PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Dialectic of the Draft

Americans will understand themselves less fantastically if they consider the extent to which the end of the Selective Service System a half century ago gave them permission to put their public selves to sleep.

Curtis Tarr, director of the Selective Service System, turning the drum containing capsules of draft numbers at the annual lottery in the Commerce Department auditorium, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2, 1972. (Thomas J., O’Halloran, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress )

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

It is 50 years ago now that old Melvin Laird, President Richard Nixon’s defense secretary and the architect of “Vietnamization” in the Indochina war, ended America’s military draft.

Henry Kissinger — with whom Laird was famously at odds, but that is another story — had just finished negotiating the Paris Peace Accords with LêDúc Tho, veteran of French “tiger cages” and Hanoi’s chief diplomat at the talks.

Tho, a tough-minded revolutionary the whole of his life, refused the Nobel Peace Prize when the committee in Oslo proposed later in 1973 that he share it with Nixon’s secretary of state — a principled move, given there was no peace for two more years.

But Laird, eager to assuage the explosive antiwar movement at home, pounced. When he suspended the Selective Service System’s conscription program on Jan. 27, 1973 — the same day Kissinger signed the accords in Paris — it was nearly half a year ahead of his announced schedule for Vietnamization, which he had initially named “de–Americanization.”

Now we read in, which puts itself across as “a resource website for military members, veterans and their families,” that Congress must reconstitute the conscription system to counter a drastic shortage of personnel in the armed services. “We need a limited military draft” is the head atop the July 29 piece, which reports:

“Today, the military needs only about 160,000 youth from an eligible population of 30 million to meet its recruitment needs. But after two decades of war — both of which [sic] ended unsuccessfully — and low unemployment, many experts believe the all-volunteer force has reached a breaking point. And American confidence in its military is at a low.”

It turns out that reviving the draft is something of a running theme at On Sunday it published another piece asserting that the American military cannot find enough people to put in uniform and in harm’s way. It turns out there is a here-and-there debate on the question of the draft in our midst.

[Related: US Vets Try to Stop Students from Joining Up]

I credit the estimable Dave deCamp for bringing this matter to my attention in a piece he published last week on I have since read up on all this talk. Most of those commenting seem to think there is little chance that the Selective Service System will be put back in action.

Congress would have to authorize it, so bringing back the draft divides in two: It is a practical question — the Pentagon needs more soldiers and sailors — and a political question. Politics in our wayward republic, if you have not noticed, almost always trumps good sense, bad sense, and everything in between.

I am moved to pose a question I have considered for a very long time. It is a bitter question. For a long time I have been chary of posing it anywhere more public than the dinner table. This could come across very badly. But here goes.

Considering the Consequences

 Laird, on right, in his Pentagon office, with U.S. Ambassador to NATO David M. Kennedy, Dec. 19, 1972. (U.S. National Archives)

On the face of it there would seem no defending a state’s practice of forcing some of its citizens to carry arms, go to war and kill people. Inarguably, this is all the more so when the state in question is running a violent empire. But was the Nixon administration’s very effective, very consequential move to drop the draft a good thing or a bad thing?

This is the question. However one may come down on it, my case is that it’s time to consider it. We will better know ourselves as we do.

How well I recall those times late in the Vietnam era. I will relate a little of them in the cause of answering this question. Preview: In my view, America’s switch from a citizen’s army to a paid, “voluntary” army served in important respects to open the door to a festival of public irresponsibility as to the conduct of the foreign and military policies executed in Americans’ names and by means of Americans’ tax dollars.

In November 1969, with the largest antiwar demonstrations in U.S. history a few days in the past, the Nixon administration announced that it would begin running the draft by lottery. This, a first step toward a voluntary army, was conducted according to birthdays. The lottery was drawn, like some kind of macabre game show, on Dec. 1.

I was a student in Paris at the time and had a draft card (2–S student deferment) in my wallet. My mother back in the States was nearly beside herself as the day of the lottery approached. Strange as it may sound, I took no interest whatsoever in the lottery. There was simply no question of putting on a uniform, going through basic, and shipping out to Southeast Asia. As fortune would have it, I would simply have stayed in France.

I never had to test my convictions. My lottery number was 329 — well, well beyond the number the Selective Service would ever reach. As I recall it, anyone who drew a number north of 250 or so simply forgot about the draft, home free. Four years later, everyone did and everyone was.

At the time, the end of the draft was universally understood as a massively good thing. It was taken in part as a triumph for the antiwar movement, and fair enough. Power, as in Washington’s power, was spooked by the extent of the movement’s strength, coherence and determination.

It took some years after Saigon’s rise in 1975 to wonder about the consequences of the end of the draft and the new dependence Americans shared on an army of volunteers. They were inevitably drawn from poor and working-class communities and were in it, in many, if not most cases, because they couldn’t otherwise find good work.

