Sunday, January 30, 2005


In a very interesting article, Military service can open the eyes of country's ‘elite', Kathryn Roth-Douquet, an attorney, had some really idealistic thoughts. The article was inspired by a dinner party she attended and the subject of the draft surfaced: “Without one,” a woman asserted, “they'll never get my educated and talented boys.” I'm sure she's right. Rich people simply don't "do" the military. Ms. Roth-Douquet went on to say that until a generation ago, the children of presidents, oilmen and bankers regularly saw service. Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Kennedy, Prescott Bush — all titans — had sons who served. Ms. Roth-Douquet laments that the real losers are the young and privileged adults themselves.

Ms. Roth-Douquet married a Marine Corps officer and obviously her attitude changed. She says, "If I could address the country's fortunate young who imagine themselves one day making a difference, this is what I would say: 'You expect to do well in life. No one you know is in the military. There's a war going on that you think was a mistake or, perhaps, a good idea gone wrong. You think military service is for people without money or skills—not someone like you.' "

RIGHT ON! In the movie, Fahrenheit 9-11 (I must confess that I'm not big on Michael Moore), however, there's a telling point where he confronts several congressmen, Democrats and Republics, about whether they would have their kids serve in the military. To me, it is the best part of the movie, handing them paperwork to give to their kids to join up. Talk about stammering and stuttering! What I would suggest to Ms. Ross-Duquet is to get involved in a movement to start a military draft or something on that order.

Kids are not going to join the military overall, not in the environment we're in. What we have in the Volunteer Army, especially with the Marines and those organizations that have always been volunteer, are a patriotic subculture. The rest of the kids in the military are there mainly because they had few options: they didn't want to go to college or couldn't. Minorities, for instance. We're in a situation where the poor, relatively speaking, fight our wars and the affluent stay home. Advocates of the Volunteer Army claim it's middle class; we really don't have a clue who the middle class is. It's all definition. I'm more inclined to think that many of those in military come from more the "working poor." This is all speculation but what we absolutely know is that there are few sons and daughters of bankers and lawyers and doctors in the military.

The bottom line to me is that we need the draft for other than manpower. We need it as a nation to have a unifying experience for all young Americans. Ms. Roth-Douquet, like any of us who see the big picture of what a draft or some sort of universal AllServe would mean, are facing a tall order. She's abosolutely right though: Joining the military may make you a better person and profoundly inform your entire life. Military service nurtures belief, without irony, in the tenets that founded this country, and a love of country distinct from jingoism. Its every action expresses awe for the noble experiment of liberal democracy. True, oh so true.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


Recently, Open Forum, in the San Francisco Chronicle, the featured article dealt with my favorite subject: Draft Talk Premature-An All Volunteer Military Can Still Work. My initial reaction: It has never worked. Or, it all depends on what one’s definition of "work" is. Sure a Volunteer Army can work if we continue to allow other people's children to fight our wars and we have no qualms about other people's children dying for us.

A Volunteer Army may seem to work if all we talk about are quotas and numbers. As one who has served in the military for 29 years and has been drafted and even scammed the draft board with various deferments, I see that we are at a point when the country needs a semblance of a draft more than the draft needs the country. Financially, if we continue to drain our resources in impossible situations like Iraq, a military draft may be our only course. However, there really is a much bigger issue. I can assure you, as can scores of drill sergeants. retired military, and even draftees of the Vietnam era: a two or three year hitch in the military could be the best thing that could happen to America's young men and women. We have to quit being deceived by the spin masters and those who don't "get it" about the draft.

The article touted an idea that the military is a "skills" based military and must be taught within the Army is simply false. Most of the jobs are comparable to those in civilian life, especially the ones that require science and math skills. Driving tanks and operating the complex computer systems in them are not much more sophisticated than many of the computer games these kids are playing now anyway. The article went on to say that because the military is all volunteer, there are far fewer discipline problems. I doubt it. If the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and soldiers refusing to go on missions is any indication, All Volunteer Army discipline has a ways to go.

Volunteering is nothing new in the military. The Navy, Marines, and Air Force have always been volunteer. In the Army, elite units like the 82d Airborne and Special Forces are volunteer and proud of it. Another bad idea in this article, in my opinion, is that military leaders are thoroughly convinced that a return to the draft could "only weaken the armed forces," is naive." What would we expect the generals to say? For years, when I was in the Army, I was amazed to hear the top leaders tout the success of the Volunteer Army. I was living with the volunteer Army and I wanted to say, Give Me a Break.

