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Wednesday, 13 December 2006 00:00

Reinstating draft could be a good thing

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Jan. 20, 1961. Inauguration Day. The words that stuck in the minds and hearts of all citizens: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” said President John F. Kennedy.

 

America’s youth of 2006 think that’s a joke.

Congressman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is right. Bring back the military draft.

The New York lawmaker says he will introduce a bill in 2007 for reinstatement of a military draft, because, in his view, it will bolster troop levels that are currently insufficient to cover potential future conflicts in other parts of the world. He may have a point. But, there are other reasons why it might benefit America.

I grew up in the pro-draft era, and like most teens out of high school, I dreaded the prospect of screaming drill sergeants, uniforms and gear, guns and tanks and the ever-present chance of going off to war. Thus, I was among those who signed up into a special Marine Corps reserve program, serving six months of active duty and six more years of reserve meetings, in order to avoid being drafted for two full years in the Army. Raised not in a hunting/fishing family but with violins and dance, the military and me were as compatible as mice and housewives. I hated every minute of it.

Yet, having been mandated into a military situation, I was among millions of young men who experienced the maturation bridge between boyhood and adulthood which the service provided. It is glaringly absent in today’s America.

In the mountains and elsewhere in the world of 2006, I see adult kids walking in shopping malls, proudly drooping their pants below the cheeks of their buttocks, as though the public is interested in viewing their dirty underwear.

I see adult kids absent of self-esteem and no sense of pride.

I see adult kids who don’t care, because they have little respect for authority.

I see adult kids lacking a sense of order and discipline, who care less about making any contribution to society.

I see kids who have been raised in a welfare environment, manipulating the system to survive off government handouts. And that’s considered “normal.”

I see kids who dawdle from high school into menial jobs, never leaving home, aimlessly mooching off moms and dads as long as possible, because they can.

I see kids who have no sense of patriotism, who believe the U.S.A. owes them instead of they owing something to the country.

I see kids who think civic duty and the Constitution that protects them is nothing other than a boring school subject.

I see kids who think war, terror and the preservation of this union is a distant CNN headline that doesn’t concern them.

I may have hated the military, but I also know I made a small contribution to my country. That gives me satisfaction, that I’ve not just been a taker but a giver as well. By serving in the military, I learned about sacrifices that have been made by our forefathers. I came to understand what my American predecessors endured in order to create and preserve our way of life. I admit having felt a deep sense of pride when marching in a parade, led by a standard bearer, listening to the cadence ... “From The Halls Of Montezuma, To The Shores ...”

My heart welled when badges and ribbons were pinned on my uniform because I had performed well in difficult training situations, even though I cursed every moment of them.

I recited the pledge of allegiance, not by rote but with that pledge bursting in my heart. Though I may sometimes express disagreement with the government by exercising the wondrous gift of free speech, I never forget that I owe allegiance to this great nation, with or without “Under God” in the text. The military instilled that in me.

That’s missing today. That is dangerously missing.

I recently spoke at a library promoting my new book, Militant Islam In America. At the end of the talk, a Muslim man — an American citizen who converted 10 years before — identified himself in the audience and we entered into a dialogue. He seemed gentle and moderate. I asked one question: “Do you ever pledge allegiance to the United States?”

“No,” he said. “My allegiance is only to my God.”

“Who do you call when you are victimized by a crime?” I asked. “Or when you need immediate medical help? How many nations provide you the unbridled right to practice whatever religion you wish, and to express yourself in any manner, any time, any where? What protects you from government intrusion, or unreasonable interrogation, search and seizure of property? What system provides you free legal counsel if you can’t afford it? Where else does the world offer an education of higher learning, for the price of student loans, or whatever grants you can muster? Where else does such an array of freedom and opportunity exist?

“If you have a family who protects you from harm and nurtures you and provides you education, do you not owe allegiance to your mother and father? Then how can you not owe allegiance to a country, from which you partake of such rights and privilege?”

Of course, there was no answer.

Muslim or not, this kind of thinking is pervasive in today’s United States. And part of that is because the youth of America know they have no obligation whatsoever to ever serve the nation — in any capacity — that provides these rights.

All young men and women in Israel are required to serve two years in the military. It’s simply accepted as a necessity of their nation’s survival. Ask any Israeli about their sense of patriotism. It’s everywhere. Maybe we should do the same.

By re-instituting the draft, a new psychology would alter the attitudes of thousands of young men and women, just as it did to generations before them. That’s not such a bad thing.

Though I rarely agree with him in other matters, Rep. Rangel is right on when it comes to bolstering the military. If we were suddenly faced with another major conflict today, we’d be dead in the water because all our forces are spread thin around the globe with conflicts in two theaters of combat and 175,000 troops stationed in 30 other countries.

Same goes with terrorism that may erupt inside the borders of our country, which is surely on the planning table for Al Qaida and Hamas. Nearly 15 percent of our National Guard units are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving our nation vulnerable to domestic insurgency, not to mention the debacle along our southern border. The National Guard was designed to be just that: The guardian of our nation. Yet, thousands of the Guard’s forces are serving overseas. Ask the victim’s of Katrina if they wouldn’t have welcomed more Guard troops in the gulf region after the monster hurricane.

Whenever I attend a luncheon or meeting sponsored by veterans of any war, starting with WW II, through Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf War, whether or not they ever fired a shot I know I am among men and women who made a sacrifice for this nation. They wore the uniform. They were prepared to go. They did what they had to do, whether they volunteered or not. And they grew up in the process.

Maybe that’s what America needs today.

(Marshall Frank is a retired Metro Dade homicide detective and the author of several books. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

 

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