I Sit And Look Out: Universal draft would help to make fighting a war fairer

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Some thoughts before Independence Day:

I am not a sign person. I do not like to show the labels of clothing I wear and I usually turn away from outward signs of comment on matters of small or large import.

I have not been an admirer of the “Support Our Troops” signs so many people used to put on their cars. They are few and far between these days and that is at it should be.

Support our troops? The children from Queens neighborhoods who have joined the armed forces and have faced multiple deployments to the stupid war in Iraq and the “necessary” conflict in Afghanistan?

Have we supported them with taxes? No. These wars can be fought on the cheap, we have been told. What we used to call “the home front” need feel no pain.

Have we supported them by working to reinstitute a universal draft in our nation so that all young people have the opportunity — and the duty — of serving their country? Horrors, a draft! That is for those funny foreign places like Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Israel and Switzerland.

Why not have a universal draft? It may put some young people in harm’s way, but too many of their peers face harm now.

Don’t we as citizens of a democracy owe something to our nation — that is, besides lip service and stickers on cars?

As readers of this column know, I was a coddled kid. I did not work a day in my life, part-time or otherwise, until I graduated from Newtown High School. Then I went to work fulltime two days after graduation and started evening session classes at City College at the same time.

I registered for the draft and when I was 18 I was called up. I shipped out first to Fort Hancock, N.J., and then to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. I lost 20 pounds in basic training — all to the good. After basic training, I went to work for the weekly newspaper on the post and then became the editor.

Because I had not enlisted and the laws changed, I was able to be discharged, as a veteran of World War II, although the shooting war was long since over in a year and 10 days. I received full veteran benefits, including unemployment dollars, when I briefly needed them and GI Bill money for graduate work at Columbia University.

Did this all scar me for life? I leave that for others to judge.

In a world where the very foundations of our democracy are being challenged by forces I believe to be innately evil, all citizens should be engaged in the conflict. It should not be left to those men and women of Queens and the rest of the country who join up and return to combat again and again and then try to go back, at some time, to “normal” lives.

George Washington said this: “It must be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal service to the defense of it ....”

Let us bring back the universal draft. It is the democratic thing to do. It may well give pause to flag-waving warmongers so they will reconsider why and how they send into conflict those who will protect the country we cherish.

Otto von Bismarck wrote, “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.”

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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