Then Came the Meddling

Jan. 1, 1990: U.S. soldiers in Panama during the invasion. (U.S. National Archives)

Then came the meddling, the covert ops, the proxies, the bombings, the coups, the what have you, running from Zaire, to Angola, to Iran, to Libya (multiply), to Grenada, to Nicaragua, to Panama, to the big “etc.” Anyone recall Operation Praying Mantis, in 1988, when the Pentagon attacked and more or less destroyed the Iranian Navy? I didn’t think so: It’s a trivia question now.

The Persian Gulf in 1990, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya yet again, Syria. I won’t ask where the voices of protest were because there were some. Groups such as Veterans for Peace, founded in 1985 with a multigenerational membership, remind one of the old VVAW of the Vietnam war era.

Setting aside such honorable gatherings, is there any question of the apathy, the coarse indifference, the willful somnambulance abroad in the republic as the imperium proceeds with its imperial business? By the time we get to Ukraine, we find the people whose intellectual forbears stood at barricades instead cheering a proxy war and pretending, per the propaganda, that it was “unprovoked.”

There are numerous explanations for this shift in consciousness — psychological, social, political, even economic. The bitter truth is that we have to include among these explanations the fact that Americans are no longer held responsible for waging wars. They pay others to wage them.

Laird and Nixon had it right, to put the point another way: Take them out of the line of fire, their lives never on the line, and they will go to sleep, ceasing to give a damn. Rome may be burning, the U.S. having set afire many Romes, but let us stay with Barbie and Taylor Swift (I think I can tell the difference).

Collective Irresponsibility

Detail from a mural by HONOR ONE depicting Tom Cruise as “Maverick” from the 1986 movie “Top Gun,” Long Beach, California; photo by James aka Urbanmuralhunter. (Flickr, Terence Faircloth, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

You have the shadow-boxers, as always — escapists in their own right. Last Wednesday Newsweek published the results of a July 25–26 poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton, showing that nearly half of those aged 18 to 42 — I am combining so-called Gen–X and Gen–Z respondents — said they supported or strongly supported sending U.S. troops into combat in Ukraine. Nearly a third of those older than 59 concurred.

These people watch too many Tom Cruise movies and are merely an upside-down measure of U.S. collective irresponsibility.

Considering those in these age brackets would conceivably be eligible for service, or be the parents of the same, the poll would be far more interesting were it conducted after these chest-out people were told they had call-up letters coming their way. I will not guess as to the hypothetical result, except to say the numbers would most definitely be other than what Redfield and Wilton registered.

The recent death of Daniel Ellsberg gave me (and I am sure others) cause to consider again the case of Randy Kehler. Kehler was an inspiration to Ellsberg in the course of his “awakening,” as Ellsberg put it. Kehler turned in his draft card, went to prison, and continues to live as we speak a life of principled activism. We must never complain of our struggles and responsibilities, I conclude when I think of such people. It is our struggles and responsibilities that make us.

No, I am not arguing for a reconstitution of the draft, should this not already be clear. I am tempted — and no more at this point — merely to conclude, that were the draft to be reconstituted, it would do a lot of Americans a lot of good by forcing them to shut off the televisions, put away the Frisbees, stop daydreaming of high deeds on battlefields they will never see, think seriously of what their country is doing in their names, and then assume responsibility for it.

There is a dialectic attaching to the question of the draft and the obligation or not to “serve one’s country,” as the saying goes. This is another way to state the case. Americans will understand themselves more authentically, less fantastically, if they consider the extent to which the end of the Selective Service System a half century ago gave them permission to put their public selves to sleep. A decade later we were well into “the me decade,” weren’t we?   

I spent a brief time in Switzerland this past spring, and some of what I saw bears upon these thoughts. As it has long been, every Swiss, from 18 to old age, serves in the army, a uniform and a rifle in the closet. For women, service is voluntary, and there are the American equivalent of “CO” exemptions. Ten years ago, there was an initiative — the Swiss, having a direct democracy, love their initiatives — proposing to abolish conscription. Three-quarters of the country voted it down.

How shall we think of this? 

It comes down to the presence or absence of an idea worth defending, in my view, and I am avoiding “nationalism,” for that is not the point. “Switzerland” is the idea: what it is as a community, as a polity, what it means to be Swiss, the obligations, what one owes the community called “Switzerland” by virtue of belonging to it. “Armed neutrality,” the principle governing their relations with others, is part of this, a big part, and it is in defense of it the Swiss keep rifles in their homes.

A thoughtful reader, I should add, wrote to me after I returned from Zurich and mentioned my sojourn in a column, “Yes, I’ve been to Switzerland a few times. I always tell myself, ‘This is what peace looks like.’”

Indeed. And after the profound divisions among Americans during the draft, now our purported leaders’ resort to an army of the deprived: Is this what war looks like?

It is one way to put it, I would say. As the 19th century turned into the 20th, Mark Twain, William Jennings Bryan, and all those early anti-imperialists understood America had a choice: It would be empire abroad or democracy at home, but it could not be both. The choice is now bitterly obvious.

