Man Without Qualities

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Drafty Talk

The health club of the Man Without Qualities cruelly imposes CNN programming on its members while they are vulnerable and exposed in the locker room. Today, the earnest visage of Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel loomed above the assembled hirsute derrières, advocating a return of the military draft. Indeed, the visage seemed to be insisting that we all had to "talk about it," although the Senator admitted that there is no substantial support for a draft and no chance that Congress will pass a bill restoring the draft. He said that he is not even going to present such a bill to the Senate. But we all have to talk about it.

Senator Hagel - like many who share his views usually do - spent very little time in his interview on a very basic problem with a draft: it would force a lot of people who don't want to fight or serve in the military (or alternative service) do just that. In fact, a draft criminalizes all alternative activites in which a draftee might otherwise engage. Somehow, in the hands of people such as Senator Hagel, the coercive aspect of a draft gets lost in fusing about things such as "national needs," "personal obligations" and rather hazy egalitarian considerations. But why isn't it better to raise military pay until enough recruits agree to join. If that becomes very expensive - why is it not better that the nation as a whole bear that cost, rather than exporting and concentrating it on a few people who would have to do a lot of things things they don't like at all.

But Chuck Hagel seems not to be one of those people. Senator Hagel served in Vietnam with his brother Tom in 1968. They served side by side as infantry squad leaders with the U.S. Army's 9th Infantry Division. Senator Hagel earned many military decorations and honors, including two Purple Hearts.

All of which makes me wonder strongly whether Senator Hagel really understands the personal costs that he is proposing be imposed on draftees who do not share the attraction (or tolerance) he and his brother have had for military service. A lot of people find it repulsive to be ordered around - especially if the end result is likely to be killing other people. And alternative service doesn't solve that problem.

Indeed, an argument that a draft is a national necessity would be rather more convincing if it came from someone who had not enlisted - or not served in the military at all. Imposing a draft should include evaluation of its many substantial costs, but the intensity of personal abhorrence to loss of freedom and personal choice in some people reflects a cost that those who find military service appealling or at least pretty tolerable may not be in a good position to evaluate even though service in the military may give them a leg up on determining what personal facts military service actually involved for them. One might think of the mirror image of one's concern that a person who has not served in the military (or combat) understands the costs imposed on soldiers sent into battle.

Yes, it can happen. Such an understanding can be obtained by such people. But it takes an act of will and a self-awareness. I don't see it in Senator Hagel. Or - for very different reasons - in Congressman Charles Rangel, who served in the U.S. Army from 1948-52. Of course, most people who did serve in the military also seem to oppose the draft.

Just a thought.

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