(NOTE: I was part of a Veterans Recognition Panel at James Madison Memorial High School
https://memorialweb.madison.k12.wi.us/ earlier last week. I'm grateful to the students, teachers, and staff for their support and appreciation. A special thanks to Geof Herman, JMM ceramics teacher extraordinaire, for organizing the recognition event for a third straight year!)
Every one of our Veterans Recognition Panel presentations was extremely well attended, and the Q&A with the audience dominated each session.
I was particularly impressed by the insightful and thoughtful questions asked by these 15, 16 and 17 year-olds, including two that came up in just about every session -
1. "Knowing now what you know about war from your own experience, would you do it again?"
2. "Do you think we should reinstitute the draft?"
I struggled with my answers to both. The first because while there was much about Vietnam and the Army and that highly questionable war I disliked, I loved the men and women I served alongside and befriended. Some of the best people, and best relationships I've ever had. But, would I want to put my life at risk again? And would I want others to be in harm's way, knowing that Nixon and his predecessors had lied to us about our role and mission? I hesitated on that one . . .
I answered the second question more directly, and emphatically. "Yes, I support having a draft for ALL young Americans!
It wasn't until later that my response struck me as duplicitous. Sure, now that our latest two wars are winding down, and my own son and daughter wouldn't be affected by a reinstituted draft, it was easy for me to advocate for two years of mandatory national service - military and otherwise - for America's 18-25 year olds! But I was a hypocrite, since knowing what I did about fighting dubious wars against illusive and ill-defined enemies, I would have done almost anything to avoid having my children go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq if they were drafted.
But isn't that the point? If more than just one percent of the country's population was engaged in our latest wars - if all of us had to send our own sons and daughters and money to support waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq - would we? Or would we raise questions, even raise our voices, about what our government was doing and under what pretenses? Would we encourage our kids to speak up, and out? Would we hold protests and teach-ins and intense conversations about the legitimacy of war and the possibility of our loved ones being killed?
If so, perhaps these wars wouldn't have gone on for more than a decade and our fellow Americans - the one percent who "volunteered" - wouldn't have had to bear all the burden and had to readjust to an America that "thanked them for their service" but didn't want to hear what they had to do in our name?
Maybe there would have even been a peace movement and a more reasoned U. S. foreign policy?
I thought about that, and more, as I looked out at the inquisitive young faces, many of them black or brown, many of them already indicating they'd gladly sign on with Uncle Sam when they were out of high school because they needed a job and didn't have many other options.
Sure sounds a lot like mandatory national service to me.