At the top levels of the Army, the brass is permeated with a "can do" attitude. You want a job done, you’ve got it. Rarely does someone stand up and say, "Whoa, we don’t have the resources." Rather it is an idea that we will make it succeed, regardless. And, more often than not they do by throwing money at it--taxpayers money, I might add. And, let’s face it, the top military leadership has become so politicized that we need to listen to them with a jaundice ear at best. Any general above the rank of one star is suspect. Either they become cheerleaders for various policies or simply "roll over" and say nothing. For most general officers above the rank of one star, you can rest assured that they didn't get to where they are on merit. It doesn't mean they are not good leaders, it merely means that they may or may not be the best we have.

Another false principle in this particular article was that the draft violates the hiring of people; i. e., doesn't give them a choice. Sure it does. The right to be an American ought to come with some price. It doesn’t have to be the draft, but some sort of universal service--AllServe: teaching, peace corps, a host of possibilities. We are a smart people and could figure this out. It ought to cost every American something to be a member of this great country. We squandered a noble chance after 9-11 when young Americans were lining up in droves to sign up, almost a WW ll experience. Think Pat Tillman, the NFL football star who gave up millions and lost his life in Afghanistan. Tillman's story is inspiring to the max. We have scores of youngsters out there who would be today's heroes if they were nudged a little. But, they are not going to "step up" in a Volunteer Army because they don't have too.

The Volunteer Army is an abysmal failure in terms of being representative of the American society. The spin masters in the military and in politics proclaim endlessly its success. It just ain’t so. Our Army comes from mostly a pool of kids that joined up with the idea of earning money for college or couldn't figure out what else to do and rarely with an idea of "service to country." They are a group of great kids who simply didn't have many options.

I think it was quite significant that both presidential candidates made a big point that they didn’t want the draft. Shame on them! They are denying young Americans the very best chance to truly be American and it is our loss. In the movie, Buloxi Blues, the last scene you see is this young Neil Simon, riding on a train, returning home to New Jersey and commenting on his Army life. Drafted, Simon was suddenly thrown with all these strange people. Simon's story could be told a thousand times over in a draft Army. He says, "as I look back, a lot of years later, my time in the Army was the happiest time of my life. Not because I liked the Army, but I liked it for the best reasons, I was young. I didn’t like most of those guys then but today I love every damn one of them."

Friday, January 28, 2005


In an article in the NY Times, entitled, Iraqi War Veterans Turn Critics, one of the vets mentioned in the story is Robert Acosta who has joined an outfit called, Operation Truth. In Baghdad, a grednade was tossed into Acosta's humvee shattering his legs plus he lost his right hand. Once back in the states and viewing the carnage from afar, while recuperating and watching and reading, his doubts over the war surfaced. He is already facing the difficulties of dealing with the VA. I hate to tell him but it's going to get worse. At one point he had to duct tape his prosthesis. Awful!

Sometimes, when people asked about his war injury and he tells them it happened in the war. More likely than not, they say "What war?" Such a comment is but one example of how little most Americans even know about the sacrifices of our brave young men and women. They don't know because they are are not involved and have no investment. We have no draft, they have no obligation. Their lives have not changed! WHAT WAR INDEED?

Thursday, January 27, 2005


The National Guard is hurting so much in terms of recruiting that they want to increase their token $50 bonus to $15,000--is that a jump or what! To me, this is downright scandalous and something that we have come to accept without blinking an eye: paying young people for serving their country. We are not talking about a fair wage here for services rendered. We are talking enticements to join the military and to fight.

What sort of message does that send! There are many problems with it, not the least that that it is immoral. Paying other people's children to fight our wars is simply not right any way you cut it. It debases patriotism. It is not a matter of begrudging a bonus to those who join up. We could make the argument that we do it in business all the time. But, this is the military where a soldier might ultimately be asked to lay down his life for his country.

Will the military get any takers? Of course. Take a young eighteen year old with little or no prospects and offer him fifteen grand and see what he does. He doesn't think past that new car or buying his sweetheart a ring. He has hit the jackpot, grabbed the brass ring! Give me a break! The last thing on his mind is patriotism and dying for his country. What is equally just as bad is the fact that we think this is perfectly fine.

ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) as an option for military service

This is a tricky question. Recently, my nephew sent me an email from a friend giving his son views on an Air Force ROTC scholarship. I thought the views were objective but it did get me to thinking about this question. His comments: "I can think of a few things you ought to consider before taking the dive:- Military isn't for everyone ... you have to be able to accept the authority structure and sometimes rigid way of life (the latter mostly applies to training, not your time on active duty)- We are now an 'Expeditionary Air Force' ... every Airmen is a candidate to deploy in support of operations around the world -- this is both exciting and perhaps a bit frightening and it shouldn't be taken lightly- You'll have additional requirements on top of your academic load- Military training -- Air Force ROTC training is no Paris Island(Marines) but it's not a cakewalk either- Your time & choices aren't completely your own (reference first bullet)- It won't always be fun or easy -- have to want to stick to it"

What I liked about his comments was the positive but realistic view of advice to a High School senior looking for a way to pay for college. And, without commenting in general, what about this for an entry into military service? It is a good one but again has significance since we do not have any sort of manditory military service. Those who mightchoose the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) go with a motive of financing their education. Whereas if we had an AllServe environment, the motive might be more altruistic. Just a thought.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

All Volunteer Army is UnAmerican

About twice a week, I get together with about six or eight of my buds. One is a dentist, another a retired hiway patrolman, one a precious jewel dealer, an architect, a retired fireman, a businessman. We are a bunch of old white guys. What makes us a little different in my opinion is that we are Americans who are involved and invested in what’s going on in our country. We care. All but one has served in the military. Recently, our discussion centered around the military draft. I presented my idea of Universal Service or AllServe. Our dentist didn’t have much to say since he was fairly new to the group. Most of these guys had heard everything I had to say anyway. So, I asked the dentist, “Doc, what do you think about the military draft?” I’m for it he shot back. Wow, my one buddy said, “I think I need to make you guys a pair of matching earrings.” Then came the big question. “OK, that’s good but are you for it for your own children serving.” HESITATION.

I had been this route before and knew the questions to asked. Many people are for military service especially if it does not involve their own children. The Draft as a philosophical issue is one thing but involving their own family is another. Upon further prodding, my doc buddy said, “Yes, he did believe in it for his own children.” This is not totally pure as it is not in real time but I do understand. But, for now, this is good enough.

The doc’s main thing is that the draft would be great for all the disenfranchised kids in America. Those with no prospects, hanging out on street corners. Nothing to do. The Military Draft would be their ticket to a future. I agree, it surely is one element of the importance of the Draft. My good buddy, the retired hiway patrolman, a former Marine, related a military war story about something he called the Motivation Platoon in boot camp. When a young Marine in boot camp wants to quit or is messing up, anything that the drill sergeant deems that would mean he is not conforming to what a Marine should be, he is put into the motivation platoon. In the Motivation Platoon, he is given a gigantic hammer and literally sent all over Camp Pendleton breaking big gigantic boulders into little boulders. A few days of this and these guys are motivated. They move back to regular training and complete it and are truly proud of themselves. Does this happen? I thinks so. And, guess what! The unmotivated suddenly become motivated. I can’t remember the book but it came out a few years ago on the mentality of the Marines in turning youngsters with no purpose into Marines: Sempi Fi!

Recently, in Congress, several Congressman called for a return to the draft. It really wasn’t a serious effort. Relatively, politically motivated with no idea that the proposed legislation would pass. It didn’t and was mostly a sham. The President says the Draft is not needed. These generals keep parading on TV talking about how successful the Volunteer Army is; and some DOD (Department of Defense) weenie consultant volunteered how infeasible the Draft is because it would take years to get geared up. What they don't “get” is that there's more to the reinstatement of the Draft than” bodies.” How about service to country, sacrifice and of course, AllServing--the rich and the poor. All would serve, 18-40.

What we have in the Volunteer Army is incredibly unrepresentative of our democracy. Downright unpatriotic. We have a small segment of our society bearing the burden of war. The best examples are minorities: 25-35% of active duty are minorities while in the population, minorities represent 12%. Why? Many reasons, probably but for years, the military has been a gateway for minorities to get equal chances, escape the dregs of segregation and poverty and advance on an equal playing field. When I was in Korea in the eighties, at my Camp, we had five African American Sergeants Major. Three of them were female. Each had inspiring g tales about how they had overcome and how the military had given them a chance. This is great. And, while wonderful, illustrates the lack of representation in our military. AllServe is now.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


UNIVERSAL SERVICE is an idea that has been batted around for awhile. My idea is that it is somewhat like the idea of Americorps which is not a bad idea and is an opportunity for America’s youngsters. I don't know where Americorps is in terms of what is going on now. I surely support the concept. Americorps is a program that allows 18-24 year olds to spend a year or two in community service, doing everything from teaching kids to read to shoveling snow for seniors.

Since September 11, especially for awhile we saw a wave of increased interest from young Americans looking for ways to give back and fulfill their roles as citizens. The one who immediately comes to mind is Pat Tillman, the professional football player who gave up millions to serve in the military. He was killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan.

At one time, Congress was thinking of expanding Americorp from 5O,OOO to 25O,OOO. The article I read said the Americorps volunteers earn about $93OO a year with about an equal amount as an education benefit. This is not going to make anybody rich but we are talking of service to one's country.

