Although our presidential aspirants don’t talk about it very much, thousands of American soldiers are fighting and dying this summer in Afghanistan. The website icasualties.org reports that since June, 105 American troops have been killed — a grim addition to the 2,104 U.S. fatalities chalked up there since 2001.
Despite the general indifference to the war by the affluent classes that don’t have to fight it, some Americans remain frustrated by what they see as a glacial pace in removing our soldiers from this seemingly endless quagmire. To this dismayed citizenry, let me offer a think-outside-the-box suggestion sure to incite sputtering rage on both the left and right — one that might actually succeed, in that it reflects the uncomfortable reality of how social class drives our national policy.
I would ask these anguished citizens to temporarily set aside their concerns with our Afghan predicament, and focus their energies instead on a potentially more effective back-door approach to ending the war: Reinstating the military draft revoked by President Richard Nixon in 1973 — but this time with no exemptions or deferments easily manipulated by the well-heeled and well-connected to escape serving their country.
As paradoxical and outlandish as this proposition might sound, I believe reimposing the draft would end the Afghan conflict with light speed compared to the grandiose military and political withdrawal plans Washington spawns with regularity.
As has become quite obvious in the current presidential contest, the U.S. power elite, because of their frequent role as opinion leaders and prime funders of re-election campaigns, are the only group to which most politicians really pay any attention. The reinstatement of the draft would, quite simply, energize the power of this plutocracy to once again bend politicians to its will; in this case, preventing the children of these mandarins from becoming cannon fodder — a prospect they’ve never had to confront since the advent of the modern volunteer army, which depends on the bedrock patriotism of the working classes, or lack of civilian job opportunities, to ensure its success.
Whatever one thinks of the morality of the draft, I believe that the war will continue to drag on as long as upscale Americans see it as an abstract issue that has little relevance to their day-to-day lives. Unless their toilet overflows, these denizens of the Nike and Chablis milieu of our society seldom have any meaningful contact with, or concern for, the strata that furnishes the bodies to be killed or mutilated in our military crusades.
Despite the media’s nostalgic focus on the dramatic demonstrations and confrontations of the 1960s, I believe, as an Army veteran who actually lived through that time, that what really ended the Vietnam war was the graduation in the late 1960s and early 1970s of large numbers of college students, who could no longer hide behind educational deferments. For the first time, these scions of privilege saw themselves — and not just blue collar stiffs — in the direct line of fire, both literally and figuratively. Their parents, whatever personal feelings they might have had about the legitimacy of the war, were not about to let their flesh and blood get in harm’s way, and subtly, but forcefully, made Nixon and other elected representatives fully aware of the displeasure of their most important constituents.
In 1975, James Fallows, now a national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine, wrote an article titled, “What Did You Do in the Class War, Daddy?”, in which he argued that while privileged young men like himself (a Harvard student during the Vietnam era) believed at the time that they were fighting the war machine by escaping military service on technicalities, such draft deferments actually prolonged the conflict by lowering the stakes for the elites who could have actually done something to stop it — which was why the Johnson administration quietly but deliberately allowed these deferments to continue.
For the upscale and well-educated to whom the terrible repercussions of war are merely a “tsk-tsk” item to be quickly glossed over on the way to reading some variation on how to get into the best colleges in America, the rebirth of the draft would have an immediate in-your-face impact that no endless, perfervid reporting of casualties in that enigmatic and perplexing land could possibly equal.