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Every time a soldier was shot and fell in the satiric movie “Oh What A Lovely War” the screen went red and a red poppy grew. The symbol of a red poppy for a death on the battlefield came out of the horrendous casualties in World War I. In the most costly battle of the war for both sides, the battle of Somme, France in1916, Britain suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day. In the month following, the Allies advanced the front five miles in the rain, mud, and blood at a cost of 450,000 German, 200,000 French, and 420,000 British lives. Colin Ian Jeffery lost two uncles--and he wrote about their deaths in the following poem:
“Blood red poppies sway over silent fields where birds no longer sing/ Once big guns roared and young men suffered terror in the mud/ Chaplains searched the carnage for God finding him gassed and bloody crucified upon the wire/ One poppy lost among the thousands.”
In my brief study of military history while a Marine Corps officer, it seemed that generals and admirals were usually fighting current wars with tactics from the last one. The trench warfare of WW I with the command “Over the Top!!” represented the insanity of having soldiers charge into open fields against the killing scythes of the recently invented machine gun. Wars today are different. No front lines. That’s why we need to remember U.S. Army Ranger Sergeant Kristoffer Domeij. He was killed during his 14th deployment during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. What were his chances of surviving combat while serving several years on the battlefield?
What If We Gave A War And Nobody Came?
The current discussions about women as members of combat units and whether they should be in the draft have also raised questions about the viability of our all-volunteer military. Presently we have about 322 million Americans who argue about and lay claim to rights, liberties, and security without having any societal obligation to protect their fellow citizens or the country. As Army General Stanley McChrystal once said, “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.” People tend to protect their own skin. Our last official draft was held in December, 1972, during the Vietnam War. The deferment system was devised to protect politicians and the top Ten Percent. As an example, Dick Cheney of Iraq fame protected his valuable skin by manipulating five deferments, using marital status, college entrance, and other excuses. He said he had “better things to do” than go to Vietnam and fight. Maybe if Cheney had been drafted to fight in the jungles of Vietnam in the 1970’s he would not have been so eager to fight in the deserts of the Middle East in 2002 to--forever.
In a kind of bizarre scenario, we now have the One Percent who own about 90% of the wealth protected by members of the bottom One Percent who join the military because they want to escape the poorest sections, towns, and counties in the country. It would be fascinating to count how many offspring of Ivy League families, Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers, U.S. corporate leaders, and members of Congress have joined the all-volunteer force. How many present candidates for nomination to the presidency of the United States have served in the military? None. George W. Bush did join the Texas Air National Guard because of the draft, but Bush money and position kept him flying—sometimes—over the Rio Grande protecting it from the Cong. Every taxpayer should read an article written by Army General Dennis Laich and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson titled “Trouble With The All-Volunteer Force.” Laich has written a book about the poor and the rich and the military in his book “Skin In The Game, Poor Kids and Patriots.” Colonel Wilkerson served as General Colin Powell’s chief of staff while Powell was chairmen of the Joint Chiefs and also while he was secretary of state. Two very bright guys. Our military is beginning to look like the Roman Legions which were composed of slaves and conquered folks from the hinterlands. If they were “worth their salt,” they were paid off with that material mined in the hinterlands.
What Happens To People Who Are Under Death Sentences 24-7 For Months On End?
No doubt that kind of pressure can affect people in different ways. I don’t think the Pentagon generals and the members of Congress have figured that out yet. In old wars we had front lines and rear lines. Soldiers would spend a couple of weeks on the front lines and then go on R &R to the rear lines for a break from that pressure. What happens when there are no lines of combat in an outpost-or city-surrounded by “civilians” wearing robes and beards carrying AK-47s and IEDs? Suicide has surpassed war as the leading cause of military deaths since 2012. According to the VA we lose 22 vets a day from suicide. The suicide rate for civilian men is about 20 per 100,000. For vets its 34.2 per 100,000. Over 60,000 vets are homeless on any given night. We have 1.4 million vets living below the poverty line and another 1.4 million living just above it. Over 900,000 vets live in households which receive food stamps. The use of food stamps by active duty troop families is at its highest. Between 2000 and 2011 almost one million vets were diagnosed with at least one psychological disorder. Over 3.5 million vets receive disability payments of about $100 a month up the $3,000 per month. This is what happens in modern unpredictable urban warfare where you can meet death in any tiny corner of a huge country. How many times can we send troops on tours of duty before they crack? Was it “reasonable and prudent” to send Sergeant Domeij to Iraq and Afghanistan 14 times? Did he have less claim to life and the pursuit of happiness than the son of a Wall Street trader or a nuclear physicist?