This leaves Americans with nothing left to believe in, nothing worth lifting a finger or even raising a voice to defend. As our militarists mull whether to reinstitute the draft to fill the ranks of the reluctant, we should consider: This is what empire looks like.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of Journalists and Their Shadows.  Other books include Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.  

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

68 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Dialectic of the Draft

  1. Em
    August 10, 2023 at 13:38

    Here’s the joke on ‘US’:

    For all (wink-wink) male citizens, and immigrants between 18 and 25 years of age; in their prime years of health, the ‘government’ stipulates that it is compulsory to be “drafted” with the “Selective Service System” for possible future military service recruitment.

    This same ‘government’ does not make it compulsory for the plutocratic ‘corporations’ – in whose best interests all of the people must serve, in one work-force platoon or the other; to provide compulsory, available, paid ‘government’ supplied healthcare as “a rite of passage” for all citizens; as preventive care for possible future illnesses, harms or accidents from occurring.

    Globally, the history of US healthcare services ‘for all’ are as unacceptable as its preventive war services (another joke).

    By the people, for the people, of the people, is the long-standing joke on all of ‘us’; of this all around regressive form of governance!

  2. susan
    August 10, 2023 at 08:56


  3. Colin Purdy
    August 10, 2023 at 05:59

    For years I have casually expressed that were I executive power for one day, with one choice of action, I’d bring back the draft forthwith, confident that compelking Americans to “put skin in the game” would, a la Vietnam era antiwar movement, seriously extinguish the otherwise enthusiastic armchair or laptop bombardiers taking their orders from the court stenographers of the propaganda addled Western MSM rags of imperium.

    Further, consider the strongly compelling legal reasoning of the 1918 Supreme Court opinion that upheld the constitutionality of conscription, and we have the fundamental civic basis for considering the draft a fundamental tool for modulation of civic consciousness towards these most important societal decisions regarding the nation’s choice whether or not make war on other peoples.

  4. David Hall
    August 9, 2023 at 20:01

    I got a 355 in my Vietnam lottery, only contest I ever won.
    The Army was destroyed as a combat effective force in Vietnam, this is called losing the war. They had to get rid of the draft to regain control of the troops, the force was built back better over a couple of decades but the main change was the military was freed from the scrutiny of a public that no longer had skin in the game. Politicians learned they could do anything they wanted overseas, then took it even further when the military learned to take absolute control of all information coming from the battlefield. Nobody knows what is going on in Ukraine, Syria, the Sahel, we have entered the post truth world, the post information world. Orwell was naive to think we needed a Ministry of Truth to erase history. People just forget.

  5. robert e williamson jr
    August 9, 2023 at 14:02

    Mr. Lawrence you have amazed me with this. Great insights.

    I was drafted May 1968, served my tour in Berlin Germany and missed the meat grinder in Vietnam. For several reasons this experience changed me and my life forever. Just in case no one noticed it turned me into the hard assed realist I am today. If left me with guilt complex that bedevils me to this day, guilt of knowing so many suffered so severely, something I was never a part of.

    All my life I’ve been aggravated by spoiled “exceptional Americans” who, to me, are absolutely clueless to how different their lives could have been or be.

    The individual who has never been a slave, incarcerated or drafted misses out on the unique experience of totally losing and control over there personal life and habits. Now add the specter of being thrown into terrorizing deadly combat. It should be no mystery why so many Viet Vets refuse to accept their sacrifice was for little or nothing. Their sacrifice only becomes that waste when we all forget how and why they went. Something a large majority of those other “exceptional Americans” are guilty of.

    As you seem to strongly insinuate and quite nicely articulate here this experience changes people, combat changes them even more.

    Many who serve gain much from the experience and lose some of that “life is all about me ” attitude. They become better people who respect what life provides. More importantly they respect others, especially those who sacrifice of the good of the larger group.

    All Americans should go through “Boot Camp” and learn some respect, a quality that is sorely missing in today’s world. A minimum of 12 months, college or no college, they should also be very glad you are in their corner.

    Just ask someone who has served multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan or some other country the U.S government has turned into shithole.

    Give Peace A Chance.

    Thanks CN

  6. CaseyG
    August 9, 2023 at 13:07

    War— a horrible state for humans and the planet everywhere. WHAT IF….

    What if Congress had to be the one declaring war—- and didn’t they do that before?

    BUT— what if those who voted FOR war had to go? We might therefore have a very peaceful nation with money going to the nation , the People and the Planet.

  7. Robert Emmett
    August 9, 2023 at 10:26

    How can service to country even be considered service when those who command it have misused it egregiously for personal gain & glory?

    By joining such enterprise, do you not give up personal “guaranteed freedoms” to become an obedient part of what General Smedley Butler referred to as high price muscle for big business, industrialists, war profiteers & thereby those influential “Congressionals” whom they make their pets?

