I was asked to guest teach a Junior High class this week; I’d been asked if I was interested before. The subject then was “Veteran’s Day”…the subject now is “The Draft”. I knew, probably about as much as you knew, abut the Draft. I have vague memories of draft cards being burned, protests and news reports. I barely remember it being ended, at the pen of President Nixon; and I honestly didn’t give much thought about why my son was registering for Selective Service. I figured he’d be a volunteer, like my dad, my mom, my sister and brother, and my nephew.
But now…I’m going to have all these students look at me. And then, later this semester, they will be debating the draft. I did some homework…before giving them homework. What did I learn, or rediscover?
The draft began during the Civil War. I knew that…remembered it from my college course. Remembered that wealthier people would pay for the poorer members of society to “pay their dues” for them. Farmer John became GI John, because it paid better. Or paid at all. What GI John discovered was that war may have paid more, but it offered an equal opportunity for getting in harm’s way. I didn’t know that there were riots, even during the Civil War, over the draft.
World War I, World War II, and the Cold War (including both the Korean War and the Vietnam War) also used the draft. Although Woodrow Wilson called it selective service instead of conscription, it was the same registration and service.
The draft is no longer used, but our able bodied young men (not women YET), still register. Less than 1% of our nation serve today, down from the WWII service of between 11-15%.
What will I leave the students with? This George Washington quote:
“It is incumbent on our citizens to protect our country. Every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government owes not only a portion of his property but even his personal service to the defense of it”
The Continental Congress disagreed, declining Gen. Washington’s request for a conscription. During the Civil War, both sides, had a draft. It was deeply divisive and many were bitter that one could buy their way out of it, with a $300 substitution fee. Some would say that the draft during the Cold War era, with college deferments was another form of buying one’s way out of serving.
I’m not going to weigh in on that…what I will weigh in on is my appreciation for those who served, by choice or by draft. They were honorable people, serving in the most difficult way possible. They placed their life on the life for wars they didn’t necessarily support.
Our Vietnam veterans are aging…I see it in my friend’s faces They, to date, are the last of our draftees. Instead of debating the draft, conscription or selective service, let’s spend our days appreciating those who did serve. And supporting those who currently serve. Let’s keep the conversation going…for our troops, veterans and their families.
We are a nation forged in war, with generations (almost without ceasing) fighting for liberty, land and the American values. I hope some day, one of the students I speak to this week will teach this lesson from a history of a generation at peace. I hope…