Thursday, September 23, 2004

Is Osama a Republican card up the sleeve?

I need to get a couple of things off my chest. I need to react to the implication that the Bush administration is capable of producing Osama bin Laden at the eleventh hour as a political ploy to win votes. And I want to talk about the draft.

About the war...
Mrs. Teresa Heinz Kerry (She can't be called simply "Mrs. Kerry", you know. The Heinz part is much too important to be left out.) is reported to "not be surprised" if Bush produces Osama at the last minute. This is not the first time this idea has been floated, and it probably won't be the last. Who knows? At the last moment he might actually be killed or captured. But in the meantime such remarks are way out of line.

What is happening in Iraq is a tragedy of almost biblical proportions, although it is not much worse than the tragedies in Sudan (tens of thousands dying), North Korea (cannibalism reports because of food shortages) and other parts of the world that never make the evening news. The US is tangled up in Iraq like Brer Rabbit with the tarbaby. From here it looks like a civil war, but no one can know for sure. In any case, to the extent that we can find a "right side" I really believe that the people who are involved -- military, civilian, business, government, whatever -- are not being willfully stupid. All of them are trying to do what each of them understands to be the right thing.

I don't happen to think we need to have as much heavy-handed killing, but I am not in charge. I do think, however that the administration is not guilty of duplicity as much as ignorance, carelessness and naivete. Stupid? Perhaps. But not deceitful. If Mrs. Kerry knows something for sure, she needs to reveal it. If not, she should keep her specualtion to herself. Be saying what she did she is wrong either way.

About the draft...
I was a draftee during the Vietnam Era. It was not my choice to join the military, but I received a notice to report anyway. Because I was a conscientious objector I was sent to San Antonio for modified basic training with no weapons. Hand-to-hand combat training was optional for self defense (as was weapons training, I believe). All CO's are assigned to the Medical Service Corps according to policy, and all draftees are in the Army only. There are no draftees in the Air Force, Navy, Marines, etc.

Assignments are made according to the needs of the Army, not the individuals being assigned. Half of my training class was sent to Vietnam, the other half to Korea. There seemed to be no identifiable pattern that would indicate which person was sent to which assignment.

Before I was drafted my thinking was very idealistic. I imagined that the world might be a better place if everyone could just get along. After I joined the ranks of the regular army I learned that my thinking was really very unrealistic. I lived and worked side by side with good American men who were just as willing to kill other people as they were to be killed. For most people the issues are not subtle. They see the world in sharp and easy to understand terms of right and wrong. They are able to demonize those who are officially designated to be "enemy" and do whatever they are told to eliminate them. The loss of innocent people killed in the process is excused as unavoidable "collateral damage", much the same as "friendly fire".

My conclusion was that armies everywhere need each other in order to maintain balance. The country without military strength will soon be subsumed by one which will very quickly dominate it. At the same time, the concept of a citizen army got my attention, as opposed to a professional army. I came to the odd conclusion (at least I don't know of anyone else who agrees with me) that armies should be made up, at least partly, of people who do not really want to be there but feel it is their duty to do so. I cannot feel good in the company of people who rejoice at victory and see honor and glory in killing other people, no matter who they might be. I prefer to be among those who regard going to war as a very hateful and disagreeable activity used only as a last resort to conflict resolution.

If I were young and facing the possibility of being drafted again, I would still apply to be classified 1-AO (in uniform, as opposed to 1-O, not in uniform, serving in some civilian capacity instead). The time might come when I would have to shoot someone, either to protect myself or my patients. But when that time came, the decision would be mine, not that of someone else who could order me to aim and shoot at anyone they designated to be an "enemy".

There was a time that I imagined a world at peace, like John Lennon. Not any more. Thanks to a tour of duty in the US Army I have had a reality check to last me the rest of my life. There is no danger that people who think like me will ever reach any great numbers. We are, and are subject to remain, a tiny minority. You may sleep well, America, knowing that military might will always be an extension of your national soul.

I will sleep well also, secure in the knowledge that some small part of that soul there is a conscience. My job in this life is to keep sparks alive in that part of our national soul.

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