Monday, May 29, 2017

In Memoriam: When We All Were In It Together

I am one of several million Americans from last Century who were drafted.

Actually I volunteered to optimize my military experience, but I volunteered with the hot, fetid breath of my draft board pulsing on my neck.

I guess the draft was first used by Abraham Lincoln.

After the war I think it went away.

As did Lincoln.

Then it came back for our entry into WW I and stayed around more or less until it went away with the advent of the all volunteer military.

It reached a sort of sociological crescendo during Vietnam.

Every one of us caught in its net had his life changed unalterably; no path was taken as one would have done; every path was taken as dictated by the draft and its terms of implementation.

A lot of us went to college who might not have gone to college; many who didn’t flunk out of college stayed longer than we might have; some moved to Canada; some became terrorists; some of us just hunkered down and took it after all the years in college to avoid it had been exhausted.

Ultimately we all either served or vacated normal American life.

Most of us served.

An awful lot of us ended up in Vietnam

Some carried guns; some didn’t.

But we all experienced a life we would never have chosen.

Fifty thousand or so of us died in Vietnam.

Most of us didn’t.

All of us were made to feel like criminals when we came home.

So, on balance, the draft seemed to me at the time, and for a long time afterward, to have been a really bad thing.

And I was a vocal proponent for the all volunteer force.

Interesting though, in retrospect: the draft reached down into the great American mélange like some kind of cosmic materiel scoop.

It took that mélange in all of its marvelous heterogeneous complexity, put it into several military organizations, and told it that it had to figure out how to talk to one another, work together and win a war.

And we didn’t

Win the war.

But we did.

Get along.


In retrospect that gives the draft one very important positive characteristic: it took a huge piece of America – all America (some kids of the white elite were able to avoid it – but many, even of the privileged class, chose not to) was forced into one place and told they had to figure out how to get along.

And we did.

And a lot of that now aging segment of America still do.

Get along.

But mostly only with each other.

And “each other” is still a heterogeneous mélange.

But the American tribes that have replaced that briefly heterogeneous, but mostly unified America – the Vietnam era draftees - all seem to be just that: tribes; they only gather with people who think and talk and look the same way.

And the all volunteer military has created a population segment (tribe) who come from circumstances with few, or no, obvious options alternate to military service (there are many exceptions – a lot of young people with many options do see military service as an obligation to be fulfilled prior to commencing the rest of their life – but there aren’t very many; most of the all volunteer force come from a demographic that sounds a great deal like the trump base) and they do their time and then they return to civilian life, and then they face the same grim realities that drove them to volunteer in the first place, and the one option that seems most obvious to them has already been tried and terminated.

Suicide as a final solution is not surprising.

And all the while that is going on, the other, more privileged, tribes pursue life as usual and shore up the walls that keep other tribes away, and America becomes more and more a place where honest, intelligent, negotiative discourse doesn’t exist.

I would like to get that great cosmic scoop back so young Americans once again are forced to have to figure out how to talk to one another and move forward with the common good.

The draft is good social policy, I think.

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