Monday, August 13, 2007

National Service

As the Viet -- I mean Iraq war drags on, more politicians are talking about instituting mandatory national service. This is a euphemism for a military draft.

If national service just meant cutting your hair, going through a brief period of physically demanding training, peeling potatoes and letting irritable assholes order you around for a few years it might not be so bad. But military service means that you may be ordered to kill people. That's what "serving your country" means: killing people you're told to kill because someone at the top of the chain of command has determined that they need to be killed.

The unswerving obedience to authority necessary to military service is utterly antithetical to the concepts of individual liberty, self reliance and self determination that supposedly form the foundation of our national identity. For your period of national service you have to put aside all that and accept that the leaders directing you forward with fixed bayonets know exactly what they're doing, and that any harm you cause or suffer ultimately serves the greater good.

Even if you know it's not true, you have a contractual obligation to perform as directed, and a bond of trust with your fellow warriors. You have to accept that those two things make the lives of the people on the other end of your gun barrel less important than your own. At the same time, you accept that your individual life and health are less important than the political objectives you were sent to bolster.

Anything less than this life and death commitment is considered contemptible. In our long tradition of killing each other over all manner of differences of opinion, we have developed the habit of revering warriors and not questioning the concept of war itself. Of course the good guys will fight the bad guys. The bad guys started it. We're going to find out where they live and go kick their asses.

Conflicts do arise. A fighting force governed by strong authority will always prevail over one that tries to organize itself democratically or by consensus. A fighting force that fools itself into believing that bloodshed is glorious will have better morale than one that acknowledges the pain, suffering and probable injustice generated by armed conflict. We just can't afford to have sensitive soldiers.

A draft will not make our country a better place. It will not make our young adults better people. It certainly didn't do so in the Vietnam era. The war itself made some people better and others worse, whether they took part in it or opposed it. Those who believe in the inherent virtue of military service will insist that the experience will improve everyone concerned. The fact is that anyone who would rise to the noble ideal of military service would rise to the noble ideal of any endeavor. And those who show up just to get to kill legally, and the saboteurs and malingerers and hopelessly inept will find their level and their path within the system without changing their basic nature. You can challenge people to bring out their inner strength without putting a gun in their hand and an enemy in front of them. Why don't we think about how to do that?

No comments: