Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Young Men's Lives Matter: On the Military Draft, Sex, Age, and Status

            I did not serve in the US military — four years of  high school plus college ROTC is not a military career — but I am "Vietnam Era" and keep as souvenirs from the period my draft card dated on my 18th birthday and my 1-A classification (immediately "Available for Military Service") dated "APR 24 1970", shortly after I had written my draft board to thank them, sincerely, for having treated me fairly but asserting I could "no longer in good conscience do business with your firm."

            So I have had a long time to think about US military conscription and good reason to think about it seriously.

            My most recent thinking was prompted by the headline for an AP story in my local newspaper for Feb. 3rd,  "Top brass: Consider women for draft," i.e., consider requiring young women in the USA to register for military conscription even as young men are required to register and, if called, serve.

            If men are to be subject to the draft, women should be as well.

                 * First, our history has been that military service has advanced the cause of oppressed groups, most clearly military service by Black men from the Civil War through Vietnam. Service could serve as well for women.

                 * Second, our rule in the United States is "Universal obligation and selective service," so unless there are good reasons to exempt a group from service, there's no reason to exempt them. In the eras of mass armies, it made sense to draft young men: male mammals are biologically expendable, and young male Americans as a class were usually politically weak and economically expendable; females are biologically crucial. We are, however, past the era of cannons and cannon fodder, and probably past the era when wars of attrition were won — as it is arguable that North Vietnam won — by producing enough draft-age people each year to replace casualties.

                  * Third, Senator Sam Ervin said something like, "America isn't ready to see her daughters coming home in green body bags," or maybe he got it right (body bags are unsuitable for long-range shipping) and that was "America is not ready to see her daughters coming home in flag-draped aluminum coffins." Either way, Senator Ervin had a strong point back then — Ervin died in 1985 — and one that still holds: for motivations more sentimental than ethical, Americans are less willing to have young American women killed or maimed in battle than young American men. That is an additional and powerful reason to include women in any draft and potential combat: as a curb on US bellicosity.

            Nowadays, many young women can render excellent military service, and America can afford the biological costs. By the same logic, many older people can also serve useful military roles, and we have the information technology to identify them. 

            If the military needs police or plumbers or lab technicians, it's inefficient to draft 19-year-olds and train them when you can draft professionals. And if a threat is serious enough to require conscription, it's serious enough that every American adult be in the "universal" pool for a highly selective, computerized Selective Service. 

            Indeed, if the danger is so great that Congress authorizes conscription, it's serious enough to draft by lottery something like one Senator and four Representatives a month for the duration of conscription. There is always something even the oldest and most enfeebled Senator can do, even if it's just low-tech unexploded bomb disposal or mine detection and clearance: if the cause is serious enough that we can conscript the young and healthy to risk being killed or maimed, it's certainly justification for putting at risk powerful members of the generations that got us into such a mess.

            I'm in my seventies, but I can still type and do clerical work or, if necessary, walk across a minefield with, or without, a mine detector. And, although such documents are no longer necessary to locate Americans, I still have my draft card and registration number, and that 1-A classification suitable for most Americans for a Presidential invitation for, minimally, a free physical and mental exam and possibly, as the old draft notices read, "induction into the Armed Forces of the United States."

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