    There must be jillions of different ways you could give way better service to the founding principles of such a country as ours & to the people willing to abide by them than to participate in keeping that corrupted hamster wheel of constant war spinning ‘round.

  8. firstpersoninfinite
    August 9, 2023 at 00:08

    An annual lottery to decide which victims among the willing are chosen to die in war is much like the casino of Wall Street picking winners and losers in the pursuit of profits. The delusional pursuit of the infinite presides in both scenarios. However, the pursuit of finite riches and finite destruction is the only shared goal held by these two, compulsory activities. No future awaits us which is not already prescribed by forces way beyond our control.

  9. Peter Sherman
    August 8, 2023 at 22:48

    I was in the protests to the Vietnam invasion. As soon as the draft was cancelled those protests dropped in a big way. It was clear that many who protested were motivated by the skin they themselves have in the game. Since then I felt that the draft would never be considered, since Americans would be paying attention to the international crimes of their government. But now is a different time. With the mainstream media under total control of the deep state and psychotic oligarchs, I believe that this Ministry of Truth could, indeed, convince Americans that their sons and daughters are being killed for the good of the Party. It is no exaggeration to compare America today to The Party in Orwell’s ‘1984’; proles and all.

  10. wildthange
    August 8, 2023 at 21:21

    No the real choice the world is facing is ending the military protection racket that all countries have been using for male dominance behavior throughout the ages at a time when the permanent wars threaten all of human civilization. The resources wasted on war technology that get more expensive in a law of diminishing returns that is in reality increasingly a treat to all of human civilization on this planet.
    That is resources better directed toward protecting the quality of life of all on this planet to benefit peace and harmony.
    The constant rutting for power and dominance is not civilized at all.

  11. Hawkeye
    August 8, 2023 at 20:45

    If Americans weren’t evil, then the personal risk to them having to go fight would make no difference. Instead, the Americans would rather pay no attention while they explore the seven deadly sins.

    If Americans are willing to support evil war after evil war, aggression and bullying constantly around the world, because they themselves won’t risk being drafted and forced to kill for their overseas investments …. then that adds up to Americans are evil. If they weren’t evil, then they would oppose these bi-partisan policies regardless of the presence of the draft.

  12. anon y'mouse
    August 8, 2023 at 19:23

    your “movement” induced Them to end the PR issue. it didn’t induce them to end the war. that’s what removing that objection was about. didn’t we keep bombing Laos and Cambodia anyway? (forgive me if the details are lacking. i wasn’t born yet.) your clinging to that myth is what fails you in seeing that they don’t care about the consequences, they care about our perceptions. they just carried on their dirty deeds by other means. and none of this EVER stopped the MIC from growing like the chicken heart that ate the world.

    how great for someone who would have run off if he had been forced to go to send other people’s sons (and they are going to be poor, without deferments, naturally) off in the name of accountability bringing back the PR problem.

    your list is about a half-century or more short of coups, assassinations and so forth as well, none of which had much all to do with the draft but much to do with the corporations that wanted good cheap commodities and such like.

    • Colin Purdy
      August 10, 2023 at 21:37

      Because a lot of that stuff, lots of covert ops in the hangover of the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome”, didn’t require a draft to supply a large invasion force. But in more recent history, post-Hangover, when America finally got “brave” enough again to wage war publicly in the first Iraq invasion, more and more Americans are declining voluntary recruitment, as these numbers show, enough so that some are talking about turning on the draft spigot, again, in which case we will see the effectiveness of the civic duty of conscription in fomenting antiwar populism.

  13. Afdal
    August 8, 2023 at 18:39

    Lately I am increasingly convinced that the ending of the draft had a lot in common with the Marian military reforms of the late Roman Republic. Like the Marian reforms, the repeal of the draft has produced a military machine that recruits with the promise of escaping poverty and career advancement. And like the Marian reforms, has the repeal of the draft set the stage for a civil war by creating a wholly detached and unaccountable professional force ready to be turned on the civilian population?

    • Emma M.
      August 9, 2023 at 07:19

      It’s astute to notice the similarities with such things as the Marian reforms, and worth noting that the Roman Empire at its height spent a comparable amount of its GDP on its military as the US does today, and similarly, the military had become the last honest business and the only job opportunity for many. One of the principle causes of the fall of the Western Roman Empire in my view was their idea that there would be some foreign military threat to them worth spending endless GDP on, they imagined barbarian hordes assaulting them and never considered the enemy within.

      America’s Founding Fathers (a term itself no doubt taken from Latin, probably Patres conscripti; originally the Father-Conscripts who overthrew monarchical tyranny and founded the Roman Republic, then the term for Senators) all studied Latin and Ancient Greek and would even write to each other in them, and Jefferson’s favourite author was Roman historian Tacitus. There are, in my view, countless parallels to the decline of the Roman Empire to the decline of the American Empire, and in Tacitus’ writing it’s often plainly visible even on matters one wouldn’t expect, be it on war or censorship.

