Guest Commentary

In the modern-day American military, only the poor die young

A nation's military is supposed to be representative of the population--rich man and poor man serving, sharing the burdens and gains of their society. This country was founded on that precept. It was acknowledged that when every segment of population suffers the costs of war, there is less of a chance of rushing into it. In looking at our past, conscripted armies were unwieldy, but there was never an attempt to change the structure, because it was assumed that the benefits of having all involved outweighed the need for efficiency. The conscript system of manning armies worked, as evidenced in Vietnam, where we left only after a broad spectrum of the population became affected, raising a voice that politicians heeded.

As a result of what many considered the less-than-desirable outcome in Vietnam, a vehicle was sought to insulate the government from public opinion and give policy makers free rein in deciding on war. Enter the all-volunteer force, today's way of fighting wars.

There were dozens of rationales for its formulation--the new equipment was too complicated for a conscripted Army; it provides jobs; the rich can volunteer if they so choose, etc. --but the underlying reason for the all-volunteer force is that it lessens the burden placed on the socioeconomic elite by assuring that their children will not be drafted, freeing the government of having to listen to those in this country who matter.

Who is fighting our current war? Not the children of legislators, not the children of neo-conservatives, but lots of kids whose parents work for a living--kids with little or no voice. If they had clout, they would have vehicles armored adequately. Do you think if the child of a Bush Ranger, those who collected $250,000 for the Republican Party, was killed in Iraq, the parent would get a machine-signed letter?

Who is speaking for the soldiers who are sacrificing? The Republicans? No. This war has provided them with billions of wartime dollars, allowing them to mask the weakness of the economy. The Democrats, although their party is ethnically and financially more like the youth comprising the military, are going along in an effort to not look soft on terrorism.

We have reached a convergence of forces that is patently absurd in a democracy: The rich receive a pass on taxes and having their children serve; the poor get taxed and send their kids to war. In essence, the lower classes are subsidizing the rich with money and blood.

By doing away with the draft or a system of manning the Army equitably, we have lost a means that was previously available of getting the government to respond to open discourse on war. There is no guarantee we would not have become mired in Iraq if we had continued to conscript an Army, but if the pain was felt by all, we wouldn't have a government so cavalier in making questionable decisions and wasting many of our youth.

The all-volunteer force is a well-trained force, but it doesn't do for this nation what a conscripted force could do--make politicians sensitive to a broad array of the public mood. With plans to further privatize many of the military functions, politicians will be removed from the responsibility of having to answer to those who sacrifice most.

In the Constitution, there is no mention that this nation should be sustained by a mercenary force. The founding fathers knew professional armies and democratic institutions were counterproductive, and developed the militia system in which every man sacrificed in time of conflict. Sure, war is different today, but a soldier dying in Iraq is no different than a soldier dying in the Revolutionary War. Dead is dead.

By giving up the draft to shield a few, all have sacrificed their voice. The rich, because they are unaffected, don't care enough to speak out, and the poor cannot because they have no political audience.