Adding Insult to Death

Oklahoma Gazette | August 10, 2005
The rhetoric is becoming superheated now. In The New York Times, a Marine veteran from World War II, David Duncan, who grew up led by what he called “Olympian eloquence” (Roosevelt), and “brutal bluntness” (Truman), writes that the America he once knew has now almost vanished. Then he makes this stunning statement:

“Today in Iraq, where nearly every dawn is lacerated by mounting carnage -- local and foreign -- American troops are hemorrhaging among the wounded and the dead, pawns in an unspeakable farce, for the United States of America is not at war.”

What he means, of course, is that because there is no draft, and our all-volunteer army is made up of young men and women who mostly thought they were getting extra money for college, or the chance to visit exotic ports of call, there is a shameful disconnect between those we pay to fight for us, and the citizenry for whom they are fighting. President Bush, after all, was the first to order troops into battle, and the rest of us into the mall.

Gone are the victory gardens and war bonds. Gone is Rosie the Riveter. Gone, in fact, is any real sense that the rest of us are even a part of this misbegotten invasion turned occupation/civil war. It’s being handled by professionals, a lean, mean fighting force with high-tech weapons, which has become something closer to what Stanford professor David Kennedy dares to call a “mercenary army” in The New York Times.

He doesn’t question their idealism or their patriotism, and still believes that the “profession of arms is a noble calling, and there is no shame in wage labor.” But he can’t blame the soldiers who are beginning to complain that they feel increasingly disconnected from the citizens for whose “freedom” they are said to be fighting.

As it turns out, great minds from Aristotle and Machiavelli to Thomas Jefferson and Robert Shaw have issued sterns warnings about the dangers of “standing armies” instead of militias drawn broadly from the citizens of the nation at war. It has always been considered not only fair, but a great deterrent to unnecessary wars, that citizens across the economic and political spectrum were asked to bear arms. Read that -- be drafted.

If it is truly our freedom that’s at stake, then no able-bodied man (and now woman) should be exempt from the call to service. Once upon a time, the sacrifice of those who stayed home was not to go shopping, but to ration their very existence for the cause. Not now. Now, in the words of the old Virginia Slims commercial, we’ve come a long way, baby!

In 1970, when I was a freshman in college and the Vietnam War was raging, we had something called the draft lottery. Instead of lotto numbers popping up on Ping-Pong balls and being arranged to show the winning sequence, a friendly looking woman from the Defense Department retrieved numbers that formed birth dates. If you got a low number, you were drafted.

A group of my friends ordered pizza one night and watched in a dorm room with some trepidation to see if our “number” came up. We were all stunned when a good friend of mine saw his birthday come up first. We turned to look at him, and he was pale as a ghost. He excused himself, went into the bathroom, and vomited.

Once upon a time, war could touch us all, unless we had flat feet, were eloquent Quakers, or had a rich daddy who could get us into the National Guard. Now war is outsourced, like everything else. Our paid warriors do their job. We give them free cars. And in all the ways that really matter, we are oblivious.

Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC church of Oklahoma City, and professor of rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. His newest book, “The Virtue in the Vice,” is endorsed by Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu.

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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