      History is another area in which Americans—among I would say just about every other people to different degrees in various ways—now lack perspective. Here are a couple excerpts from Tacitus I find come to mind in an American context often these days:

      “The Fathers condemned the books to be by the Aediles burned; but they still continued concealed and dispersed: hence we may justly mock the stupidity of those, who imagine that they can, by present power, extinguish the lights and memory of succeeding times: for, quite otherwise, the punishment of writers exalts the credit of the writings: nor did ever foreign kings, or any else, reap other fruit from it, than infamy to themselves, and glory to the sufferers.”—Tacitus, Annals, Book IV

      “[T]here is no nation beyond us; nothing but waves and rocks, and the still more hostile Romans, whose arrogance we cannot escape by obsequiousness and submission. These plunderers of the world, after exhausting the land by their devastations, are rifling the ocean: stimulated by avarice, if their enemy be rich; by ambition, if poor; unsatiated by the East and by the West: the only people who behold wealth and indigence with equal avidity. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert [translated also as devastation], they call it peace.”—Tacitus, Agricola

      “Peace given to the world,” by the way, is a common inscription on Roman medals. They were the original war-is-peace “peace keepers” who lauded the idea after Augustus established the Pax Romana, which as Tacitus and other critics of empire write was a “peace forged with blood.” It is easy to change a couple words in the latter paragraph, like “Romans” to “Americans” and imagine how it applies today. Hence we may justly mock their stupidity, indeed.

      It is worth noting, in case it’s to the benefit of anyone unaware, much classical literature can all be found legally for free on the Internet. Here are Tacitus’ works, for example:


  14. EuGene Miller
    August 8, 2023 at 16:59

    Military training forges a person’s core identity. It would have forged my identity, if I was drafted in 1971. A draftee or a volunteer often identifies as a warrior, often with the affinity for war that endures for life. — In about 2005 I helped a Vietnam combat veteran set-up about 200 Iraq war memorial crosses on the field in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. A couple younger veterans few older ones helped with the set-up. While we worked on the crosses, dozens of middle-aged “support the troops” bikers in fatigues protested the cross display by gunning their Harleys’ engines in front of the crosses. They outnumbered the anti-war set-up crew. — Meanwhile, the tourists totally ignored the crosses. — Today the draft and intense military training might not forge anti-war sentiment. It might actually forge “warrior” souls, who will vigorously support the current wars and the future ones.

    • LarcoMarco
      August 9, 2023 at 18:17

      I estimate 95% of my Boot Camp was comprised of draftees. Some guys became gung ho, but most of us maintained our FTA attitude.

  15. August 8, 2023 at 16:49

    As one who fought the draft and escaped with my life, I can say that the imperialist nature of our military and our foreign policy has everything to do with it. Switzerland doesn’t operate 800 bases all over the world and doesn’t bomb countries that they disagree with. They can have rifles in their closets and illusions in their heads but it really doesn’t matter. Reality is that professional war makers make war in the interest of the corporate elite and really don’t care about rifles in closet. We in the USA fell asleep on our foreign policy by design, a design implemented by the right wing over the last 40 years or so in our educational system, our health system and social security systems. Putting individuals in harms way in order to teach them a lesson about the evils of empire is a fools errand. Fact is, no empire ever had trouble raising an army and no population ever had trouble sending their youth off to die for country and flag. We have to dig deeper to find ways to disarm this monster we have created.

    • Colin Purdy
      August 10, 2023 at 21:44

      You only need to dig as deep as the plain evidence of the history of the Vietnam antiwar movement. Nixon terminated the draft in large part to undermine it.

  16. Bostonian
    August 8, 2023 at 16:42

    “The essential idea underlying military conscription is the major premise of every dictatorship and all totalitarianism. It is the assumption that the individual citizen is but a pawn in the hands of unlimited State power.” These words are from a Declaration of Conscience signed by hundreds of prominent Americans and published on July 8, 1940, in response to FDR’s draft, the first peacetime draft in our history. This was part of the strong American opposition to involvement in a second European war, which has been so effectively censored out of every myth about “the good war.”

    We have not known a day of true peace since these wise words were ignored. Our government continues to invent an endless series of comic-book villains who, they tell us, are determined to destroy us unless we continue the insane course of militarization to its logical conclusion, total global domination.

    Interestingly, the author of the 1940 Draft Bill, Senator Edward R. Brooke, had announced after a fact-finding tour of Nazi Germany in 1938 that Hitler was “bringing about the well-being of the entire German people.”

  17. Charles E. Carroll
    August 8, 2023 at 16:32

    We will probably have a great “November surprise”. Something to stir up the poor boys at home.
    (65-67 VN)

  18. SteveK9
    August 8, 2023 at 16:28

    We must be the same age (70 next week). I had a draft lottery number of 2 hundred something, and knew I would not be called up. Your conclusion has been obvious, right from the beginning. The army after that was a place for poor boys, and I’m afraid to say, foolish patriotic youth from the South and Midwest. For the general population, wars became a sporting even where you could cheer for your team without risking any injuries to yourself. So, we let the military and the MIC have at it. As for the countries we have destroyed (for Israel largely), we could not care less.

    Many fewer from that latter group want to go into Milley’s ‘woke’ Army now. The pictures of Milley with pink hair and a dress are everywhere along with mountains of other ‘memes’ and jokes about the transgender armed forces. So, not it is just poor boys, and for the moment there are fewer of them as well, with the ensuing shortages in the work force.

  19. Noot Moot
    August 8, 2023 at 16:00

    “Was ending torture a bad or good thing?”

    “Did the Japanese have a point with enslaving and raping comfort women?”

    “Is it actually good or bad to murder every child of your enemy so they don’t grow up to challenge you?”

    These might as well be this article. Like the draft [forcing someone to kill another or be killed], these positions are always and eternally immoral no matter the circumstance, no matter if torturing one person would save the entire human species or universe. I guess it’s okay to debate these if you’re a consequentialist (not sure that’s the right term) or a sadist. But if not why would you ever even imagine any circumstance in which this is okay? These things are always despicable and should never be tolerated.

  20. Paula
    August 8, 2023 at 13:44

    Just want to say, Mr. Lawrence, that your reportage makes a difference in my thinking, if not my life.

    • August 8, 2023 at 18:13

      & your comment, Paula, makes a difference in my life. Thanks for it,
      & thanks for all others commenting.

  21. Paula
    August 8, 2023 at 13:37

    Beautiful and thought filled piece on peace in the world. When they begin taking OUR sons and daughters, perhaps our nation will wake up to the facts of our unsustainable lifestyles and other “inconvenient” truths.

  22. Paula
    August 8, 2023 at 12:54

    My prayer into the wind of this insanity is that youth are not beguiled by lies, orchestrated perceptions, and can see their future clearly on the path we do not want to take. USA does not need to be top dog ever because they ape the Euros with colonization, etc. that made them and their people used to shit they should not have. Elites want us to believe lies that we can sustain a lifestyle that takes too much from others and is not right. . Truth is, and hard to swallow, elites and everyone else in USA need to downsize. That’s the panic.

    • Lois Gagnon
      August 8, 2023 at 16:58


  23. Paula
    August 8, 2023 at 12:42

    “Americans will understand themselves less fantastically if they consider the extent to which the end of the Selective Service System a half century ago gave them permission to put their public selves to sleep.” I do not know if anyone could have said this better. The implication is, we only look after ourselves and don’t give a damn about other’s sons and daughters until they are ours. A very limited world view, that. No humanity in it. No concern for love or loss from any nation but our own. We must become more broad minded about being human. Lives matter around the world, not just those of the USA. Let’s agree to harm less and do with less so that we don’t keep taking and taking and taking from the rest of the world with our IRON fist of weapons, nuclear and others. No cannot regret dying when we see the world truly.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 8, 2023 at 14:25

      Great comment. I agree.

    • Valerie
      August 8, 2023 at 16:54

      Get rid of racism and xenophobia and that might be achievable.

  24. Jamie Aliperti
    August 8, 2023 at 12:33

    A very dear friend of mine who is a Vietnam vet, politically very progressive, has argued since the 1980’s for the very reinstitution of the draft that Patrick Lawrence seems to want but cannot quite bring himself to say, and for all the reasons given here. I originally dismissed it as just a crazy glitch in his thinking, but over the years and subsequent events I have come to see that he was spot on. If American solidiers were fighting and dying on the Ukrainian front, that war would already be long over — indeed, it probably would have never startted, because we would have been far more motivated to seek a diplomatic solution to Russia’s concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion. If conducted equitably without escape hatches for the privileged, a draft could also operate as a great class leveler by impressing a common experience upon all of us (not an original thought of mine, but of my friend, with which I wholeheartedly agree).

    • Lois Gagnon
      August 8, 2023 at 17:08

      I cannot agree with your sentiment that we need to re-institute the draft. Having a number of young men on both sides of my family approaching what would be draft age, what a waste it would be to sacrifice their lives to teach the American people a lesson in the necessity of civic engagement. Confronting the evils of empire would seem to be a better lesson of the need for continuous citizen involvement in government policy.

  25. Sally McMillan
    August 8, 2023 at 12:23

    I think a year or two of service to your country could be valuable for young people provided they had the opportunity to select the type of service they chose. There are many ways to serve: military, Peace Corps, Americorp, a Medical Corps, and other programs that exist or can be developed. The timing of their service could be flexible depending upon their interests and the service they chose. Pay and benefits could be equitable for a decent standard of life, and benefits following service would be compatible in value among the services. There would have to be, of course, a short period of preparation for the young person to to become familiarized with the choices available and to learn any of the entrance skills needed. An inherent benefit of this program would be a sense of worth from the service given and and a maturity and background of experience in choosing their next step, rather than a burden of debt that influences what choice they make.

