For the draft
One of the great victories of the antiwar movement in the Vietnam era was the abolition of selective service.
In retrospect, this was a victory for the right. For the left, and for the American people, it was a disaster.
The draft, it turns out, is a dialectical instrument – one in which the affordances impinge on each other. As a political tool, it both mobilized the population to do the bidding of the political establishment and spread mass anxiety that the political establishment had to respond to. Its abolition has contributed to two trends.
One is the trend to executive office wars. These started out small in the Reagan years, became much bigger under Bush 1, and exploded under Bush 2 and Obama.
The second is the drifting apart of the general population and the guarantor state. That state, built to support the working class, now routinely supports capital against the working class. And it supports war.
If the draft had not been abolished in the seventies, millions of men and women in the fourty years between its abolition and now would have been drafted. They would have been eligible for health benefits across their lifetime. They would have had educational benefits that would have significantly reduced the burden of student debt, perhaps most of it. If the draft had continued, African American men and women, in particular, would have seen their upward social mobility accelerate instead of stagnate and decline. The revenge of Jim Crow, the jailing of the young African American population that is one of the most shameful and horrible things that has happened in my lifetime in this country, would have been halted.
Looking back at the upward social mobility that characterized the post World War two era, it is surprising how much of it was connected to the draft – to the war machine. Millions of Gis received education benefits that landed them in college, the first in their families to ever have that chance. Millions were able to afford housing. Millions, today, rely on medical insurance from the VA.
If you go through the biographies of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, until recently the outstanding data point was how many came from working class families and went through the army or navy or air force, which led them into the path they took upwards.
It was an excellent tactic, in the sixties, to resist the draft. When I call it a dialectical instrument, this is what I mean. The draft personalizes foreign policy. During the sixties, a demonstration had much more symbolic and political power because those demonstrating were potentially draftees – people who had had to deal with the system. Thus, they spread discontent throughout the system.
The demonstration has become a relic precisely to the extent that the establishment no longer needs the population. The million people who came out against the Iraq war weren’t the comrades, or even very connected to, the people who were going to fight it – the mercenaries and volunteers.
As well, the sense of solidarity – the sense that the government is yours, because you have served it – was also a victim of the end of the draft. There is little sense, now, that the taxes taken by the government are more an investment for the vast majority of people. They are, instead, a suck on their marginal existences.
In a stroke, bringing back the draft will make it impossible for the establishment to engage in such things as our endless war in Afghanistan, a sixteen year, trillion and a half dollar enterprise that is being fought to save the establishment’s face. Think, we have spent that money and blood and now Afghanistan is free! Save for the women, the half of the country infested with war lords or the Taliban, and most of the impoverished population.
Don’t you feel the rush?
The draft will also brighten the chances for a less endebted future, and perhaps even a wealthier one, for a whole generation of Americans. We will once again start asking the question Kennedy got wrong: ask not what you can do for the government, ask what the government can do for you.
Otherwise, you are fucked.