Last Friday was the first Veterans Day that I had off in years. It always annoys me that it is a low-grade holiday (for federal workers only it seems). This Veterans Day I called and emailed various people who have served: friends and family. I am shocked at how few veterans I know.
When I searched for all things military online I discovered (IAW U.S. Census stats) that about 10% of adults (18 and older) are veterans and a mere 1% of the population currently serves in the military. The latter seems to indicate that the odds are good that people in general know someone who knows someone who knows someone who is in the military in some capacity, but very few people know military personnel. I find this disturbing.
I suppose it's akin to knowing poor (really poor) people: if you ain't one, you don't know them.
When I was in the ARNG (up until March 1997), I was naturally in contact with all kinds of guys serving. Now? I know only one person on active duty. That seems really weird. Men and women bleeding and dying far away and they remain unknown (or worse, mere images on a screen) to us.
I want to do something to change this peculiar fact but I don't know what.
An Immodest Proposal
It has always seemed to me that universal conscription (i.e., the draft) is a good idea. One would think that the draft would make us very hesitant to wage wars when a broad swath of the male population was subject to getting shot at. That's probably just another one of my clever theories that has no basis in reality. It certainly wasn't the case that the draft prevented the Vietnam conflict!
Still, it seems that one percent is really low for a so-called Global War on Terror. Statistics I found in a population journal indicate that the current level of mobilization is the lowest ever in a major conflict. World War II was the biggest with 9+ percent and then steadily declining since then. One in ten to one in a hundred. It makes a big difference, I think about how one views war.
Naturally, neither an all-volunteer force or a conscripted force can abolish war, but I think there may be good civic reasons for bringing back the draft. One is simply the idea of solidarity: if I've trained as a soldier I have a better idea of what those in combat are facing (even if the most violence I saw in the military was accidentally getting shot at!). Next, a broader swath of the population gets an idea of what the military is and isn't. Finally, it puts rich and poor together in a way that doesn't happen very often.