Is it time to bring back the draft?
By Rodolfo Acuña
There is nothing more repugnant than hypocrisy. I can accept the flaws of others but I cannot tolerate sanctimoniousness pretensions. For example, it mattered little to me what President Bill Clinton did in his leisure time. However, all of the religious talk and his characterization of Monica as “That woman!” offended me. But, when it all came down, the impeachment proceedings really did me in, i.e., Republicans and Democrats hypocritically casting stones at Clinton for doing what they themselves had done or were doing. It was intellectual dishonesty at its mendacious worse.
The same sense of repugnancy overwhelmed me as both Houses of Congress voted to approve President George W. Bush’s resolution on the war with Iraq. Although pleasantly surprised by the number of Democrats who voted against it, the perversion of the Constitution by most of representatives and senators disgusted me. Under the cover of the American flag, the members of Congress threw out the principle of checks and balances, which the framers of the Constitution designed to brake the actions of a tyrant.
Congress would have made the so-called Founding Fathers turn over in their graves. For all of the elite pretensions of this group of men, they knew that the president had awesome powers. In the 1790s John Adams favored war with France to strengthen the nation’s ties with England. The Congress checked Adams. Although congressional oversight has been problematic at times, until now there has at least been some spirited debate. However, at a time when there is no imminent danger, the Democratic leadership in Congress is rolling over and allowing the president to distort reality in comparing Saddam Hussein with Hitler. Come on, Hitler had the capability of beating us.
One thing you can say for Republicans, they were not afraid to confront Clinton. Yet this does not absolve their hypocrisy. For eight years they crucified Clinton for being a draft dodger and regularly pointed out the contradiction of his exhausting his draft exemptions, and the contradiction of Clinton playing Commander-in-Chief of an all-volunteer, highly trained military during the Kosovar Relief War. They pointed out that George Bush, Sr. who commanded the Gulf War was a World War II veteran.
However, these sanctimoniousness patriots are now rallying behind war hawks who avoided conflict during the Vietnam War. The leader of the hawks, vice-president Dick Cheney, was former President Bush’s defense secretary during the Persian Gulf War. During the Vietnam War, Cheney received five student and marriage deferments of service and he told the Washington Post in 1989, “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service . . . I don’t regret the decisions I made. I complied fully with all the requirements of the statutes, registered with the draft when I turned 18. Had I been drafted, I would have been happy to serve.” But, the fact is that he avoided service.
President George W. Bush spent the Vietnam War years in a National Guard unit, and at that did not bother serving out his full tour of duty. Bush received a preferential acceptance, got “bumped ahead,” to the Texas Air National Guard. He signed up for a six-year hitch, spent twenty-two months flying after completing training, but just simply walked away from his commitment. This is the same person who accused Vice President Al Gore of character flaws and exaggerations and Democrats not being patriotic. Add to the list of hypocrites Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Dan Quayle and Dick Armey.
But, I should not be naive and believe that politicians will check each other, for after all their main vocation in life is to get elected. And, the Supreme Court apparently cares little about the Constitution as long as it can pursue its judicial activist agenda and deconstruct Civil Rights laws. The President has cowed the Fourth Estate, which act out shams such as “Crossfire” that bills its moderators as from the right and from the left.
The sad truth is that the presidency cannot be checked because he is above the Constitution. In very subtle ways, George W. Bush has shown that he has no respect for the Constitution and that he is the Office of the Presidency. Take small incidents such as his publicly saying a prayer in a classroom. Under the Constitution this violates the First Amendment and technically grounds for impeachment. It is certainly more of a public flaunting of the Constitution than Clinton wearing his pants at half mast. As president he has every right to criticize the First Amendment and even try to change it, but does he have the right to flaunt it and then expect others to follow the law. Bush swaggers like a cowboy but where was he when he could have proved his commitment?
I have arrived at the conclusion that the only restraint on a President is public opinion. It was public opinion that restrained Richard Nixon in 1969 from using nuclear bombs and it was public opinion ended that war. This has led me to rethink my position on the draft, which I at one time opposed and called unjust. However, what opponents of the draft and I forgot was that volunteer armies also heavily relied on the poor and that it gave the middle class and the ruling elite a convenient way to live out their hypocrisy.
What drove the opposition to the Vietnam War was the opposition to the draft. “Hell no, we won’t go” was just that. I am not saying that there was not a core of true believers nor that many became true believers during the struggle, but that the engine that drove the movement was the reality that they would draft the middle class via the lottery. It was about self-interest.
Considering this self-interest, and the fact that the polls drive politics, I posit we draft all Americans including women. We are no longer fighting wars under physically rigorous World War II conditions, so the draft should include a wider pool, let’s say from 18 to 55. We should eliminate all deferments for college students, and we should make it a felony for anyone to solicit or seek an exemption or special treatment of siblings or friends in entering units such as the National Guard.
The more that I think about the hypocrisy of the hawks and the American public, the more convinced I am that the lack of accountability drives the polls and encourages the cowboys to go to extremes. You can swagger and you can bluster if you don’t have to pay the price. Americans can today go to war without fear of having their children or grandchildren go to war. They can shelter them by deferring payment for weapons of mass destruction and paying for a volunteer army. They simply don’t have to put their actions where their mouths are.
Reprinted with permission from LatinoLA.com (http://www.latinola.com)