That's My Issue: Draft Ambivalence

Friday, August 24, 2012

(see my badge in the slideshow and make your own)

I officially became subject to the draft near the end of the Vietnam War. There was no chance that I would actually wind up on the front lines since I had a high draft lottery number, the war was winding down anyway and the draft was abolished almost as soon as I became eligible.

But it all felt close enough to home that I developed a strong aversion to the government forcing people to go to war if we thought the war was wrong or unnecessary. When the draft was abolished, I was certain that was a good thing.

But in recent years, Congressman Charles Rangel and others have been arguing to reinstate the draft on the theory that Congress cannot make wise decisions about going to war without putting their own kids at risk of sacrificing their lives.

Another reason is that the "all-volunteer" military has become an economic draft, an unfair distributor of risk by race and class. So a new draft makes sense to my notions of fairness, smart decision-making and national unity. But I have a hard time getting too passionate about imposing a draft.

Something about forcing anyone to go to war still feels very wrong, probably an imprint from when I thought it could be me. Oh, and I now have two teenage sons. Draft ambivalence. I consider it an example of life experience shaping political views that may or may not be in the national interest.

That’s My Issue is WNYC’s election-year project to gather stories of how your life experience has shaped your politics. Share your story and create your custom badge, read all the stories in the archive, record an audio story directly from your computer, and see much more about the project at the That’s My Issue homepage. Friday, August 24th is That's My Issue day, when we're inviting you to share your badge online.


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Comments [9]

Audrey Irvine from Virginia

I am strongly opposed to the draft. I came through Vietman era and I don't think our politicians tell us the truth. They wrap themselves in the flag and manipulate us into war, calling the rest of us unpatriotic. I passionately opposed the Iraq war and the extended redefined Afganastan war. I cannot bear the idea of my son or daughter being killed for a lie or for oil or for some undefined world hegemony. Save the draft for when we are directly attacked on our own soil. That would be different issue. But currently we put ourselves in positions (Ships in the South China sea! really) so war becomes the only out. Send the politicians kids instead. Might make them think twice.

Oct. 18 2012 05:43 PM

It's an interesting if subtle shift in worldview, Brian.

I don't want to speak on your behalf, but I think in both your 60s/ 70s opposition to the draft and in Rangels support of a draft, there may be a common thread (beyond fairness): the opposition to unjust war-making and adventurism.

As I understand it, Rangel's position is, in part, that either a peacetime or wartime draft will turn American sentiment against war-making and neo-imperial adventures... as described by Smedley Butler, alluded to by Dwight D. Eisenhower, oft-warned by Ron Paul and Noam Chomsky alike, etc.

If your current view reflects Rangel's to that extent, then the end goal (fewer and more moderate American wars and foreign policy, etc) would be achieved through a different means (a draft, rather than anti-war protest). In that, the method employed to achieve the stated goal would differ, but not the end goal itself (fewer wars).

I think the goal of fairness can be fit into the same framework.

Aug. 28 2012 04:24 PM
James from NYC

If people could get out of being soldiers in time of war if they thought the cause was wrong, why couldn't they get out of paying taxes - a far lighter burden - if they thought the taxes were wrong? Plenty of Northerners resisted the draft during the Civil War - was Lincoln wrong to use force to put down resistance to the draft? I understand Brian's position: easier said than done to actually go serve an iffy cause. If that shows lack of character, please understand that not all people have the same fiber. That's just a fact.

I was a military history nut when I was a kid. I read Patton's diaries, played war games, read the West Point Atlas of American Wars. It's made me unreasonably biased in favor of supporting veterans. Now, it does veterans a disservice to have them think society "owes" them something when they return to civilian life - entitlement is a golden anvil. However, we should spare no expense to treat injuries and illnesses related to serving, however remotely, and however long it takes. There can be no excuse for doing otherwise. Sure, it's a mom and apple pie issue to be pro-veteran, but I really feel it.

Aug. 25 2012 12:06 AM
The Inventor

Ah drafts...if we decide they were a bad idea we can always spend a healing surge to revive the dead who were sent against their will to fight!

