Listening to the radio this Memorial Day morning I heard another one of those debates over whether we should reinstitute the draft. It's a debate that always makes me uncomfortable.
Born in 1963, I grew up watching the Vietnam war on TV: the protests, the combat footage, the nightly casualty counts. I wore a POW/MIA bracelet for several years, and after the US withdrew troops in 1973 I kept checking the newspaper for the listings of returned POWs and confirmed dead. My GI's name never showed up.
I had a vague notion that there was such a thing as a just war—say, fighting the Nazis or defending your home from invaders—but I was pretty sure I wasn't cut out for combat, and I absolutely damn well knew that I would never serve in a Vietnam. Even though the draft had ended by the time I came of age, it was a very real and tangible thing to me, and I was determined to evade it by any means possible, whatever the consequences, even if it meant a term in jail.
After President Carter reinstituted draft registration in 1980, I refused. It wasn't until 1983, when Congress made draft registration a requirement to receive college financial aid that I reluctantly complied, but only after smearing the form with fake blood, and then hand scrawling in the margins a note that I would refuse to serve if called.
So yeah, personally, I have some pretty strong anti-draft feelings.
That said, there are some pretty strong arguments in favor of a draft too, not the least of which being that we already have a poverty draft of sorts, in which young men and women sign up to earn tuition for college or because they have few other economic opportunities. The fairness issue aside, the main argument in favor of a draft is that perhaps Americans would be less eager to support the reckless projection of military power if all of our sons and daughters were at risk, and not just those of the poor (who we justify to ourselves "volunteered" for service anyway, so they knew what they were getting into).
But if the goal is really to make America less warlike I'm not so sure what is worse: The professionalization of a military class or the militarization of civilian society? It is likely true that a draft would make the military more economically diverse, but inculcated in this culture these draftees would eventually return to civilian life, many of them bringing pro-military leanings with them. The flip side to citizen-soldiers is soldier-citizens.
I'm not so naive as to think that we don't need a military, and I respect and appreciate the sacrifice that many of our service men and women make. But I remain convinced that making military service (or at least the risk of it) an obligation of citizenship would only serve to further define us as a militaristic nation, and thus make future Vietnams more likely, not less.