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Caseythoughts Dateline: November (I think) 1969:

I am sitting among a number of my male peers in the day room of Martin Hall, a dormitory on the campus of the University ('Da 'U') of Scranton, the Jesuit all male college in Pennsylvania. We are gathered here, brethren, around the television, as are most of our peers around the country at that moment. The military draft has been in effect since about 1940 (prior to Pearl Harbor, and the invasion of Poland, I might point out), but this night the United States is reverting to a 'lottery' system, a first step in Richard Nixon's effort to assuage America's antipathy to the ongoing morass and slaughter in Southeast Asia. Reverting to the original prescription of the draft lottery, a large cylindrical wire cage is rotated with 366 small capsules rolling inside: each capsule a date of the year. Thus, 366 birthdays.

Each capsule is drawn 'randomly' from the large wire cylinder and the date is read out loud, beginning from, logically, the number one to lottery number 366. First birthday drawn is 'number one' in the lottery drawing to be called up beginning the following year, according to military manpower requirements as approved by Congress. The birthdays are the sequence in which the Selective Service (a most disliked federal office for obvious reasons), and this office will then send out the telegram that begins with the word 'Greetings', and 'requesting' that the young man report to his local draft board.

I don't remember what birthday was picked as the overall 'winner' of the draft pick number one, but this was viewed as 'more fair' and preferred to the previous system which could be compared to a humongous federal vacuum cleaner which only had exceptions for physical incapacity, mental shortcomings and, oh yeah, college students. Sometimes, depending on your draft board, which consisted mainly of WWII and Korean conflict vets, conscientious objectors could be deferred. The higher your number, obviously, the less likely you were to be called, even though more men were killed in VietNam during Richard Nixon's reign than all previous years from 1955 to 1968, as the war was being 'Vietnamized' and we were on our way to the 'all volunteer' army.

It was 1969 and I don't think Vanna White or Yolanda Vega were old enough to have been considered as potential hostesses drawing your 'lucky number'. I was #165: maybe I could be called up as a middlin' number, but I was a student in that time, soon enough to lose that status and my deferment, thus precipitating life decisions other than whether to go or skip a class. I remember a hand drawn poster in the dormitory the next morning which read :' Jesus was #65... would He go?'

Fast forward: January (I think) 2002. My fifteen year old daughter emails me with subject line: 'OMG'. It was the text of Senate Bill One (S.1) which was calling for the revival of the military draft following the attack upon America of 9/11/2001. Her reaction was fair, and apparently not that different from the late 'teen-year-olds' of 1969: fear, anger, resignation, but also there was much patriotism in the reactions, too. Enlistments in the military had spiked in the days and weeks following 9/11, but my daughter needed a little fatherly (and combat experienced) talking to from the late sixties perspective (read: old man).

I pointed out to her that a fair draft process (if indeed there is a fair draft process in a free country) had the advantage of placing a wider swath of young men (and, perhaps, women?) in the armed forces. The old 'vacuum cleaner' of a process kept potential armed conflict involvement by our government on the literal front page, in the public eye. We didn't have to necessarily increase the size of the armed forces, we just had to equalize the sweep of its breadth; the 'all volunteer' army/navy/marines/air force was in some respects, limited in its sampling of the youthful population of the U.S. in 2002. Professional? Absolutely. Dedicated?? Indubitably. Patriotic? To the marrow. Highly trained? The best.

But it also is struggling to express the identity as a truer microcosm of American society, as it was (very arguably) in the fifties and sixties. Yes, it could be argued statistically that poor men of color were disproportionately represented, and dying (though these 'facts' have been disputed) in Southeast Asia, but a reversion today to putting more 'names in the hat' could go a long way to correcting those imbalances if properly addressed by rules and regulations that were cognizant of past abuses and shortcomings.

I also pointed out to dear daughter, and continue to maintain today, that truly representative and 'random' selection has a tendency to force parents and those vulnerable to the long reach of the draft board into being much more attuned to our armed forces potentially being assigned overseas into long, debilitating and ultimately self-defeating nation building, ignoring Caspar Weinberger's tenets for armed conflict: Purpose, definition of objectives, and a definite plan for disengagement upon mission accomplishment. Only the first was present in VietNam, and that vaguely. There would be positive aspects to a renewal of the draft. All we have now, of course, is a sparsely adhered to registration of eighteen year olds.

But, let's expand on this idea for 2018, a year where, did I hear correctly, student debt and defaulted loans is approaching or surpassed a trillion dollars, even though a public university tuition is actually subsidized to the tune of billions of uncompensated dollars by the taxpayer?

I don't know if Russia or China have a draft per se, or whether their military are having difficulties keeping up with recruiting goals. I do know that Communist China is actually in the process of 'right-sizing' their army and navy (with tens of thousands of young men troublingly being released into their economy which is already overburdened by young males due to now discredited and revoked one child policies. Their military is being modernized to compete in the 21st century, instead of depending on overwhelming human force that was so effective in the Korean conflict. Russia, too, in its economic challenges, has no problem recruiting to maintain manpower goals. But the western democracies are having real problems, not all of them necessarily in the military sphere of society.

