Sunday, August 29, 2010

Liberal victory week begins:
Ending the draft

I saw a Gallup poll taken in 2009 that states only about 20% of Americans now self-identify as liberal, with 40% self-identified as conservative and 35% as moderate. I'm guessing the last 5% consider themselves Sandinista like my good buddy Padre Mickey. Party affiliations are much closer, with Democrats often in the lead as they were in 2008 when Obama crushed McCain. Party affiliation and position on the political spectrum aside, let it always be remembered that John McCain ran one of the worst campaigns for president in the last fifty years, showing less competence than George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis or Bob Dole, other candidates to took serious electoral ass-whuppings.

Now, the conservative movement thinks of themselves as the standard bearers of "liberty" and "freedom", which in their mind means paying lower taxes. I'm old enough to remember when freedom was the cause of liberals, and freedom meant "not getting your ass thrown in jail for no good cause". Many of the battles for freedom started in my lifetime, and time after time, people who self-identified as conservatives were against freedom and they got their asses kicked like the miserable cowardly dogs that they are.

A lot of young people didn't live through it, but I did. I had some personal stake in some of the changes that took place and nearly none in others, but that doesn't change the facts. Life in these United States is better for all our citizens because of the courage of liberal heroes who stood up against conservative villains.

I start this week of history lessons with one of the most remarkable and hard to predict victories of all, the end of the military draft. The United States has had a draft since the Civil War and there have always been people who complained. It was a real issue during World War I, when there were a lot of people in the country who were against foreign entanglements and didn't see the sinking of the Lusitania as provocation enough to enter a horrible slaughter thousands of miles away. The anti-draft movement of World War II and Korea were much less pronounced, but during Vietnam, it was a real political issue that divided the country along left-right lines.

One of the most vivid signs of that split was how people felt about Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion who converted to the Black Muslims and claimed his religion allowed him to be a conscientious objector. Ali was deeply hated by a large segment of the population, so much so that Joe Frazier, a man who had to struggle against a racist system as well, was cast as an Uncle Tom because so many white scumbags pinned their hopes on him to beat Ali, since anyone with half a brain knew that there wasn't a white heavyweight who had a chance in hell of beating the mouthy and supremely talented boxer and showman.

Men who stood against the draft were seen as cowards, but they faced jail or exile for their beliefs, and quite simply, their argument that the draft was an infringement on their freedom was undeniable. The government could force them into a low paying and exceedingly hazardous job or throw them in jail. In the sixties, there didn't seem to be an alternative to the draft, but as about a half century has now gone by, we can say the draft protesters of the 1960s helped make life better for the generations that followed them, aided by two unlikely allies, the military itself and Richard Nixon.

The military has never liked the draft. Men forced into uniform don't make particularly good soldiers, and in Vietnam, they became a serious threat to the military structure with the not common but still troubling act of fragging. Fragging was slang for enlisted men seriously wounding or killing officers they disliked, named for the fragmentation grenade often used. The military brass knew the problem was draftees and cracking down on discipline would likely make matters worse. Nixon, for as much as he was reviled by liberals then (and now), was a very keen politician who understood that victories did not have to be the crushing of your opponents, but instead might work if you took a major issue away from your opponents. During his administration, the first steps were taken that turned the draft into a lottery which has since been effectively discontinued. The military lobbied hard to increase our military budget so steeply that we could field a smaller and exceedingly well equipped volunteer army to fight any war short of World War III without a draft, even when fighting two long wars today, started when conservative pinheads and military shirkers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney began two conflicts they had no idea how to end.

The end of the draft had a direct impact on my life. My dad was drafted and fought in Korea. He hated it deeply and instructed my brother in ways to make sure the Army rejected him when his time came. Even the lottery was discontinued when my time came and I could stay in school without worrying about it.

The people who fought hardest for this issue were liberals. Those who opposed change were, as usual, conservatives. We won and they lost. This is a steady, consistent pattern of the last half century and there are battles still to be fought or yet to be finished.

More tomorrow.


namastenancy said...

I lost a couple of friends to the war in Vietnam, one of whom I was to marry. Thanks for reminding those who don't remember what a cock-up the draft was. As for the battles - there are a couple around woman's rights that I thought were won and now, are in danger of disappearing under the current right wing onslaught. The battle for a better world - more fair, more ethical, less violence, no war - is one that never ends.
Sorry - it's Sunday and I'm feeling philosophical. I lost a dear friend last week, a lady who was among the many who fought the Civil Rights battles of the lasts century. Remembering her life and what she went through makes me sad that things aren't better but glad that she lived to see such significant change.

Anonymous said...

I was drafted and sent to Nam, I served. But what I was hoping to see in this fine post were the friends who dodged the draft by moving to Canada. I had five friends who did that and I doubt I will ever hear from them again. Even today I wonder where they are or even if they are still alive. The draft at our young age meant death.

Matty Boy said...

I was young enough that Vietnam wasn't part of the story of my classmates, but my brother had friends who served. I remember one nice young man who came back a drug addict. That war was a serious mess on way too many levels.