It is Memorial Day in America, a Monday holiday that ends a three-day weekend — a holiday that has come to reflect so much of my nation’s culture.

Once, the day was about sacrifice: honoring the American men and women who gave their lives in military service. But it became mostly about pleasure: barbecue grills, shopping, entertainment and general relaxation.

On this Memorial Day, Americans are fighting in two semi-official wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and participants in a NATO mini-war in Libya. They are volunteers. They are dying and being crippled in significant numbers, and apart from their families and friends in the U.S. they are essentially an afterthought to most of their fellow Americans. They bear the brunt of our government’s penchant for empire. They sacrifice. We grill our burgers.

My generation, the Baby Boomers, rules in Washington these days, and we refuse to cover even the financial cost of their sacrifice. With few exceptions, we’ve chosen to borrow and spend, in mind-boggling amounts. President George W. Bush and Congress pushed the fiscal cost of the Iraq war off the official budget, pretending that we could just toss it on the pile of other debts they and earlier governments had incurred. Under President Obama, the accounting is somewhat more honest but the costs are still being pushed to future taxpayers.

American society has never fully shared the sacrifices its people have undertaken to build a great nation. But the disproportion has become grotesque, deeply wrong. Yes, the men and women of our Armed Forces have volunteered, and they have earned our respect and support. But there have been consequences we’ve rarely considered. Relatively few people shoulder this enormous burden, and the rest of us have let them drift far from our eyes and minds, especially since we’re not even shouldering a financial burden for these wars. Military and non-military families might as well live in different societies, a dangerous cultural divide.

Which is why, among other reasons, that I believe it’s time to restore the military draft. It’s why I believe a new draft should include (and maybe start with) me and my generation — and should be one of many shared sacrifices America undertakes to restore a prosperous and just society. And it’s why I will vote for any political candidate, of any party, who says these things out loud and promises to vote accordingly.

Granted, my cohort is too old for combat. No amount of training could put us in the kind of physical shape needed for that job. But we’re not too old to do many of the other jobs the military needs done. Military effectiveness is more than ever about brains than brawn. A good programmer or logistics expert serves differently, but those are enormously important skills.

There are millions of Boomers who could ably handle the rear-echelon tasks that the military spends vast energy and money to train 18-year-olds to do, and we could do them better. I wouldn’t like it, but if my number came up in a truly level draft — a draft that didn’t distinguish by age or financial station — I’d willingly go to Afghanistan to serve in any capacity that was useful, even if that was to write press releases.

The Boomer generation is loaded with talent. Consider all of the geniuses who operate Wall Street’s investment banks. Few of them have served, but surely the nation would be well served if we asked them to temporarily divert their energies to screwing our enemies instead of their clients and the American public. I’d be especially glad to see a draft that included hawkish commentators and members of Congress who are so proud to see other people’s children heading to war zones.

A draft would probably also save money. Today, taxpayers are borrowing countless billions to spend on highly paid “private security contractors” — the mercenary forces that fill the gaps we refuse to fill by not fielding fully equipped forces either in manpower or materiel. Sharing sacrifice would mean drafting men and women to serve at standard military wages.

To anticipate just a few of the objections to this idea, let me raise two obvious ones. First, the volunteer forces have been successes in many ways, especially the leg up they’ve given young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Military service has provided training, confidence and leadership skills to people who honor us and their nation by serving. The answer to this, of course, is a program of national service — a requirement that everyone spend a year or two in some capacity that America needs. (That’s a topic for another piece in this series.)

Another issue is what happens to older people’s income, not to mention their jobs, when they serve in a truly comprehensive military draft. We don’t want people heading off to Afghanistan and defaulting on their home mortgages. Asking a small business to preserve at least some income and positions would plainly require subsidies. But large companies already have enormous advantages; I’d require them to a) pay a portion of the difference between a military salary and what the employee was making; and b) to hold the position, or an equivalent one, open for the employee’s return. Sharing sacrifice, remember?

This argues, of course, for starting with the people who need subsidies the least, especially those who’ve inherited or made so much money already that even a 24-month major reduction in income would be barely noticeable. People whose incomes in recent years have been subsidized by the rest of us — such as Wall Street bankers — would be great candidates.

