I was Regular Army in the ’60s at a time when the ranks were filled with draftees most of whom didn’t want to be there.
What they gave the Army, instead of desire for a military career was a connection to the rest of America.
Different backgrounds. Different points of view. They had lives outside the military. Many in the ranks were well educated, successful with wives, parents and girlfriends who couldn’t wait for them to get out and come home.
When drafted they answered the call and served with honor; but they never compromised their view that there was more to life than the military. They were true “citizen soldiers” in the footsteps of Cincinnatus.
In the ’50s and ’60s every young man had to face the possibility of conscription – and so did their parents. Those who could afford to go to college got a deferment. Those who couldn’t had to deal with the eventuality that they would receive the dreaded “The President of the United States sends greetings” letter.
So long as the United States was at peace parents had little to worry about. Those who fought in WWII and Korea were in their late 40s and early 50s and for a young man a stint in the military was viewed as part of growing up.
Vietnam changed all that.
Conscription could now mean the death of your son. Conscription makes you think about war. Conscription is personal.
Those that could stay in college did so. Those with influential families obtained slots in the reserves and guard units which were not being deployed. Poor kids got drafted.
The perceived unfairness of conscription and the feeling of many that Vietnam was not worth the death of tens of thousands of young men eventually brought about massive war protest, the dreaded draft lottery and then the abolition of conscription entirely.
With the end of conscription the anti-war movement faded away. It seemed that people would only get off of their couch to oppose war if they had to fight it. Once they were disconnected from war it was no longer their primary concern.
My family has lived in this country for a century and served in every war from WWI to Vietnam. Today I don’t know anyone in the military. My children, nephews or nieces never faced the draft. None of my friends have children in the military. I don’t know any kid anxious to join up. War doesn’t affect me or my family or my friends at all. And there are tens of millions like me.
It seems from the outside that the volunteer army is comprised mainly of those from military families (Daddy was an Admiral) or kids with poor economic prospects back in Flint, Michigan. Would it surprise anyone to learn that West Virginia suffered the highest rate of casualties per capita in the Vietnam war? What we now have is akin to a mercenary army, the enabler of empire and permanent war. It is a military with its own distinct culture.
The military can now be sent anywhere at the direction of the President. Congress hasn’t issued a Declaration of War since FDR. Now it simply passes a Gulf of Tonkin style resolution and the President does what he likes. It is the imperial Presidency that now makes war enabled by a volunteer army and the lack of connection between war and the vast majority of Americans.
Today we are in our twelfth year of the Afghan war / occupation. Afghanistan was a non-issue in the last elections. We see no graphic reports from the battlefield on the 6 O’clock news. We see no caskets. No funerals. No bodies. It seems to be a nicely sanitized war. Media propaganda from “in-bed” journalists. We will all go to the mall for holiday shopping this coming Veteran’s Day weekend.
Now its easy to be a war hawk. You don’t have to worry about your kid. He won’t be drafted, given 4 months training and dropped in Kandahar. We don’t even have to pay a war tax. Sure there’s a war going on but it doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t affect me or mine.
War is for other people. War is for those who volunteered.
SSG. E-6 Toritto
11/18/63 – 11/17/67