Originally Armistice Day celebrated the end of the First World War, November 11 is now known as Veteran’s Day, a time when the nation pauses to remember and celebrate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made through the years.
I was never in the service. Too young for WWII, and a draft exempt father during the Korean War, I slipped between the cracks of the selective service lottery.
If called, of course, I would have gone. Not overjoyed, to be sure, but duty is duty. You do what you have to do.
I often think I missed something. My older brother was in the navy and my younger brother went into the army. Both drafted. Both gained a lot from the experience.
I was never a fan of peacetime conscription. Always sort of thought impressing citizens to bear arms was a rather extreme decision which needed to be grounded on rather serious reasons.
Musing about it today, I am not so sure.
The founders of our nation had a healthy distrust of standing armies. They even limited appropriations for an army to two years. They believed in citizen armies – militia – that could be called up when needed. Citizen soldiers who come forward to meet the challenge and then return to their homes and their private affairs.
That was what happened in 1917 and 1943. The last of those citizen – soldiers are dying these days. Their stories enrich our traditions and ennoble our history.
Today, we have what is called a volunteer army. The problem with recruiting a volunteer army in 2013 is the vagueness of the mission. In 1943 the enemies were Hitler and Hirohito. They could be cartooned. They could be hated.
The need to go to war was personalized and volunteers came forward. The draft wasn’t celebrated, but it was accepted because Americans understood the stakes.
Now compare how Americans felt about the draft during Viet Nam. Draft protesters effectively swayed public opinion. There were still many young men who went to war, fought courageously, suffered injuries and died because they were drafted and they did their duty.
But many others didn’t, and we got a taste of how difficult it is to wage an unpopular war.
I am now beginning to wonder whether Universal Military Service might not be a wise course for our nation. To maintain a large volunteer standing army is to risk reliance upon mercenaries. Professional soldiers are needed to train and command draftees, but professional boots on foreign soil are not, or should not be the goal or the norm of American foreign policy.
George Washington warned against foreign entanglements. It was wise counsel. Most of human history is a chronicle of wars. Famous battles. Famous victories. Famous defeats. Heroes and villains. And great empires gained and lost.
There was a lot of talk in the early part of the last century about America’s manifest destiny. Now historians chortle about the Pax Americana.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think there has been a lot of Pax in the Pax Americana.
We have been at war pretty much since my puberty, and that was a long, long time ago.
I think it’s time to bring our soldiers and sailors home from all over the world, teach our young people how to soldier if they are called up, and see if we can’t find some kind of peace time normalcy in our homeland.
There are enough bad guys in the back alleys and boardrooms of our nation to keep us in battle mode.
And if that doesn’t satisfy he blood lust, there’s always Monday Night football.