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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A War For Us Fought By Them

A War for us fought by them

By William Broyles, Jr.


WILSON, Wyo.
- The longest love affair of my life began with a shotgun marriage. It was the height of the Vietnam War and my student deferment had run out. Desperate not to endanger myself or to interrupt my personal plans, I wanted to avoid military service altogether. I didn't have the resourcefulness of Bill Clinton, so I couldn't figure out how to dodge the draft. I tried to escape into the National Guard, where I would be guaranteed not to be sent to war, but I lacked the connections of George W. Bush, so I couldn't slip ahead of the long waiting list.

My attitude was the same as Dick Cheney's: I was special, I had "other priorities." Let other people do it.

When my draft notice came in 1968, I was relieved in a way. Although I had deep doubts about the war, I had become troubled about how I had angled to avoid military service. My classmates from high school were in the war; my classmates from college were not - exactly the dynamic that exists today. But instead of reporting for service in the Army, on a whim I joined the Marine Corps, the
last place on earth I thought I belonged.

My sacrifice turned out to be minimal. I survived a year as an infantry lieutenant in
Vietnam. I was not wounded; nor did I struggle for years with post-traumatic stress disorder. A long bout of survivor guilt was the price I paid. Others suffered far more, particularly those who had to serve after the war had lost all sense of purpose for the men fighting it. I like to think that in spite of my being so unwilling at first, I did some small service to my country and to that enduring love of mine, the United States
Marine Corps.

To my profound surprise, the Marines did a far greater service to me. In three years I learned more about standards, commitment and yes, life, than I did in six years of university. I also learned that I had had no idea of my own limits: when I was exhausted after humping up and down jungle mountains in 100-degree heat with a 75-pound pack, terrified out of my mind, wanting only to quit, convinced I wouldn't take another step, I found that in fact I could keep going for miles. And my life was put in the hands of young men I would otherwise never have met, by and large high-school dropouts, who turned out to be among the finest people I have ever known.

I am now the father of a young man who has far more character than I ever had. I joined the Marines because I had to; he signed up after college because he felt he ought to. He volunteered for an elite unit and has served in both
Afghanistan and Iraq
. When I see images of Americans in the war zones, I think of my son and his friends, many of whom I have come to know and deeply respect. When I opened this newspaper yesterday and read the front-page headline, "9 G.I.'s Killed," I didn't think in abstractions. I thought very personally.

The problem is, I don't see the images of or read about any of the young men and women who, as Dick Cheney and I did, have "other priorities."

There are no immediate family members of any of the prime civilian planners of this war serving in it - beginning with President Bush and extending deep into the Defense Department. Only one of the 535 members of Congress, Senator Tim Johnson of
South Dakota
, has a child in the war - and only half a dozen others have sons and daughters in the military. The memorial service yesterday for
Pat Tillman, the football star killed in
Afghanistan, further points out this contrast. He remains the only professional athlete of any sport who left his privileged life during this war and turned in his play uniform for a real one. With few exceptions, the only men and women in military service are the profoundly patriotic or the economically needy. It was not always so. In other wars, the men and women in charge made sure their family members led the way. Since 9/11, the war on terrorism has often been compared to the generational challenge of Pearl Harbor; but Franklin D. Roosevelt's sons all enlisted soon after that attack. Both of Lyndon B. Johnson's sons-in-law served in Vietnam
.

This is less a matter of politics than privilege. The Democratic elites have not responded more nobly than have the Republican; it's just that the Democrats' hypocrisy is less acute. Our president's own family illustrates the loss of the sense of responsibility that once went with privilege. In three generations the Bushes have gone from war hero in World War II, to war evader in
Vietnam, to none of the extended family showing up in Iraq and Afghanistan
.

Pat Tillman didn't want to be singled out for having done what other patriotic Americans his age should have done. The problem is, they aren't doing it. In spite of the president's insistence that our very civilization is at stake, the privileged aren't flocking to the flag.

The war is being fought by Other People's Children. The war is impersonal for the very people to whom it should be most personal.

If the children of the nation's elites were facing enemy fire without body armor, riding through gantlets of bombs in unarmored Humvees, fighting desperately in an increasingly hostile environment because of arrogant and incompetent civilian leadership, then those problems might well find faster solutions.

The men and women on active duty today - and their companions in the National Guard and the reserves - have seen their willingness, and that of their families, to make sacrifices for their country stretched thin and finally abused. Thousands of soldiers promised a one-year tour of duty have seen that promise turned into a lie. When Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, told the president that winning the war and peace in
Iraq
would take hundreds of thousands more troops, Mr. Bush ended his career.

As a result of this and other ill-advised decisions, the war is in danger of being lost, and my beloved military is being run into the ground. This abuse of the voluntary military cannot continue. How to ensure adequate troop levels, with a diversity of backgrounds? How to require the privileged to shoulder their fair share? In other words, how to get today's equivalents of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney - and me - into the military, where their talents could strengthen and revive our fighting forces? The only solution is to
bring back the draft. Not since the 19th century has
America fought a war that lasted longer than a week with an all-volunteer army; we can't do it now. It is simply not built for a protracted major conflict. The arguments against the draft - that a voluntary army is of higher quality, that the elites will still find a way to evade service - are bogus. In World War II we used a draft army to fight the Germans and Japanese - two of the most powerful military machines in history - and we won. The problems in the military toward the end of Vietnam
were not caused by the draft; they were the result of young Americans being sent to fight and die in a war that had become a disaster.

One of the few good legacies of
Vietnam is that after years of abuses we finally learned how to run the draft fairly. A strictly impartial lottery, with no deferments, can ensure that the draft intake matches military needs. Chance, not connections or clever manipulation, would determine who serves. If this war is truly worth fighting, then the burdens of doing so should fall on all Americans. If you support this war, but assume that Pat Tillman and Other People's Children should fight it, then you are worse than a hypocrite. If it's not worth your family fighting it, then it's not worth it, period. The draft is the truest test of public support for the administration's handling of the war, which is perhaps why the administration is so dead set against bringing it back.


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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952-'72
Semper Fidelis
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