My friend recently told me that her parents have a plan for her and her brother if the military reinstates the mandatory draft.
“They have it all figured out,” she said. “My brother and my mom would move. They’d either move to Europe or some kind of island; we have some options.”
This surprised me. I know many people our age joke about drinking vats of vinegar or fleeing to Canada if the draft notice were to come in the mail one day, but I haven’t heard of any definite plans. I don’t have the space to crunch the numbers or politics involved in the debate over whether there will be another draft, but I think the story of my friend’s family makes it clear that Americans are thinking about it.
What worries me is what they’re thinking. At least in the blue states of Michigan and Illinois, my home state, most say they would dodge the draft.
When I brought up the issue at dinner the other night, even my mother said, “No way you’d go. Not over my dead body.”
Many cite claims that we are fighting an unjust war in Iraq, which many have likened to Vietnam. I talked to a Vietnam-era draft-dodger last year, and he remembered his three-year experience avoiding service.
“I tried to flunk my physical,” he told me. “The place was a circus, a meat processing plant. Everyone was trying to fail. People were feigning catatonic seizures. When they tested our urine, people passed around lethal liquids to pour into the samples. Everyone passed anyway.”
At the end of the ordeal, he had an interview to determine whether he was a conscientious objector. They asked him if he would defend his sister if someone were raping her.
“What if it was my sister who was doing the raping?” he responded.
I definitely don’t have the column inches to debate the validity of these wars. But ask yourself this: Should your political beliefs really make a difference? Even though I support the war, I tried to answer this question. And the answer is no; it should not matter whether you believe in our president’s oft-criticized foreign policy. I know that if Henry David Thoreau were still sitting beside Walden Pond preaching civil disobedience, he wouldn’t agree with my argument, but if you don’t go to war after being drafted — surprise — someone else will go for you.
If you think about it, that possibility is enormously terrifying. Can you imagine spending the next 10 years reading newspaper accounts about soldiers who died in Iraq and wondering if he was the one who replaced you? Can you imagine waking up from repeated nightmares in which you watch your replacement dying over and over again, and feeling like it was your fault? You would spend the rest of your life imagining every part of him: his hair color, his favorite food, where he grew up, where he went to college, what his parents felt on the day he went off to war. When your grandkids asked you about that time in your life, all you’d be able to do is tell them someone else’s war story.
The same argument does not apply to volunteer troops. It’s not that I don’t support the troops who choose to enlist on their own free will, but I don’t feel the same kind of personal responsibility for them that I would for the person who went instead of me, as horrible as that sounds.
If there is a draft, the government is sending a very specific message to Americans: We need more soldiers to defend our freedom and security. Who can say that shouldn’t be you or me? Who can look in their fellow citizens’ eyes and say they should fight instead? That I’m too important to fight, that I don’t want to fight, that you should bear the burden and I should reap the benefits of your courage?
So I’m using these inches to declare that if I find myself in that most horrifying of tragic American scenes, standing by the mailbox on a weekday morning holding a letter asking me to report to basic training, I will not refuse my duty. If I did, who knows who would go in my place. The next Mozart? The future engineer of a cure for cancer? Someone destined for the presidency?
Or maybe — just maybe — you.
Stampfl is a Daily fall/winter administration beat reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.