I know there are a thousand other problems with this suggestion. But I’m certain they are not show-stoppers. When Americans put their minds to creative problem-solving, we tend to find answers.

I honor our military men and women, people who have joined a tribe that the rest of us barely recognizes except on special days of the year and when they either make huge mistakes or claim big victories. But we dishonor them, and undermine our nation, with our unwillingness to face up to the true cost of war or to share the sacrifices more broadly; it’s easier to pursue war when we don’t bear the burden ourselves.

The majority of Americans who fear we are headed in the wrong direction are not stupid. They see a future entirely unlike the one they faced as young adults. The Boomers know in their guts that their children are likely to be worse off, not better off, than themselves. And they know who’s largely responsible: the generation that followed World War II’s “Greatest Generation,” a cohort that will someday be remembered as the Selfish Generation.

Unless. Unless we get honest with ourselves, at long last — and say the truth out loud as a society, and then act on it. Do we have leaders who will be honest with us?

The truth is, America is in clear and present danger, not just of decline but a frighteningly rapid descent into Second World status. We are in danger of turning this greatest experiment in self-governance into a corrupt, bankrupt, and violently polarized society.

So let’s reinstate the draft, as Step One in the generation of shared sacrifice Americans will have to make. (Step Two, perhaps: Raise taxes to pay for these wars as we fight them.) Something called the United States of America will survive even if we don’t. But that nation will not be the America most of us want.


7 thoughts on “A Generation of Sacrifice: Restore the Military Draft, and Start with the Baby Boomers

  1. Hmmmm – Not sure if I agree with the “boomers” being part of the draft but agree “everyone” should be a part – Maybe the boomers have the option of either serving or subsidizing those that do.

    Have always felt everyone should be in a draft pool with “no” exceptions. Once drafted, you can choose either community service or military – The military option would have better pay and benefits as incentive. Or, maybe it’s not a draft, it’s “everyone” does 2-years upon graduation from high school.

    “it’s easier to pursue war when we don’t bear the burden ourselves”
    Yep. And back when there was a draft, too many got off. And then, they even let the ones that fled to Canada back in the country – Sinful.

  2. came to same conclusion this year, ie draft to age 60 (I’m in my 50s)

    we’d have real pre-war debates among the masses again

  3. Yes. You are on top of it…”It” being a consciencious effort at trying to sort things out these days.
    But, things have always been dynamic, on and on through history.
    There is always something out there to key on, in the ages.

    That’s on purpose, God-given history.
    Yes, we should concentrate on our present, individually, as in keeping up with the news, and get involved if you want.
    You have a focus that can be important. Where are you going?

    I agree with a lot of points you made. But, I see that the dynamic world presents a flood of opportunity to create with the individual mind, as you have, and it can be a revalation at times.
    I think that’s the point of life. Think about it. Make new thoughts, those thoughts become history (especially with your intervention into the .www, and indelible in the human experience). And then come the opposing views, with there tantalizing ideologies.

    There is no way to convince the middle-aged they are going to leave their luxury and families and incomes, and to work overseas instead, (even here in America) — thus your “draft”.

    But instead we’d have to implement an at-home program, and voluntary time (late nights, mornings, an hour and a half a piece).

    You may desire to go to Afghanistan, and you are not alone, but lonesome, I say. A draft would give you company. It is not going to happen.

    Family heads can contribute here in America, and no other case or scenario will work. And you would need a lot of families following the program to do any justice.

    It’s the only way to get a MASS of people to do any good to change things, and a mass of people is needed, (thus your draft).

    But a draft would deplete the humanity from our country. They’d be “GONE.” Victory, only with survival of the masses after fighting overseas. Even if the Baby-Boomers are behind the scenes, they are still over there and not at all comfortable. I just don’t see your scenario happening with a draft.

    And what is the draft program? Volunteerism toward any trained ability? Engineering? Doctoring? Food Service? The government cannot pay for middle-class citizens to give up their time and families to go overseas to engineer, doctor, construct. You can not include the upper class here at all. They’ll find loopholes.

    You have a morale problem here. “I used to have money. Now I don’t. And the government took me.”

    If you are asking America to contribute their time, it HAS to be through congress. No other fantasy will work. And congress is influenced by the PEOPLE, including Baby-Boomers.

    I submit the reality of a draft is a non-reality in the future.

  4. Interesting concept. . . might help significantly with the unemployment levels in the country as well, which are bad everywhere and still completely out of control in some cities. And, just as the existence of the draft sparked huge public outcry to the war in Vietnam, perhaps such a draft would shake Americans out of their complacent acceptance of two long-running wars that don’t make us safer and cost way too many lives.

  5. Dan, as a fellow baby-boomer, I can’t agree with your conclusions. It’s as if you’ve been asleep for the greater portion of your life. I know how it feels. Up until four years ago, I was asleep too.

    Your concern is well placed, but your solutions (restore the draft and raise taxes) are not based on a firm foundation. It might be fruitful to ask why so many solutions offered by well-meaning individuals ALWAYS end up infringing upon the rights of individuals (forced labor and forced deprivation of property in the service of what somebody else thinks is best for the good of the country).

    Were our founding fathers selfish to establish a form of government which protected the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and Happiness for all individuals?

    Why isn’t there any consideration of the fact that the wars we’re involved with are ILLEGAL wars. Congress declared no war. Why should the peaceful people of the USA submit to being drafted or being taxed to support an undeclared war?

    It is said to see so many of our young soldiers killed and maimed by uncaring politicians. They are the responsible ones. We don’t need more sacrifice from the American people. We need more backbone from our elected officials and less war!

    Are you saying that it’s unfair that the uncaring politicians can only risk the lives of volunteers? Perhaps, you would prefer the Nazi brown shirts model currently being implemented with the TSA (our civilian force that is “just as strong, just as powerful as our military?”) Dan, you need to seriously re-evaluate your position.

    Creating more soldiers is not the answer. Stopping the wars is the answer. The USA spends more on “defense” than all the rest of the world combined. We have over 700 bases in 130 countries. That’s not defense. That’s what you call full spectrum dominance. No country has ever placed so many soldiers in so many countries in human history. And we’re told that we have so many enemies because we are so free? … Please don’t insult my intelligence. If we have so many enemies (probably not true on the face of it), it’s because we have military bases in everyone else’s country. Shall we invite Russia and China to set up military bases in the USA? How well do you think that would go over here?

    It’s time to wake up and realize that our government has been hijacked by a criminal commercial elite who control and dominate it while it passes law after law which eviscerate our Constitution and Bill of Rights. It’s a combination of fascism at the national level and Fabian socialism at the state and county level. Once we understand that, we can start to focus on real solutions which increase freedom and security instead of being a nation whose economy is now dependent upon war and world terrorism.

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  6. I like the idea of a Boomer Draft. But I’d say that unless you’re missing arms or legs, you can run and shoot. Easy to suggest a draft and put yourself in the press-release box! So no exemption from the front lines for you. Get out there and shoot and duck like the rest of them… and as you’re running and ducking from live fire, I bet you’ll find a vast improvement in your perceived physical ability…

  7. Hmm. I am a boomer who was drafted into a war. I killed my first human being just after my 19th birthday and countless others over the next 18 months. I rarely talk about it but I’ll never forget about the fathers, brothers, sons, and probably mothers and sisters, I helped remove from this earth. To most Americans, war is a fantasy. A fantasy that is easy to pursue because most Americans have never heard bullets, bullets meant for them, to whiz over their heads. Never seen friends blown apart and killed a few yards away. They don’t know what they are getting their children into when they send them off to “defend” the good old US of A.

    Because of my own experiences, I discouraged both of my boys from the military. It didn’t take with my younger one who is now a proud Marine. He is currently in a desert in California being trained for war. In a recent text exchange, he told me he was getting the experience of being attacked by IEDs by rolling over in their Humvees after an ear splitting explosion. He is getting his first taste of what war is really like and how, even though he has been indoctrinated otherwise, he is not indestructible. I am very proud of him. I am also proud of the Americans that always thank him for his service, unlike those that greeted us with spit and derision.

    If more Americans were exposed to the realities of war and the decades long effect it has on those that actually participate, we would not allow our politicians to waste lives and treasure by getting involved, especially illegal and often unnecessary wars that are promoted by the hawks that are running this great country.

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