I see our new Secretary of Defense Ash Carter thinks a program of storing eggs and sperm might help to retain volunteer troops. Freezing the eggs of female troops could run about $10,000. To maintain a volunteer force recruitment costs and re-enlistment bonuses run many millions of dollars--and pay must be raised to make it comparable to civilian rates. Advertising for the military services runs into the billions now. Only during a recession are there enough recruits from the poor to make the quotas required for national security.
Poor One Percent Go To War While The 99 Percent Go Shopping
Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post has been an observer of war and military for decades and has written an excellent critique of leadership: “The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today.” In a 2012 article he summed up the value of a national draft rather than an all-volunteer Roman-type “Legion”: “We invaded Iraq recklessly. If we had a draft, a retired general said to me recently, we probably would not have invaded at all.” The simple fact is: volunteers don’t bitch, draftees bitch all the time. Bitching brings reality to the raving patriots overloaded with testosterone and ignorance who get us into war. Like draft-dodger Cheney, like always-wrong Wolfowitz, like “stuff-happens” Rumsfeld, like ‘let’s-go-to-war’ McCain, like “shit-bomber” Trump, like “carpet-bombing” Cruz, like thousands of others who don’t believe my old Marine General Chesty Puller who proclaimed to us constantly “WAR IS HELL!” He had been in a half-dozen as a Marine private through general and had five Navy Crosses and numerous other medals for heroism. Rick’s conclusion about a draft: “Resuming conscription is the best way to reconnect the people with the armed services. Yes, re-establishing the draft, with all its Vietnam-era connotations, would cause problems for the military, but those could never be as painful and expensive as fighting unnecessary war in Iraq for nine years. A draft would be good for our nation and ultimately for our military.” To put it bluntly, there’s nothing like a senator’s or a billionaire’s son eligible for the draft to bring reality to a Congressional vote to go to war. The son or daughter of a waitress or concrete laborer doesn’t mean a damn thing to t a Cheney or a Wolfowitz. By the way, I am opposed to drafting women. Women have a unique role in societies, such as giving birth to replacements and keeping the home fires burning. If women want to volunteer and go to war and engage in hand-to-hand combat, more power to them. But keep them out of the draft. There still is some “vive la difference” between the sexes—and men are more disposable than women.
Brothers And Sisters In Arms
There were two remarkable family stories about the draft and military in the February issues of the American Legion magazine and the Minnesota Legionnaire newspaper. In 1941-45 we had 16 million men and women in uniform during that five-year period. Ben and Hattie Davis of Wetumpka, Alabama, were black cotton farmers who had 14 boys, 11 of them serving in the military. The oldest joined the Navy in 1944 and the youngest retired from the Air Force in 1998. The 11 brothers have a combined 165 years of military service, with five of them retiring from the service. Some of the brothers were drafted but most enlisted to get off the cotton farm. Some served in all of our wars between WW II and the Gulf War. Only one of the brothers has died although several had combat tours in Vietnam. They all were raised in a three-bedroom house with no electricity or plumbing, with nine boys the most at any one time. Octavious says, “We always had plenty to eat because we raised our vegetables and meat. We had everything but money and didn’t know any better. We just thought that was the way it was.” His brother Lebronze adds: “Daddy showed us how to be a man—how to take care of the family. None of us boys ever got as much as a speeding ticket. That’s the way they brought us up.”
During World War II we had blue and gold star banners to place in our windows as a symbol of sacrifice, honor, and pride. We had two blue stars for my two older brothers who served in WW II, one in the Army Air Corps and one in General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters. A gold star banner told the world a son or daughter had died in the war. I remember the Sullivan family of Waterloo, Iowa who had a banner with five gold stars in the window representing five brothers who died when their Navy light cruiser the U.S.S. Juneau went down after a battle in the Pacific. The Albert and Caroline Stanek’s front window in Austin, Minnesota had a blue star banner with eight stars. By the end of WW II six sons had served in the war, one sister joined the Women’s Army Corps and served in General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters in Europe, one sister worked in the war effort in Washington D.C., another sister joined the WAVES, the youngest son later served during the Korean War, and even their dog “King Wags” became a war dog! So the Stanek family contributed one Merchant Marine, three Marines, two Army, one WAC, one WAVE, one Air Force---and one K-9 that served as a sentry at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. I hope that kind of sacrifice, service, honor, and pride—with a no-excuses draft for men—will continue. But Green Beret Mike Freedman says, “To recent vets the “thank you for your service” comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters. They have no skin in the game with these wars. There’s no draft.”
I wonder what Sergeant Kristoffer Domeij’s family thought when they got his KIA notice.