This is a copy of a letter I wrote to Mr. Michael Auslin in response to an article he published in the Washington Post recently. The article provided me the opportunity to speak to what I see as the relationship between the dismantling of the draft, and our current institutionalized polarized political ranting.
I am of the generation you wrote about in the touching, and important article you wrote, and I read, in the Sunday Post. I have heard a variety of reasons for the all volunteer amy, most often the economic-social value it provides. Poor jobless kids get a job, and graduate school candidates get on about their business of being higher earners, consumers and tax payers without the interruption of serving their country in a less economically useful endeavor. But of course you identified the major social benefit for a functioning democracy: “But my father nevertheless belongs to the last full generation of Americans forced to serve their country, who had no choice but to work and live with others radically different from themselves.” May I suggest that some of the hysterical political polarization that plagues our country is generated and kept alive by men and women who missed that experience? Without it, the ‘radically different’ person feels like a threat, not as someone who can bring their life experience and understanding to assist me in my task.
I served with and found myself mutually dependent upon men I would never have met in civilian life. The confidence in and care for each other was real, and provided the context in which any and all of our political, geographic, religious, and ethnic differences could be acknowledged without challenging the fundamental understanding that “we were all in it together”, and that our individual success was merged into and could only bear fruit as part of our shared effort. I believe it is clear that the economic rationale trumped the broader social need to the detriment of our country and without rectifying this situation we will continue down the path of destabilizing our social order. What we need to do is institute universal service, civilian and/or military for two years after high school, or at age 17 if someone is out of high school. Deferral for university or graduate school would simply delay the two year service date and in that way bring together the same kind of mix that the draft provided. No one exits the experience of serving their country for two years without feeling a pride of shared ownership and a willingness to continue that sense of connected commitment and service for the rest of their civilian life. You are in a position to follow the path that you have begun to explore. I sincerely hope that you do so.