I have three grandsons sprinting toward draft age whom I won't be able to shield from an impending war. At one time, caught up in the emotion of the Korean War, I volunteered for the service only to learn later that there was another side. Perhaps that is why I find the mea culpas of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his gaggle of hawks who orchestrated the Vietnam War so disturbing.
But, as much as I am offended by McNamara, I am even more put off that many of today's sanctimonious patriots who are rallying for a war against Iraq managed to avoid combat service during the Vietnam War. They don't even have the good grace to learn from history.
Vice President Cheney has no combat experience. During the Vietnam War, he received five student and marriage deferments of service. He told The Washington Post in 1989, ''I had other priorities in the '60s than military service.'' I am sure that others, too, had ``other priorities.''
President Bush spent the Vietnam War years in a Texas Air National Guard unit, where he received a preferential acceptance. He signed up for six years in 1968, moving to Alabama in 1972 to work on a Republican congressional campaign, then returned to Texas in 1973. He claims to have performed his Guard duties in Alabama, though the base commander, when questioned by reporters, had no recollection of Bush's showing up for drills. With this spotty military background, Bush is in no position to accuse Democrats of not being patriotic.
Among others with no combat background who are pushing for a unilateral first-strike against Iraq are Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
On the other hand, many military officials have been vocal in their opposition to a possible war. ''Attacking Iraq now will cause a lot of problems,'' Gen. Anthony Zinni said in a speech in Florida on Aug. 23. ``It might be interesting to wonder why all the generals see it the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger and are really hellbent to go to war see it a different way.''
The only way to get an honest debate is to get rid of the volunteer army, which, after all, relies on the poor. A volunteer army gives the middle class and the ruling elite a convenient way to live with their hypocrisy. Instead, we should bring back the draft and include males and females, from ages 18 to 55.
Draft deferments for college students should end, and it should be a felony for anyone to seek an exemption or special treatment for anyone. The public must pay for the consequences of war. Bluster comes easy if
you have never had to pay the price.
As long as Americans can go to war without the fear of their own children or grandchildren dying, they will continue pass the plastic, purchase weapons of mass destruction, and let future generations pay the tab.
Rodolfo Acuña is professor of Chicano Studies at California State
University, Northridge. One of his books is Anything But Mexican: Chicanos
in Contemporary Los Angeles.
© Copyright 2002 The Miami Herald