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‘Not my son’

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado COIt’s Aug. 17, 1969, and I’m about to leave for my tour of duty in Vietnam. The family has just finished our late Sunday afternoon dinner and, as I recall, I am not nearly as anxious about my impending assignment as the rest of my family is.My sister Lois is helping my mom with the dishes, my younger brother is doing whatever it is that younger brothers do, and my dad has just given me some sage advice: “Don’t be a hero.” “OK Pop, I’ll remember that,” I mutter under my breath. My mother leaves the kitchen and reappears a moment later, concealing something behind her back. I don’t know what it is, but assume it’s something I will take to eat during the two-day trip to Da Nang. As I turn to ready my flight gear near the back door, my mother circles behind me with the stealth of a Viet Cong guerrilla preparing for a night ambush and begins sprinkling me, my flight jacket, flight suits, aviator’s helmet and survival knife with a mysterious liquid.I have been “assointed” (that’s a blend of assault and anoint) with holy water she brought back from a trip to Lourdes, France, a decade earlier. Ah yes, the quintessential Italian mother seeking protection for her son from any source possible. As I wipe the holy water from the back of my neck and flight gear, I realize, perhaps for the first time, how genuine her concern for me is.From my perspective, I was 10 feet tall, invisible and bullet-proof, and knew I would be just fine. Besides, I had volunteered for the service because I wanted to fly for the Marines, and the draft had always been under my radar (excuse the pun). Today in 2006, however, whenever the topic of the draft comes up in conversation, the response always seems to be “Not my son!” To which I mentally reply, “Well, if not your son, then whose?” A few weeks ago, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York again broached the subject of reinstituting the draft. Although his idea doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of gaining support in Congress, I thought it would be interesting to take a fresh look at the draft within a 21st century context.Rangel opposes the war in Iraq, making his position political,versus one of examining the true practicality of fielding an army via the draft. According to Rangel, if the Army were made up of a true cross-section of the American population, the Bush administration wouldn’t be so quick to place our young men in harm’s way.Perhaps the congressman is correct, because when those who decide when and why to go to war don’t bear the costs of their decisions, they are likely to overestimate the benefits of their decisions. Nevertheless, the reality is that reinstituting the draft is an impractical notion. If nothing else, the logistics would be almost impossible to manage. How would a new Selective Service Commission handle the 22 million-plus 19- to 22-year-olds who would be eligible for this proposed draft? Draft them all? And if so, what would we do with them once they were in uniform?Even if that number where winnowed down by 90 percent to a couple of million by some undisclosed, yet magically fair method, the old formula of first going to basic training, then advanced or specialty training and then a tour of duty doesn’t work in the 21st century. Today’s military requires far longer periods of training because modern warfare is many, many times more complex than it was even 10 or 15 years ago, never mind what is was during Vietnam or World War II.Occupations such as Special Forces, aviation specialties, nuclear submariners, computer programmers and the like could not be handled by draftees unless their service commitments were at least three to four years long and probably much longer.To paraphrase Dr. George Friedman, Americans tend to frame the draft within the context of World War II, the morally perfect war. We had the right enemy, the right spirit and the right military. But World War II was unique in that the United States had to field an enormous military. While some had to remain at home to handle truly essential industries, and others were medically disqualified, World War II was a case in which universal conscription was absolutely needed because the size of the force had to be equal to the size of the total pool of available and qualified manpower, minus essential workers. Today that is no longer the case.It’s true that the makeup of America’s military is skewed toward the middle and lower-middle classes, but that’s also a pretty accurate picture of many occupations in America. Ask yourself, what percentages of young people from Chicago’s North Shore or Beverly Hills aspire to work for the Social Security Administration? How many children from Palm Beach High or the Vail Mountain School grow up to become professional boxers?Nevertheless, many feel a lottery system would be appropriate. But does a system that puts some in harm’s way while others go about their daily lives seem like the right thing to do vis-a-vis an all-volunteer force? Somehow going to war on the luck of the draw when others have volunteered doesn’t comport.In any event, this is much ado about nothing because the draft isn’t coming to a neighborhood near you. And thankfully, all of you wonderful Italian mothers out there can stop worrying and save your holy water for another day.Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net


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