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One Good Thing About the Draft

December 22, 2016

I truly find it difficult to say anything positive about the Selective Service System, also known as the Draft.  It was the bane of my existence for several years back in the late 1960s and early 70s.  But, in retrospect I must conclude that the Draft did serve a positive function.  The Draft made young men think about the realities and the morality of war in ways the many of us might not have had it not been hanging over our heads.

In my own case, I did as I was required and registered with the SSS in 1965 when I turned 18.  At that time I do recall that there was a question on the form that asked in some way shape or form if I was a “conscientious objector”.  At that point in time I was not so I answered accordingly.  For the next four years I was in college so I was exempt from being drafted.  But, that did not mean that the reality of military service was put far out of mind.  Where I went to school, all male students, unless they came from a denominational background that was pacifistic, were required to take two years of ROTC.  The last two years of ROTC were optional, but if you took that option you would be required to serve four years active duty entering the army at the rank of second lieutenant.  Much of the time spent in the first two years was dedicated to convincing us that it would really be in our best interest to continue since, “after all we were all going to be drafted as soon as we graduated anyway and wouldn’t we rather be an officer than a grunt.”

While I was in college and the Viet Nam war was escalating, I was forced to confront the moral questions surrounding that war and war in general.  As I have already stated, I was not a pacifist when I started this process.  For me, it did not take very long to decide that the particulars of the Viet Nam situation were morally unjustifiable.  But that was only the start of a journey.  I studied “just war theory” and the history of that perspective in the Church.  Just War Theory just made sense.  Certainly the Germans in WW II should not have participated in that horrible conflict.  What about me?  What about the United States?  I had to dig into history.  I had to come to the conclusion that no military action of the U.S. had ever met the criteria to make it a “Just War”.  Even in situations where the cause might have justified it the means used disqualified it.  From there I went on to question if it was conceivable that the U.S. could ever be a part of a “Just War” in the future.  I had to conclude that this given the state of world politics, modern weaponry, and the mindset of our military, this was not even a remote possibility.  Therefore I became a functional pacifist.  Just a side note here, the fact that I did spend two years in ROTC being exposed to the military mindset up close played a significant role in turning me toward pacifism.

 

I could write much more about my own experience with the Selective Service System and my do so in a separate context.  For now, I want to consider the role that the Draft played in our culture.  Because all males in my age group faced the real likelihood of being shipped off to kill and be killed in a war that was morally repugnant, all of our culture had to face this reality.  The anti-war movement became more and more powerful.  More and more of us found ways to avoid participation.  Demonstrations, non-cooperation, supporting political candidates committed to ending the war, all had the eventual impact of bring an end to a tragic involvement.  Popular music, theater, and art combined with political involvement to contribute to the cause.  However, the point was that this all took place in part because that war touched us all.  It touched us all because of the Draft.

There has been no Draft since the end of the Viet Nam war.  As a result none of the military adventures that have been embarked on since have touched so closely the majority of people living in this country.  Today it is possible for many of us to know no one who has served in the active duty military.  U.S. casualties have been nowhere near the numbers that we saw in past actions.  We disregard casualties of the nationals in the places where we have fought.  Now military action is something far more abstract and less personal.  Going to war is a political consideration and not a moral one.

I hated the Selective Service System as I fought it with all that I had.  I still absolutely believe that it is an evil institution.  But, it did one positive thing.  It made a lot of us think far more deeply about really important things that we might not have otherwise.  Since the Draft has been gone I don’t think that there is nearly enough thought being given to those issues.  As a result, politicians, multi-national corporations, and the military-industrial are able to manipulate the systems to accomplish their own sets of goals and ambitions without moral input.

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