War and Politics of Everyday Life
In my previous column, I argued that the absence of a draft is a major reason for the lack of a strong political movement to end the Iraq occupation. Today college students need not fear a draft. Only those middle-class youth who are ardently committed to the war will choose to serve. The war is fought by professional soldiers who need active combat on their resumes and by the economically marginalized. The latter "choose" military service for its advertised — and exaggerated — economic opportunities. A few on the political left seek restoration of the draft, both for the sake of equity and in the hopes of re-igniting a vigorous anti-war effort.
In a society where wealth dominates not only the economy but also politics, however, any "universal" draft would probably contain even more loopholes than the Vietnam- era draft. In addition, there are good reasons to worry about giving George Bush — or even any of the "top-tier" Democrats — hundreds of thousands of young Americans to commit to some future "surge." Rather than lecture fortunate middle-class youth that they are not doing enough, my generation might remind ourselves of the benefits we received from an inequitable draft. A young inner city Detroit black man may have died because I avoided service. I can't restore that life, but guilt could take a productive turn. We can ask if there are other steps we might take to spur new activism and save Iraqi and American lives.
We all need to consider whether and how to reinvigorate such older strategies as civil disobedience, campaigns to defeat pro-war Democrats in primaries, letters to the editors of local papers, etc. But in addition to such an approach, we might broaden our sense of political discourse. Politics occurs in our churches, over our back fences, in our dinner-table conversations, in our e-mails. When friends or acquaintances suggest that the occupation of Iraq is needed to prevent terrorists from invading our shores, we can reply that even most establishment opinion now challenges the president's certainties. CIA estimates suggest that the occupation has both motivated and become a training ground for "urban terrorism," just the sort most likely to affect our shores.
More recently, the center-right British think tank, Chatham House, has concluded that Iraq has moved beyond a civil war to many civil wars. The surge is not curbing the high levels of violence. "A political solution will require engagement with organizations possessing popular legitimacy and needs to be an Iraqi accommodation" rather than a U.S. imposed solution. In addition, $100 billion a year squandered in Iraq is money we do not have better to secure our ports, our chemical plants, our levees, and to build the forms of transit that might make us less dependent on a turbulent Middle East.
For the Democrats and the media who reiterate mantra-like the notion that the Constitution makes George W Bush Commander in Chief, we should remind them that the Constitution clearly gives Congress the right to defund even declared wars. As Alexander Hamilton points out in The Federalist Papers, and even George Will agrees: "The legislature of the United States will be obliged, [by the constitutional provision that Congress has the power to raise and support armies] once at least in every two years, to deliberate upon the propriety of keeping a military force on foot; to come to a new resolution on the point; and to declare their sense of the matter, by a formal vote in the face of their constituents."
Politics also occurs in our churches — and not just when religious leaders endorse causes or candidates. Every Sunday, my wife and some friends read the names of that week's war dead at her local church. Just seeing or hearing these names and ages make the deaths more real to me.
Like my reunion, it reminds me of the painful reality of the death of friends and colleagues, but the names of men and women at the formative stage of their lives also evoke another thought. We pass on to our children a given name and a surname. The human capacity to name is a fascinating and fortuitous aspect of social and biological evolution. For me, names evoke a sense of both continuity and change. Parents invest much creative energy in naming children, whose lives in turn may flow in many different ways. With every dead young soldier, that individual promise has been snuffed out well before its time.
Let's find more daily acts to bring this war to a close.
© 2007 John Buell