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

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail