There is something of a brouhaha boiling up over the fact that a couple of prestigious Eastern universities have risked their government funding by refusing to allow military recruiters on campus to solicit student enrollment in the services.
The fact that funding for education is held hostage to the military in any way is itself reprehensible in the first place. But to know that only a few colleges feel safe enough to make this move, while the vast majority of less well-endowed â€” and especially publicly funded â€” state colleges, junior colleges, and high schools are afraid to even try to fight off such exploitation is doubly deplorable.
The argument advocated by some who favor campus recruiting is that the method supports â€œfreeâ€? enlistment and avoids a more coercive military draft, which would require military service of all young people (now to include women).
Some in Congress have been arguing recently in favor of a universal draft law because they think it would prevent poor and minority youth from carrying the bulk of the load of soldiering, an unfair burden which is not only the result of most recruiting, but is its conscious and cynical intent. Predominantly minority and poor schools are the preferred targets of recruiters because the recruiting job is made easier by the lack of other opportunities available to such students, and by their lack of sophistication, which is apt to result in either fear or blind trust.
But those who promote militarism are beginning to worry about a â€œdangerous gap between military and civilian lifeâ€? and even go so far as to say (according to E.J. Dionne Jr., in the Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2004) that: â€œUS military personnel of all ranks are feeling increasingly alienated from their own country and are becoming both more conservative and more politically active than ever before.â€?
Well, the war against Iraq should turn anyoneâ€™s stomach, including that of the military establishment, what with the incompetence that carelessly puts so many thousands of human lives at stake, the overkill in places like Fallujah, the indecencies of Abu Ghraib, and the still-lingering questions about Al Qaeda and Afghanistan four years later.
Regarding the much-deplored disunity in the country these days, crudely defined as left versus right, or blue versus red: That disunity shows up more and more clearly as jobs become scarcer, paychecks become smaller, and all the money floats gradually to the top 5 percent. Who could expect it to be otherwise? This in turn causes more and more people to ask the crucial question: Why? And when it becomes abundantly clear that war production â€” that is, production of disposable goods used for killing disposable people â€” is â€œgood for businessâ€? â€” in fact, that the nationâ€™s solvency depends on it â€” then the split between who lives and who dies becomes critical knowledge. The problem of fairness enters in, eventually, and people begin to question whether war itself might be the enemy.
It would seem that the appearance of such divisions indicates that war is not as popular or as easy to sell as it used to be. Perhaps, like the guy hung over in the gutter, we have â€œhad one too many.â€? Wars, that is. And if that is the case, the growing difficulties might indicate that war, as the only persuasive arm of foreign policy, is overdeveloped to the point where the body politic is no longer willing to support it, but as yet not clearly convinced that there might be a practical alternative.
Evidence of such a massive shift was clear in the worldwide protests that preceded this war against Iraq, but, unfortunately, it was ignored. By whom? By the military and its supporters in government, by those who still insist that brutal force is, if not the best way, at least the only way to get what you want from others, and who presume that they are being moral in using their power as enforcers. And of course by those who enjoy the enormous profits of the military-industrial complex.
So disunity is rife, and our present government is challenged not only by half of its own constituency but by half the world as well. And that half-a-world is largely made up of people who have either promoted too many past wars or been victims of too many past wars. They have had enough!
If the split is causing an increase in conservative ranks, that may have less to do with the principles of conservatism than with the sheer fear of uncertainty. People are apt to run toward any known safety when they feel threatened. They do not run toward change or new ideas or even logical alternatives. They panic and close their minds and hearts. Leave it like it is for fear it might get worse, they reason. Thatâ€™s a timeworn, universal reaction, and people are bleeding and dying in Iraq because of it, just as they bled and died in Vietnam for more than 10 years.
But wait. Thereâ€™s another possibility. Maybe military people are not feeling alienated from their own country so much as alienated from war in general. They are seeing that the price is too high. They are seeing that the people they are fighting are humans, too â€” and if that is the case, there is indeed hope for the world.
Rather than to choose to persist in using methods that donâ€™t work, the effort to try something else may come from within the military establishment itself â€” that is, when its back is to the wall and if no civilian is smart enough to think of another way to manage foreign policy, or powerful enough to set it in motion. Simply saying â€œnoâ€? is the first step in a more humane direction.
So â€œdisunityâ€? and â€œfeeling alienatedâ€? are not necessarily bad. Change comes out of disunity and feelings of alienation, and quite often that change is constructive.
Rather than opening the doors to recruiters in schools, or having a draft to make the risk of sudden death or dismemberment â€œfairer,â€? it might be a good idea to begin to think about the quite possible end of war. That might be a much surer way to find alternatives for our dilemmas than the mute acceptance of eventual nuclear holocaust, of Francis Fukuyamaâ€™s over-intellectualized â€œend of history,â€? or the much-touted colloquial â€œArmageddonâ€? espoused by the radical right, whether Christian or Muslim.
Jean Girard is a writer and poet who lives in Los Osos. Respond to firstname.lastname@example.org.