A modest proposal: Reinstate the draft

Baby boomers like to boast that they are much more politically attuned than succeeding generations. That may be true, but there was a solid motivating factor for the intense interest in all things political that took hold of that generation, and it went far beyond simply being a responsible citizen. The Woodstock era’s political fascination sprang directly from two realities of the time: the Vietnam War and the military draft. The result? A counterculture dominated by the theme of peace and love, rampant liberalism and a concern for fellow humans everywhere.

Hold a draft over people’s heads during a bloody conflict that seems to be without end, and they get politically involved with gusto. They read more than just the sports and entertainment pages in the newspapers. They pay attention to evening news. They connect themselves to the bigger picture and begin to give serious attention to what their government is doing.

Of course, once the Vietnam War ended and, with it, the draft, many boomers reverted to the “culture of narcissism,” to use an apt phrase, that dominates today’s society. Cocaine abuse, Reaganomics and disco took center stage. Former war protestors became hawks when it came to Qaddafi, Saddam and Kosovo.

Now President Bush is about to throw the nation into a war that could well engage our military in a protracted conflict that will spark reactions and violence across the globe. Militarism has become the Bush mantra. And opposition, to this point, has been generally muted, even as our freedoms are traded in the name of protection from an ill-defined enemy.

So when Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., recently suggested the Bush administration resume the draft before engaging in a war with Iraq, his words caught our attention, albeit in an ironic, even Swiftian way. Reinstating the draft may be a drastic way to foster political involvement, but it would do the job.

From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces. In 1973, the draft ended, and the nation converted to an all-volunteer military. The registration requirement was suspended in April 1975. It was resumed again in 1980 by President Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and continues today, but the draft does not.

Perhaps it is time once again to subject young people, women as well as men, to the draft. Perhaps the mere discussion of such a possibility will be enough to make people put down their cell phones, pull over the SUVs and realize where our country is headed.

While we admire the peace promoters who continue to gather on the corner of Main and Third streets, the rest of us need to wake up. And nothing gets our attention faster than the idea of forced participation and sacrifice.