“THANKYOUFORYOURSERVICE” IS NOT THE ANSWER
A colleague recently relayed the following story:
He was visiting The Walter Reed Hospital reception center where he met a triple amputee soldier. He bought him a cup of coffee and to start the conversation asked the soldier why he was smiling. Grinning ear to ear, the soldier seemed to be remembering a joke. He had just come, however, from his room where for countless number of times he had met a congressional group who began in the usual way—thanking him for his service. He stopped them short and said, “Don’t thank me for my service. I am conflicted about that. Thank me for my sacrifice—you can plainly see that!” The group left swiftly. A Marine lance corporal at the same table missing one leg laughed along with them.
This short vignette captures many of the problems contained in our unending war. Congress seems concerned but is preoccupied by other matters. Public citizens are concerned but are so unfamiliar with war and trauma they do not know how to speak with soldiers. Soldiers are conflicted about the goals of war reflecting leadership’s lack of clarity on why we fight. Society may acknowledge their service but confronting their sacrifice is quite another matter. And humor does help.
Readers may well ask why they should be concerned about these matters. The answers involve basic civil decency, morality and, if that were not enough, economics and fair play with the next generation need to be added. Let us examine what is happening.
The Army requires about three brigades, 9,000 recruiting staff, obtaining one-to-two recruits every two months to fulfill its quota of 62,000 service men and women per year (fiscal year 2016). The recruiting and retention efforts (combat pay, health care, retirement packages, and college tuition) cost one half of the entire Army budget. Is this scenario sustainable? Should one half of the Army budget be designated for salaries and benefits? Should citizens be aware of these expenses? Furthermore, the personnel demands to continue this level of recruitment are severe and, noteworthy; the incidence of suicide among recruiters is one of the highest in the Army. The pressure on recruiters to produce is just that stressful. A draft of citizens into national service could greatly reduce these costs. www.avfforum.org
Securing and protecting our unalienable rights—“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” of 99% of Americans has become the obligation and duty of only one percent of Americans. When our Founding Fathers wrote the second Amendment, allowing people, citizen soldiers, the right to bear arms to fight in militias, it is doubtful the Founding Fathers envisioned that only one percent would feel that obligation. We, the 99 percent, appear to have become a nation not fully involved in our obligation of common defense but one that prefers deploying guns against one another as if we perceive our fellow citizens to be the enemy. A draft of citizens would not only be economically more viable but a cultural leveler. Trained and deployed together in national service, a diverse group of citizens, would learn the value of pursuing goals larger than themselves and ones they share in common.
Our national debt is now approximately 21 trillion dollars. The war in Afghanistan was projected to cost 500 billion but the bill for post 9/11 wars is now nearing 6 trillion. Of all the debt incurred since the founding of the nation, nearly one-third, comes from this last unending war. And almost all of that has come from borrowed money—arguably our children’s credit cards—for which they as citizens will have to pay as our generation fades way.
A draft of citizens, the service of all of us or at least the annual threat of the draft of our sons and daughters, would help each of us understand the sacrifice of the triple and single amputee in the above vignette. If each of us were called to serve, we would quickly get to know more clearly what soldiers experience. And then, more informed, the public would be actively involved in the decisions about going to war.
The elimination of the draft has produced a necessarily more technically sophisticated and professional Army. The absence of the draft, however, has allowed the 99 percent to escape our obligation as citizens. In order to understand that Thankyouforyourservice is not enough we all need to share in the sacrifice. And being at risk for the draft might also bring the never ending wars more quickly to a halt. What a paradox: those who advocate peace might more easily accomplish their goal by advocating for a renewed military draft of all citizens.