Friday, February 2, 2007
Registering for the draft
I am 17 years and two months old, male, and in less than ten months, I will obey the law and register online for my country's Selective Service program. This will coincide with the time of my life where I am really beginning my college process, enjoying my last year of high school, and generally planning my future. The same is true for every other young male in Carlisle and in the nation, with very few exceptions. I have few reservations about signing my name next to the others, or answering in the unlikely event of being called on, but the entire system does give me a fair bit to reflect on.
Call to report
It is certainly on my mind that in ten months, I could get a call to report at a recruitment/training center, and as I am not a conscientious objector, from there to some support role or even the battlefield itself. No joke, for although no draft has been called since Vietnam about 35 years ago, boys not much older than myself have been told that they are men and have been killed, wounded and mentally traumatized in the line of duty. For that is what Selective Service is designed to do at its most basic — to provide a huge surge of armed former civilians for a last resort on the field of war. I would like to think that in a true emergency requiring a draft, my peers and I would volunteer as a necessity. But the fact that such service would be compulsory adds complexity to the choice that our nation has made for its ultimate defense.
A contradictory environment
Selective Service is a requirement coming from a society that, on a local level, dictates the use of bicycle helmets, forbids firecrackers, and in certain places has outlawed smoking and even trans fats. Certainly, there are differences in the purposes of local and federal laws, and they cannot be compared directly, but both do apply to a young male. To me, such rules, although they are probably good measures to follow in general, do seem a little bit contradictory to the concept of eligibility for compulsory military service.
In addition, every 18-year-old boy that I know is dependent to some degree on his parents. Parents are required to sign release forms for supervised field trips, but on his eighteenth birthday, parents have no say in their son's enlisting for military service. Boys eligible to be called on to kill and die in the defense of their country cannot drink or even drive past midnight, although those of us who are citizens have been given the right to vote.
We live in a society that is largely removed from the realities of war; although we are kept pretty well informed about the events and costs of the war in Iraq, our day-to-day lifestyles are not shaped as they were in, say, WWII. I go to school, travel freely, and buy things I want — the reality of our troops fighting in Iraq does not influence the way I conduct my life. In this environment, the possibility that my peers, myself and even illegal aliens could be sacrificed for our nation as a cost of membership in America comes as a shock to me.
Although we currently rely on an all-volunteer army to protect our nation's interests, the ability of the United States to mobilize in two World Wars and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts has had a profound impact on world history, and has contributed to our nation's identity.
The draft as a formality
I doubt that another draft will ever be called, despite the occasional media rumor, and thus I regard the draft as a formality. Yet, even as just a formality, Selective Service represents the ethics of this country, for it exhibits a clear choice on how far we are willing to go to defend our national sovereignty. No able-bodied young man may exempt himself from the process, and although the role of conscientious observer has been provided for, the draft must be acknowledged as a true equalizer. I, as a student in an elite prep school, would have the same chance of being called on as a boy my age on a farm in Oklahoma or from an inner city. Responsibility for the defense of the nation will not be assigned based on class, race, or religion. The only distinction for eligibility among able-bodied Americans is based on sex, a distinction that is not made in all countries with a draft system.
I look forward to signing up in October, for I plan to register to vote on the same day. Regardless how mature I actually feel, it will be a coming of age of sorts for me: for in the eyes of the nation, I will be an adult whereas half my close friends will still be kids — perhaps that's something to take pride in.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito