The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.".... ...Robert E. Lee.

Commentary of the Day - May 14, 2007: Do I Feel a Wind Blowing or is it Just the Draft?  Guest commentary by Sanford Pinsker.

As we enter the fifth year of the war in Iraq, our military forces are being stretched to the breaking point.  Many worry that extending current tours of duty will jeopardize morale and decrease combat effectiveness; still others wonder if it is time to give serious consideration to the prospect of reinstating a military draft.

I write not as a military analyst, nor as a political pundit; but, rather, as somebody who protested the war in Vietnam from the safety of a college campus.  I was hardly alone, and indeed, that is the point: most of my generation enjoyed the luxury of late-sixties sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll with every confidence that we were right and that the war was wrong.

Forty years later I am not so sure -- not only about my youthful politics (such as they were), but about lots of other things as well.  To remind myself of just how much a person of the herd I once was I only need take down a large carton from my attic and unpack it.  There among my memorabilia of protest days gone by are granny glasses and several tie-dyed tee-shirts, a pair of Birkenstock sandals and several pairs of woolen socks, bell-bottomed trousers, love beads, a roach clip, rolling paper, and a peace symbol pendant.  If memory serves there were also some flowers that I once wore in my hair -- that is, in the days when I had hair.

I do not doubt for a minute that a renewed military draft would change the present campus dynamic.  I am also sure that my old Country Joe and the Fish albums would fetch a hefty price if I had been prescient enough to shrink-wrap them.  For what I can easily imagine is the sixties making a comeback and students once again prepared to rally, march, protest, and if necessary, overturn any institution that supports the war.  The campus administration building is an obvious target as are any deans who work in its offices.

If I was never confused with a Weatherperson, I was at least a weekend activist.  I could chant, yell, even could play a passable guitar and sing nearly the entire Woody Guthrie songbook.  The question, now, is which side would I be on?  In my case the query takes on an added poignancy because I spent the last forty years as a college English professor, exactly the sort of job that attracts aging hippies.

The rub, however, is that I have grown so tried of the loopy Left and so wearied by political correctness that an anti-war rally is the last place people should look for me if a military draft gears up again.  Not that I don't have my quarrels with the way our war in Iraq has been conducted (I do, and don't get me started on the particulars), but I now march to a quieter, more private drummer, and also because I agree with Mark Twain about the folly of people passing themselves off as idealists beyond the age of forty.

In short , I carry a Medicare card these days and one could rightly argue that my interest in a reinstated draft is simply (simply?) "academic," but there are thousands upon thousands of young men for whom the issue is both real and scary.  After all these years it is not easy admitting that I was a coward and that what mattered most was my skin (and continued good times).  I know it is probably too much to hope for but I hope nonetheless that, if called upon to serve, our country's young men will answer the call, just as I hope that this call, in the end, will not be necessary.

2007, Sanford Pinsker.
Sanford Pinsker is an emeritus professor at Franklin and Marshall College. He now lives in south Florida where he thinks about weighty issues on cloudy days.

The IP responds:  Most of the time I agree with the positions taken by my friend and fellow retiree, Sandy Pinsker.  But I find myself in disagreement with some of the implications of his current remarks.  In spite of all of the excesses of the late sixties, I think the students got it right about the Vietnam conflict.  They saw that we were sacrificing a generation of our young men to a policy war in a country that already had had enough of colonialism under the French.  They recognized that it was a war that could not be won.  Conscription has never been popular in the United States, and the Draft of the Vietnam era helped to focus the attention of the general public on that war.  The Iraq conflict is much different.  It is being fought by volunteers in the regular armed forces and -- to a greater extent than any previous conflicts -- by reserve and National Guard troops.  As Sandy notes, our armed forces have been seriously degraded by repeated tours of duty in the war zone.  The number of young men and women who have been killed in the conflict has been modest by the standards of previous wars thanks to the miracles of modern medicine.  But what is much less appreciated is that tens of thousands of our young men and women have suffered injuries in this war that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

For a long time this conflict was fought under the radar.  For the vast majority of Americans it was not their sons and daughters who were being sacrificed in a war with no clearly stated objectives.  But that seems to be changing.  The general public has come to appreciate the duplicity of the politicians who led us into this morass under what now appears to be false pretenses.  While those politicians may have been too ignorant to understand the history of Iraq and its cultural conflicts, and how difficult a task it would be to impose democracy on that part of the world, they nevertheless are smart enough to know that a renewed Draft would be the final kiss of death for failed policies that have made us less safe rather than more safe.

Walking across campus here at Krispy Kreme U. this past Thursday, I came across something I hadn't seen for nearly 35 years.  It was an anti-war rally.  This time it was not being led by hippies and flower children.  It was not the children of the rich and privileged who were protesting.  Instead, it was a rally led by returning Iraq veterans.  The uniform of the day was familiar desert tan camouflage BDU's, not bell-bottoms or tie-dyed tee-shirts.  The target audience was the large contingent of ROTC students (mostly from minority families) on campus.  It felt like a familiar wind was beginning to blow again.

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© 2007 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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