  26. Observer
    August 8, 2023 at 12:19

    > “there are the American equivalent of “CO” exemptions.”

    You mean the “Swiss equivalent”, of course!

  27. C. Parker
    August 8, 2023 at 11:54

    Long live the day when kings and queens rode into battle with their military. Maybe those in the State Department will finally take a lesson or two in diplomacy.

  28. DebsWas Right
    August 8, 2023 at 11:49

    “I would no more teach children military training than teach them arson, robbery, or assassination.” ~ Eugene V. Debs

    But the nation has taught them those things. And for over a century now we have used our children to burn, rob, and assassinate. We have allowed our minds to be so twisted that we only view citizens who carry guns as patriots, but those who feed the poor and fight for the weak as traitors.

  29. Heather
    August 8, 2023 at 11:40

    Hear hear!! Excellent article! And it never ceases to amaze me to see all the Dem liberals, who used to pretend to be so anti war, cheering on Ukraine. Of course, it makes sense as many of them are members of the PMC whose kids will NEVER have to serve. Lucky them, they and their kids can be all pro war and never have to pay the price. My son enlisted in the army because he wanted to go to college and we could not afford to send him. This was right after Obama was elected to his first term and said he was going to ramp up Afghanistan. I was scared to death for my son, luckily he went into the honor guard and never left the country, he stood guard while they buried someone else’s children. What a f$$$$$g scam war is. Makes money for the already rich, while the poor saps die. And one big giant yawn from the majority of Amerikkkans.

  30. August 8, 2023 at 11:35

    “But was the Nixon administration’s very effective, very consequential move to drop the draft a good thing or a bad thing?” – It was good for the American military machine, but it was bad for the American people.

    Ending the draft, ending effective reporting on our wars and the human tragedy, and borrowing the money to pay for the wars (instead of taxing the public) has effectively hidden our wars from the American public

    If we ever want to end our “endless” war, we need our wars to affect all Americans directly. To do that, we need to reinstate the draft, tax Americans directly for all war costs (stop borrowing the money) and start reporting on the true consequences of our wars. (It would probably help if our entertainment industry stopped glamorizing war.)

  31. August 8, 2023 at 11:26

    The law of unintended consequences, at its best. Oddly, democracy is safeguarded most in countries where public service is a universal requirement, authoritarian governance is most difficult to impose in such settings, and gratuitous war least likely, which explains how we got where we are today.

  32. Alex Cox
    August 8, 2023 at 11:23

    These are excellent observations, though ‘tax dollars’ don’t pay for all these wars, as the US government simply prints money and gives it to the Pentagon and military industrial corporations. But if all of us – the young and not-so-young – were obliged to participate in these murderous ventures, it would concentrate our minds wonderfully.

    • August 8, 2023 at 13:41

      Printing money can be inflationary when the money supply increases faster than the economic output. And inflation acts as an indirect, regressive tax.

    • Tim N
      August 8, 2023 at 15:30

      That’s right. It’s amazing (and disturbing) as to how many citizens don’t get this.

  33. Horatio
    August 8, 2023 at 11:14

    I was drafted. There was a measure of pride in doing so. I grew up to thinking as others my age that all good men should come to the aid of their country. I was a good soldier in garrison and never had to shoot anybody and nobody shot at me. And that was the rub. Considering the death and destruction visited upon people of other lands with no thought of protecting the country, I think very differently now. However, the draft is only one measure of awareness. Mr. Lawrence doesn’t have that particular awareness but I feel he is on point with the others.

    • Maricata
      August 8, 2023 at 11:32

      I was drafted as well by lottery. My number was 11.

      I remember sitting and crying with my pregnant girlfriend.

      There was no way I would go.

      It was 1971 and the war had really been over since 1969.

      “This, a first step toward a voluntary army, was conducted according to birthdays. The lottery was drawn, like some kind of macabre game show, on Dec. 1.”

      Mr. Lawrence did not have to pay attention to the lottery he already had his exemption stuffed inside his suit pocket.

      Many of us did not.

      We went into the streets, not into the jungles of Vietnam.

      Now, with the last forty years of glorifying illegal wars, Americans simply have too many morbidities to even think of being a soldier.

      And the technological changes require less and less people for all jobs.

      Those of us who were drafted but never went to Vietnam did not end the war.

      It rages today under new flags or old flags.

      The names change but the system remains intact: capitalism and imperialism.

      There is no deferment from either.

