Suppose They Gave a War

There are bills and amendments to bills currently moving through both houses of Congress that involve draft registration that are included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. The two most prominent versions of the bill vis-à-vis draft registration have to do with including women in the current reauthorization of draft registration, or ending draft registration altogether.

Recall that the contemporary version of draft registration, Registration Under the Military Selective Service Act, was enacted in 1980, in answer to the Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan. The thinking went that Jimmy Carter, then president, and a presidential candidate for reelection against Ronald Reagan, needed to look tough on both the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan that began in 1979 and ended when the Soviet Union fell into significant decline. The hostage crisis in Iran was partly in answer to the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953, which ultimately reinstalled the tyrannical and terror-leaden rule of the Shah of Iran that ended with the Iranian Revolution.

The chance that the government will institute an actual draft at any time in the future is less than zero. The federal government ended the draft in 1973, following the antiwar movement’s effectiveness in stopping the Vietnam War, besides the simple fact that Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos had long been “lost” in terms of the imperial designs of the US.

The actual numbers of those who resisted the draft and the military during the Vietnam era numbered in the millions, with all kinds of resistance from a host of methods for getting out of the draft to a kind of mayhem in the military that included hundreds of thousands of instances of AWOL and desertion. Besides the resistance to war during the Vietnam era, there were fraggings that took place in Vietnam, which were the murder of officers and some noncommissioned officers who ordered soldiers into battles and actions that were grossly unpopular or not winnable.

While significant attempts were made at revisionism of the Vietnam War such as Ronald Reagan’s recasting the war as a “noble cause,” and George H. W. Bush’s successful attempt, in preparation for the Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield), to eradicate the Vietnam Syndrome, the reluctance of a large part of the US population to condone sending troops off to fight foreign wars. The popularity of a draft among draft-age individuals now is dubious. Currently, the military is having some difficulty filling its ranks. Recall the moral waivers that were issued during the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

While many enlisted in the military following those attacks, the popularity of taking part in US wars following the endless wars of the past two decades is not there and those among the power elite know that reality. The socio-economic background of soldiers is not available because the Department of Defense does not track those demographics, and the common wisdom about income levels of people in the military may be contrary to reality, but the popularity of US military interventions is missing, no matter the socio-economic levels of recruits.

Personnel needs are different from past warfare, as much of war is mechanized and fought from the air, lessening, to a degree, the need for so-called boots on the ground. Mercenary troops and secret wars are also factors in the conduct of US wars. Both China and Russia are wildcards and direct military conflict with either of them would be disastrous! Sole superpower status and globalization, however, where the US and a few allies call the military and economic tune can be a dangerous intoxicant.

While the possibility of a draft is probably not high on the minds of most college students and others of that age group, those in power who know the potential for resistance will continue to avoid a military draft like the plague. Despite the “noble cause” rhetoric and the eradication of the Vietnam Syndrome, the euphemism heard during the Vietnam War that “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came,” has truth to it.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).