Halloween Fun-Pak

No More

In the Air Tonight

Ready to Die

Building Fears

Holy Shit! I'm a Racist

How D'Ya Survive the Coming Chaos?

The words pop up in magenta Hallmark script: "Selective Service and Yo." I wonder if this is a nod to the hiphop generation, or just an unfortunate typo.

I've come to the "Selective Service and You" website. Beneath the "u"-less magenta header, a series of lavender numbers parades up to a bursting "18!" in a big pink ball. Written at the bottom of the page in the same soft lavender script are the words "Time to Register." It's a gentle reminder, like a parent whispering, "Time to get up." Still, there's no denying the thinly veiled challenge to American masculinity. The grandmother handwriting, the pastel colors. I'm frightened.

Two months ago, the threat of getting drafted would have been merely laughable. But after September 11, that dismissive attitude has shriveled, dragging those of us born after The Godfather, Part II and before National Lampoon's Vacation back into the long-dormant "Holy shit! The draft!" mentality.

Think of it this way: I know there's not a giant sea anemone in my closet, but that doesn't mean the prospect doesn't scare the hell out of me. And what could be scarier than the prospect of the draft, no matter how remote? All of us who have registered (deciding not to face a fine of $250,000 and/or five years in jail for failing to do so) have felt the hypothetical reality set in. We live our next nine years with distant, invisible crosshairs trained on our mentally, morally, and physically fit-for-combat heads. And now, as the bombs hail down on the impenetrable desert mountains of Afghanistan, the hypothetical feels uncomfortably possible.

This possibility dips the gentle, furry gremlin of complacency into the water of scared-shitlessness. The draft presents loads of things for a free-thinking, liberal arts-educated guy like me to be scared of: yelling sergeants, group bunks, mess halls, standard-issue clothing, no clock radios. Not to mention the forced oneness of "the unit."

And then there's war. I confess: The thought of resorting to violence sickens me. It just seems so stupid, such an obviously stupid way of solving things. The only time I ever shot a gun was at summer camp. I missed a lot. I'm glad I missed a lot. I don't want to know how not to miss with a gun. I think I'd almost rather be shot than shoot someone. One of the creepiest things about war is that it would probably reverse these instincts, and turn me (or anyone) into a skilled and willing killer. That is, if I'm not killed first. Of course, there's an alternate path: Weaseling out. "Going to Canada." Taking two hits of acid and wearing a "Nobody Knows I'm Gay" T-shirt to the draft board interview. But this path leads to almost equally terrifying dilemmas. Sure, I can say that I don't want to go shoot people and get shot at, but who made my life worth so much more than all those who are hurled into war, all those who lack the means or the smarts or the stomach to dodge the draft? If I fail to race off to training, swept up in a rush of patriotism and camaraderie, I risk living the rest of my life immersed in guilt over those thousands of other American men my age who had to kill or die or lose a limb or go crazy while I turned comfortably inward. This guilt would never end, no matter how I end up serving my country in other ways.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleisher and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld assure us that the Pentagon does not foresee the reinstatement of the draft. Just about everyone else agrees it isn't going to come back. Given the nature of the conflict and today's sophisticated military, it almost certainly won't.

But I don't care. Rationalizing and calming the public down are the politicians' jobs; being scared is ours. We civilian American men born between 1975 and 1984 are entitled to Draft Fear, and we should cling to it like a blankie.