Germany is facing such recruitment difficulties and shortfalls that they are considering allowing 'foreign nationals' to join the armed forces. Don't say 'draft' in German political circles unless you want to become a pariah. The German army is falling thousands of enlistees behind their goals, threatening to disrupt their ability to function as a member of NATO. Get this: Sweden (!!!), that haven for America's own draft dodgers in the 60's, brought back required military service just this year. So has Lithuania, most likely in response to recent Russian saber-rattling. But we can look at this from more than a defense posture, and in a much broader context.

France's new leader, Manual Macron, is expanding their idea of national service, and considering reviving this idea, as their draft had been eliminated in 1992. Notice their headlines about unemployment, minority unrest, and a continuing angst about 'social cohesion' in Macron's words, in a country of 'egalite'. French young adults may now join a civil organization to contribute to society's benefit as well as their own advancement as citizen-adults as a form of national service. South Korea (the most militaristic country I ever experienced, for good reasons) has announced plans for an alternative to the military, quite a change from their mandatory sign up of 18 year old men and women and the legal requirement that they carry their 'draft registration' card with them at all times. Imagine my flabbergast when a Korean waitress showed me her draft card. You had better not burn that piece of paper in Korea, I speculated.

Oh, another point about thinking about national service in our own country: couldn't this potentially solve the multi-billion dollar student debt problem, instead of letting socialists holler for free tuition (considering that a public college education isn't nearly covered by even students paying 'full boat'?). Private schools are not our concern here, and wouldn't they die of we actually started a free tuition program nationwide? Or is that the nefarious aim of these free tuition advocates?

But think about a social requirement to pay back the society and country you've been blessed with by accident of birth. The eighteen year old (although deferring this to undergrad admission could certainly be contemplated) is being asked to recognize him/herself as a beneficiary of freedom and democracy, not to mention abundance and affluence (if not at time of service, certainly as a potential result of service to our society).

And, the wide swath of people in this social mileau of service to community would give them shared experiences, a breaking down of the barriers of class, race and gender. Racism, as an indicator of the military's microcosmic effect, existed, of course, in the sixties as a result of mirroring the society as a whole, and my guess is that it still resides in the military as it does persist in the world at large. But race from the late sixties onward never got in the way of promotion and opportunity in the military. And as a society today we are continuing to work on this persistent problem, and national service in community organizations as well as military options would go a great way to equalizing perceptions of equality and human potential.

In VietNam we occasionally stated : "White, black, brown, we're all green in the jungle" and that leveling of the American playing field can be expanded and enhanced in any kind of shared experience as a young adult. Lessons for a lifetime, so to speak, in schools, hospitals, civic organizations, volunteer opportunities in a national service program. The military (with options to be debated and discussed in formulating the program), Ameri-Corps, Peace Corps, teaching, hospitals, reading and literacy program volunteering. Heroes and more aware and mature Americans can come, and will come, from all backgrounds, genders and races, if only we give them a chance and choice to serve themselves, their peers and just as importantly, their country of heritage and choice.

And, you know what? In addition, a reversion to making the military an option to a required two year service minimum would, I daresay, prevent any further so-called 'wars' which have gone on since 2003 (Iraq) and the never ending (and apparently fruitless and asymmetrical) battle in Afghanistan. The American public wouldn't stand for it, as they apparently do tolerate 'endless war' now, as long as we have an out of sight, out of mind military. One volunteer hero dies in Central Asia and he gets a little black bordered 'box' as an obituary on page nine of the NY Times entitled 'Names of the Dead'.

If more of our treasure were not 'professional' but more of a cross section (and melding) of American cultures, neighborhoods and families, the less apt we would be to be purposely ignorant of throwing our military weight around at the whim of the White House while wimpy no-guts Congress looks away and abrogates its duty. Of course, Congress may try to exempt its own children, but let the debate and discussion begin. And, to be honest, this idea is going to appeal to more of us who are comfortably 'too old' to do any more than complain about young people and 'millennials'. Maybe we should work on making national service 'age exempt', as the Peace Corps and many American service organization do; we could discuss the 'payoff' for older Americans for that service, while we look at the myriad of possibilities in a national debate that has a potentially positive outcome (unlike most of our civil discourse these months and years).

Neither a little patriotism, nor a little gratitude, can be expressed by flags, banners or platitudes. It is expressed by a 'giving back' to increase the bounty and goodwill of our enormously gifted country. Our schools, our military, our hospitals, our volunteer organizations (which thrilled and inspired Toqueville in the 19th century) could be the focus of a 'New Deal' for the American dream. A 'thousand points of light', indeed. Let the discussion and debate begin, and we can use it to elevate our public discourse to a more reasonable and positive level.

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