concentrate, then, on what makes them do evil things.
September 11th didn't happen because Bush ignored an intelligence memo, or because Bill Clinton "did nothing" for eight years. As Congressman Ron Paul puts it, "our foreign policy of interventionism," "practiced by both major parties for over a hundred years," is largely to blame. If anything, our government did too much.
Indeed, "America's version of the colony is the military base," says Chalmers Johnson. "If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases" in more than 130 countries.
I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that sounds like a lot of bases and a lot of countries.
And to that end, writes Sheldon Richman, "the claim that the Islamists hate us because 'we love freedom'" doesn't hold up. "If they did, they would say so. Instead, whenever they explain their hatred, they specify U.S. intervention in their societies."
So why "shouldn't we" reinstate the draft? The real question is, why should we? Under a post-9/11 microscope, the Iraqi threat -- compounded by 12 years of U.N. resolutions -- looked large. But if our goal is to root out gathering dangers before they, too, come home to roost, we should stop addressing our problems and start attacking their causes.
We don't need the U.N. to begin with.
Nor do we need a thousand foreign entanglements. They threaten the sovereignty of every country involved -- ours included.
And let's not forget we reap what we sow: Saddam and Usama bin Laden were both once CIA goons.
We're not the world's policemen. We should stop pretending otherwise. This isn't about "blaming America." It isn't about appeasement. It's about moving forward and leaving this current mess behind.
Inasmuch as the war on terror means we're defending our homes from thugs who'd remake us in their image, yes, we should put up a fight. But with our talk of "democratizing" the Middle East, many Arabs think we are the society-sculpting thugs. It doesn't matter if they're right or wrong, or if our will is good. Their grievances are real and they're willing to kill for them. We should protect ourselves from fanatics when necessary, but let their countries solve their own problems -- American lives will be saved both ways.
So if we're serious about staying the course in Iraq, and serious when we say we're not an imperial power, we should ditch the idea of a draft. We should pull our troops out of those 130-some-odd countries and send them to the Gulf instead. Free countries shouldn't be forcing guitarists, cowboys, and wiggers to fight if they don't want to.
Or better yet, instead of saying "bring 'em on," let's say "bring 'em on home." Our country remains undefended while the men and women who signed up to defend it are kept on bases overseas. They deserve better. And so do we. If Chuck Hagel wants to escalate this war, he and his colleagues can fight it.
They call themselves leaders, don't they? Let's see them lead.