Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

The difference between Vietnam and Iraq

A FUNDAMENTAL difference exists between our war in Vietnam and our war in Iraq. I have not heard many people comment on it, but it is a vitally important distinction.

The war in Vietnam involved draftees. All young men over 18 had to register for the draft and received small cards which identified the likelihood of their being drafted. The categories ranged from 1-A (pack your bags) to 4-F (you ain't ever going). Since we all had the opportunity to volunteer if we wanted to be in the military, receiving a draft card with anything but 4-F on it was not the most desirable thing in the world. About all it did that was positive was enable you to get into a bar and drink 3.2 beer.

Many of us subject to the draft did not want to go. We tried to find deferments, reasons we should not be drafted. Some have criticized our President for not having served in the military, for having "dodged the draft."As I think back, I would have had very few people to speak with if I had avoided all the "draft dodgers." None of my friends wanted to go. I do not criticize our President or any of the others who were more successful in obtaining deferments than I was.

Some were able to join military reserve units, others became teachers, some married and had children, and still others went to Canada. All were recognized alternatives to being drafted. Heaven knows I tried, but in October of 1968, I received my draft notice while I was in my second year of law school. It was in the parlance of the times a "Johnson Scholarship."

As we think about the increasing criticism of this war, remember that we are now in a time in which we have an all-volunteer military. Imagine the nature of our discourse if we were drafting young men to serve in the military and spend 12 months of their tour of duty fighting a war in Iraq.

Multiply the difficulty of such circumstance when you recognize it would be necessary to draft young women. The prospect of young women leaving high school to go to basic training and then to Iraq heightens the poignancy of the matter.

All of which raises a question - is it right to sit on the sidelines and not oppose this war because the men and women fighting it are volunteers? Is it correct to sit by mutely because it is not your daughter who is being drafted?

It seems to me a simple proposition. If you do not think your children or grandchildren should be in Iraq, then none of our soldiers should be there, regardless of their status in a volunteer Army. The rightness or wrongness of our position ought not to be determined by the risk to our immediate friends and family.

It is as the poet John Donne put it, "Never send to see for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

If we feel this war is worth fighting and we are confronted with a situation in which we are exhausting our troops because they have to stay too long and rotate too quickly, we need to amplify our fighting force. We need to reinstitute the draft. The burden of a war of this magnitude and duration has to be borne by all of our citizens, not just those who have chosen to be a part of our military. If we lack the will to reinstitute the draft, it must be that our nation does not believe this war is worth fighting and we ought to bring everyone home.

If the President and his advisors are unwilling to recommend instituting the draft, I question whether they believe the war is truly worth fighting. The risks our troops are taking in carrying out orders from the White House are far greater than any risk associated with the political implications of instituting the draft. If the President keeps piling the burden of this war on our volunteer military, I believe he is ignoring his responsibilities as our commander-in-chief.

If he is unwilling to institute the draft because he feels the country will not support him, that is even worse. If he believes that, he ought to end the war immediately. Not one soldier, sailor, airman, or marine ought to be in harm's way if the majority of the voters in this nation are not supportive of their efforts.

Richard M. Kerger is a partner in the Toledo law firm of Kerger & Associates.

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