The military could be the same sort of idea and grouped under the Universal Service idea--a year of mandatory community service for all 18 year olds--about 25 million a year, to be inducted into two years minimum compulsory national service. Drafted into a Universal Service with no ands, ifs or buts--AllServe. Not like the old days of the draft when the only ones who ended up in the military were those who couldn't get a deferment, didn't know any influential people or simply couldn't come up with any excuse.

As a country, we would need some innovative minds to figure out how to create and implement a situation where AllServe. We are smart people and can do it. The opposition would be enormous. We have fallen into the trap of thinking that we don't need to have a compulsory service for America's young people. We have the Volunteer Army. Wrong thinking. The Volunteer Army is a far cry from representative Americans.

A major benefit of AllServing is a chance for all young Americans to experience a shared existence. This has not happened since Vietnam and then was a long way from being equitable. Simply, those of privilege often dodged the draft in one form or another. If AllServed, kids from all socio economic backgrounds would have a chance to know each other--doctor's kids would serve right along side carpenter's kids.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Restoring The Draft

When I talk to people about restoring the draft, immediatly, I get the nobody is home look. They don't take the idea seriously as they don't expect anything to happen. Most don't think about it and if forced too, are simply against the draft. The reasons are many but I think it is a lack of understanding of what the draft would do.

First of all, we are not going to have a draft! During the election campaign both candidates said, NO. It was even in the Republican platform. The Congress even had a vote on a bill sponsored by Congressman Rangel and a few other Democrats. Overwhelmingly defeated! The good Congressman's motivation in introducing the bill was like all politicians, in my opinion, political but trying to make a statement. He has said, which I agree with: it is totally unfair to have a small segment of society bearing the burden for war: i. e., the Volunteer Army. He is primarily talking about minorities. I would take it several steps further. It is morally reprehensible to have the most vulnerable of our society act as our surrogates in war. An example of the ambiguity of the subject, a guy like Don Hewitt who created the TV newsmagazine, 60 minutes, went so far as to say that we should hire mercenaries to fight our wars: an almost direct quote, "we don't want our young boys and girls fighting our wars." I could hardly believe it.

The scare tactic of fighting the return of the draft became one of the causes of the "anybody but Bush/hate Bush stances during the election. But, in my opinion, the groups against the draft totally missed the point. I remember reading this "hit" email about the draft. What those who developed the email, especially the peace groups, or any of those who oppose the war, don't "get" is that a form of the draft would accomplish their goals much better than any possibly thing they can do. The draft or better still, a type of Universal Service would be a good thing. If AllServed, it would be about or should be about serving the country. Giving back for all the great benefits that the country has given us. And, if we AllServed, we would have a president who would be incredibly reluctant to commit us to war because he or she would know they had to pay a price for that decision. This includes the Congress that might support him.

George W. did not have to pay a price when he made the decision to invade Iraq because only a small segment of the society has any personal involvement. It only become a national issue because of the election. If it had not been for the election, we would, as most are doing anyway, going about our business. Through the voluntary Army, which is terribly unsuccessful other than numbers, only those youngsters who have little or no options end up in the military. This is not a putdown of the American soldier. It is an indictment of us as a nation. For those who care, letting someone else's children fight our wars is morally reprehensible.

Inequities of war

In a sense, the inequities of war are nobody's fault. But, here is a good example: on NPR recently, a kid in Iraq, in a support unit, is a bigtime bird watcher. He has chronicled all his bird watching in Iraq and put it on a blog. Interesting! This is an example of the incredible ingenuity of soldiers. He has been doing this since he was fourteen and so this isn't something new. He is in the National Guard and does have a job but most of it is based on where he is in the country: a safe environment by in large, not involved in life and death struggles. In many ways, able to take his year and do something useful. He is a support soldier and in a sense has not heard a shot fired in anger. Based on his great love of birding, his year in Iraq has been great. He has made good money, comes home a hero, life is good.

Contrast this with a combat soldier in Iraq. On patrol, life on the line everyday. Seeing his buddies killed, wounded. The "birder" and the combat soldier is hardly equitable in the big picture. This isn't a putdown of the "birder" soldier. More power to him for using his year productively. But, an examble of the inequities of war.
Same in Vietnam. We had nine support soldiers for every single combat soldier. Many lived the "life of Riley" so to speak. After I came back, I met this Sergeant Major who was in Vietnam for five years. Know what his job was? Ferrying USO show girls or the local entertainers to various NCO (non commissioned officer) clubs in and around Saigon. He told me that he made so much money that when he went to his next assignment he paid cash for his house.

Why is this important? It is only in terms of understanding. All war time soldiering is not equal.