FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Draft as Collateral Damage

by CHRIS CLARKE

Twenty-three years ago this month, after Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter reinstated draft registration in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I sent a letter to the Selective Service System–cc’d to the US Attorney in Buffalo, NY–politely informing them that I would be declining their offer of registration. When the FBI finally came to my door two years later, in Berkeley, California, I reiterated my intent to refuse to comply with the draft laws.

I claim no special heroism for this stance: hundreds of young males nationwide did likewise, as did thousands of non-young or non-males trying to gum up the works of enforcement. The sabotage was widespread. Lists of local registrants were posted in public places in an attempt, anticipating the later public service of John Ashcroft, to encourage friends and neighbors to turn noncompliant men of that delicate age in to the relevant authorities. This didn’t work either. When I–ahem–obtained the list that had been posted in the Alameda County courthouse, serving Berkeley and Oakland, the law-abiding registrants named therein included Ira Michael Heyman–then chancellor at UC Berkeley, and who despite being decades too old to receive a draft notice was evidently possessed of such patriotism that he registered several times in different zip codes. Also among the East Bay’s stalwart obeyers of law was one “Pinhead, Zippy T.”

Ah, but draft resistance in the 1980s wasn’t all fun, games and petty theft. People actually went to jail for it. In 1983, eighteen young men were indicted on felony charges stemming from refusal to register. Eleven were convicted. A couple spent time in prison. The main reason I wasn’t among them, as far as I can tell, is that my Congressional representative backed me up. Ron Dellums, at that time the Representative for California’s Ninth Congressional District in Berkeley and Oakland, sent a letter suggesting to the abovementioned US Attorney, Sal Martoche, that he spend his office’s time pursuing the increasingly violent local representatives of drug cartels rather than peace activists.

So it was surprising to me to see one of Dellums’ Black Caucus heirs, Harlem’s Rep. Charlie Rangel, raise an apparently serious suggestion that the draft be reinstated. I can’t say I disagree with his intent. The old adage “Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight” is as valid as it was when the Wobblies first uttered it a century ago, aside from needing one obvious update in this age of enlisted women and Condi Rice. Statisticians have sometimes disputed the assertion that the US military’s lower ranks are overwhelmingly populated by African-Americans relative to society at large. But no one disputes the military’s class disparity. Rich kids don’t become grunts. The bulk of US soldiers who actually risk injury are there because that was the job available to them. Meanwhile, those who make the decisions to go to war are unlikely to see their loved ones die in the attendant hostilities, the pathetic story of Ted Olson notwithstanding.

So I find it understandable that Rangel would say, as he did in a CNN interview, that “I think, if we went home and found out that there were more families concerned about their kids going off to war, there would be more cautiousness and more willingness to work with the international community, instead of just saying that it’s my way or the highway.” How likely would G.W. Bush be to commit troops to Iraq if he knew Jenna might be walking point in Bagdad?

OK, maybe that’s a bad example.

Rangel’s argument has holes in it large enough to allow easy passage of a lemon-yellow Hummer H2 with fully inflated tires. One could point out that the present crop of warmongers found it easy enough to escape the clutches of the Selective Service System before 1975. One could point out that most pols already sacrifice their families on the alter of career. One could point out that while the vast majority of rape victims are female, no one is proposing laws that would send one male in four to the NYPD basement for the Giuliani broomhandle treatment. Some evils are better abolished than distributed evenly.

But forget the details: there’s something rotten at the heart of Rangel’s pitch. Though he dresses it up in terms of social contract and shared sacrifice that would make even an unreconstructed communitarian fascist like Amitai Etzioni retch, what Rangel is saying is “change your policies or lose your children.” He could help develop the growing number of Americans who don’t want to fight this war, but instead, he’s taking hostages. He isn’t quite piloting a 737 into the Capitol to make his point, but the difference is at this point one of degree alone, and has a potential US death toll far outstripping that of 9/11/2001.

Note to draft-age men in Harlem: don’t look to your Representative for support should you take a principled stand when the draft board comes calling.

CHRIS CLARKE is the editor of Faultline: the magazine of the California environment. He can be reached at: cclarke@faultline.org

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 23, 2017
Dave Brotherton
Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance
Jonathan Cook
One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About
Bill Quigley
Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again
John W. Whitehead
The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well
Ralph Nader
Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts
David Macaray
Women As Labor Union Organizers
Kathy Kelly
Friendship in Defiance of War
Doug Weir
Why Did the US Use Depleted Uranium Weapons in Syria?
Steve Horn
Former GOP Congressional Staffer Follows Revolving Door, Now Latest Keystone XL Lobbyist
Binoy Kampmark
From Rights to Repentance: Norma McCorvey and Roe v Wade
Thomas Knapp
The Target of the “Border Adjustment Tax” is You
Chris Zinda
Open Letter to Neoliberal Environmentalists
February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail