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February 23, 2006

From the Publisher

Dirty little secret


I read last week's cover, "Meet the recruiter," at the same time you did -- after it was off the press and on the street. Here was a compelling story about a fresh-faced, patriotic, enthusiastic young military recruiter from Utah talking about how she loves her job, providing opportunities for a steady paycheck, medical coverage, college, exotic travel and such to Humboldt County's new high school graduates.

"I'm trying to give people some opportunities they just don't have," she said.

Editorially, we have opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq from the beginning, many months before the conflict actually began. Because of that opposition, you may anticipate an anti-military rant from me in this column. Not so.

I believe the United States needs a well paid, well equipped, all volunteer, professional military force ready to be strategically deployed when and where they are needed. Not unlike police and firefighters, the military is a profession that is also a calling for some. We owe them our respect and our profound gratitude.

However, the time is long overdue to bring up the dirty little secret about this war -- the same dirty little secret we had in Vietnam. The primary fodder for modern war is a certain strata or class of people. Call them the young and the restless -- certainly male, disproportionately poor and often from minorities other than white. They drink beer and watch Nascar.

I had a discussion some months ago with a pro-Bush friend (yes, I have some). She has a daughter graduating from high school this year and I said, "You support this war, yet your daughters are in no danger of (a) being recruited by military recruiters, (b) dying in combat and/or (c) killing someone in combat. Neither are mine. This war is being fought on the front lines by other people's children, not ours. The people sending them to war are like us, the privileged, people who had some structure and direction in their lives early on, who went to college, pursued careers and not just a job, and avoided the military especially during a war."

I am not a peacenik per se. There is certainly a need for a worldwide effort to combat terror backed up by a strong military force.

There is no doubt that we were misled into attacking Iraq by the administration and we need new leadership to begin to renew our commitment to the rule of law and to human rights, and to restore our credibility worldwide. It will be a huge challenge. But in the meantime, maybe we should begin a discussion about the "D" word -- resurrecting the draft under very specific circumstances. Professional, all-volunteer armies can get the job done in relative peacetime, but during a prolonged conflict like we are in at this time, there is a need for manpower beyond normal troop levels. (National Guard should never have been sent.) Citizens should support -- and Congress should approve in advance -- any military excursion beyond our borders other than short-term, emergency targets to defend ourselves. And we all should be willing to commit fiscal and human resources to get the job done. That means a willingness to send our own children, not just someone else's, in a fair and equitable manner -- a draft with no deferments.

If we had had such a system in place, Bush would have gone to Vietnam and Cheney would have been unable to avoid serving his country in the military. And neither of them would have sent their own children to Iraq.


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