Brilliant idea, Mr. Lehrer!

Aug. 24 2012 06:00 PM
Caroline from Manhattan

I was a little astonished to hear Brian Lehrer decribe his ambivalence about a draft as his response to his "That's My Issue" ongoing segment. Repeatedly, he prompted listeners to call in and narrate how a given set of life experiences has led them to *take a particular position* on an issue. In talking with listeners, he would prompt them: so this experience led you to believe X about this issue? If you are ambivalent about an issue, you cannot by definition be a voter ON that issue because you do not have a position. I find this all really strange, think Brian should come up with another example, or at least allow his listeners a broader framing: this is an issue I think about but cannot vote on because actually I don't really know how I feel about it. I'm not convinced that such a thing can be, in any real sense, your issue if you don't have a position you actually want to back.

Aug. 24 2012 03:17 PM
Capt. Wil Petrich from Seattle,WA

A draft allows an illegitimate war to have an unending supply of cannon fodder. To rely on the sentiments of an informed public to dissuade is foolish. I was and still am a war resister and served time in federal prison rather than be drafted.We are presently engaged in immoral conflicts. To rely on a morally grounded congress to differentiate between a "just or unjust" war is ludicrous. A democratic president led us into Vietnam through blatant lies and deceit. A Republican president led us into Iran through lies and deceit and a democratic president is soft peddling withdrawal from Afghanistan to enable support and bolstering of a corrupt regime to preserve so called "strategic" interests in the area.
Majority consent does not justify immoral wars and a draft is a tool to promulgate such wars. It should never again be allowed.

Aug. 24 2012 02:46 PM

It has long been considered an international wrong, or crime, for one nation to be an aggressor and start a war against another nation. All laws are deemed to incorporate existing standards, and it is fair to assume that our constitution incorporated by implication the standard that no country can lawfully start a war against another country. The aggressor, in other words, is always in the wrong.

Our constitution also is clear that only congress can declare war -- not the president.

Therefore, only congress can declare war, and only when another nation has attacked us and started a war against us. We are legally prohibited from being the aggressor. Which means, of course, that the U.S. War Against Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iran, are all illegal wars.

We should have a draft for wars. The draft should include men and women. At least 1/3 of Congress should be trained and sent to the front lines. If they vote for a war, they should go die in it instead of just sending other people's children to die. By including everyone in the nation in any war, it is more likely the public would oppose war, and only support one if it was truly necessary for defense of our nation.

Nato and all other such treaties which are front groups to allow the government to escape the constitutional restrictions on war, by claiming we have to go to war because someone attacked the Ukraine, are unconstitutional and should be voided. Unless we are attacked, the government has no authority to send us into war. If the people want to vote to go to war to defend Ukraine, that is a question that would have to be submitted to the citizens for decision. The government does not have that authority.

Aug. 24 2012 12:58 PM

My issue is funding for special education and services for the disabled. My younger brother has autism and we are fortunate that the NY state pays for all his services such as summer school, respite, speech and occupational therapies, etc. It is the state that invests the most money in these programs. We have family in Texas and one relative has Down syndrome and autism. Gov. Perry cuts funding for all services for kids with special needs even when he receives federal funds, which is just heartbreaking. We are grateful for the state of NY for not putting a burden on middle class working families when it comes to giving the helpful services that special needs kids deserve.

Aug. 24 2012 11:53 AM
Kyn Marand

I'm not sure I would ever agree that mandatory military service is a good idea.
Particularly of young people who haven't made the choice as to whether or not the country they are born in is the one they'd not only prefer to live their lives out in--but sacrifice it for.

I don't agree that we have an "economic draft" based on race and class. The mass surplus of college scholarships, programs, and availability of financial aid makes it often easier for those of minority "status" to get into a good school and potentially land a good job.

Thinking that forcing someone to be in the line of fire is possibly a good idea is one step towards tyranny. It should not even be a musing thought. It is unethical and violates a grand number of rights in unimaginable ways.
It is Wrong.

Aug. 24 2012 10:41 AM

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