  34. Selina Sweet
    August 8, 2023 at 11:14

    Death remains invisible until your kid or Mom or Dad dies Then, death teaches you a severe lesson about La Vida. I’ve long intuited that the end of the draft chopped off the citizenry’s sense of civic agency. That our government is up to us. Is us. And we’ll fight for our families when we know the government has just sold us a bill of crappy goods(war). Chop off our agency to become consumers, dulled in every atom and corpuscles. Audience only. No wonder the passivity endemic among so many of us. I say. Bring back the draft with a choice between wars and infrastructure, parks projects, climate catastrophe research projects. Etc.

  35. August 8, 2023 at 10:48

    I’m with Wendell Berry–for every military academy, we need a peace academy. (Maybe 2 to 1 to give peace a chance to catch up!) We have certainly lost our way towards any notion of diplomacy.

    It is appalling that young people support the notion of US troops in Ukraine. (Well, it is appalling that any of us do! With age comes wisdom? I don’t see much evidence of that.) How willing we are to send other bodies to be cannon fodder for high tech warfare. Certainly, our government has proven what was spoken at the outset of the war and before. We are quite willing to fuel a proxy war to the last Ukrainian. And one has to ask, “To what end? What have the deaths of tens of thousand accomplished?” Worse than nothing!
    Unforgivable, diabolical hubris continues to dominate all we do.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 8, 2023 at 14:36

      Marxists are antiwar and tend to agree that if there were a military draft, young people would react differently to imperialist war. I too am appalled at the young people who support the Ukraine war, although they have the excuse of being ignorant, however lame an excuse it is. But regarding supporters of the Ukraine war who are members of MY generation, the generation of Vietnam, there is NO EXCUSE whatsoever! They cannot pretend they don’t know any better because they have lived it. If they pretend not to remember, put them in a home for people with dementia. That is not to denigrate people who actually suffer from dementia, but to describe how vile it is to pretend ignorance of a lived experience and to forget how low they have fallen from their days of antiwar protest.

    • Susan Siens
      August 8, 2023 at 15:34

      I would like the poll redone. Now ask young people if they are personally willing to go to war in Ukraine. I never want to hear people supporting someone else going to war. Of course the first geezers we should send are the gangsters in DC.

      • TP Graf
        August 8, 2023 at 17:52

        You are exactly right. Ask them, “If you were called to serve in Ukraine, would you?” The delta in support I’m sure would be remarkable.

      • Valerie
        August 8, 2023 at 18:39

        Yes Susan. But those gangsters are past their “sell by” date. Their collective age must be about 200. No front-line for those shysters.

  36. IJ Scambling
    August 8, 2023 at 10:44

    It’s an interesting idea–though also extremely pathetic–that bring back the draft and youths will wake up and sort out the direction of the country away from its barbaric designs for the world. It suggests that back then “hell no we won’t go” was essentially self-serving at base. The Swiss may have a higher intellectual understanding but to apply this to American youth then or now seems to me dubious.

    There was as I recall it a profound revulsion for the war and the Johnson-Nixon embrace of all the lies attached to it. Otherwise, Canada beckoned, which I suspect is what would happen again, barring Trudeau’s cooperation with his US partners to disallow this. (Maybe Mexico would beckon more strongly.) No, to wake up and get hold of this monster we need something more drastic than bringing back the draft–unless it’s for the 1 – 10 percent at the top financially, up to age 60 or so?

  37. Lois Gagnon
    August 8, 2023 at 10:24

    What’s happened in this country since the 60s uprisings has been demoralizing to say the least. Thanks Patrick for keeping it real. The boomer generation that I am part of has gone so far off the rails, I can hardly relate to most of my generational peers. We may as well live on two different planets. I keep asking myself how that happened. It seems you’ve discovered the answer. It’s all about them. They never cared about what our government does to the least powerful both domestically and abroad, they care about having brunch under a president with a “D” next to his or her name. Or they get that something has changed not in their favor, but they have been convinced it’s the fault of the least powerful by right wing demagogues. Either way, they all make the job of those controlling this empire much easier than it should be.

    • Maricata
      August 8, 2023 at 11:38

      Agreed. the problem is the consumer culture and society that capitalism sets up and that people think they choose.

      That the baby boomers, those born in 48-53, shed any notions of radicalism and dived head fist into the Reagan revolution where many unlearned their ‘negative’ ideology and rebranded themselves as Yuppies.

      Now, that the New Deal has been repealed, the baby boomers can watch as the world devours their children.

      For their children are not going to have the social mobility that their parents have.

      For those that do not inherit, life will be both brutal and feckless.

      • Valerie
        August 8, 2023 at 17:06

        It’s already “brutal and feckless” for non-western peoples and countries.

    • vinnieoh
      August 8, 2023 at 12:53

      According to data revealed in Jean Twenge’s book “Generations” though us boomers started out as the most ‘liberal’ generation when we were in our teens and early 20’s, ‘creeping conservative republicanism’ has washed over the majority of the boomer generation. As Enge put it, it is as if, after helping bring about so much cultural and social change we decided that was enough change and now we will protect that as the status quo. To put a fine point on it – many in the ranks of the GOP were once liberals and are boomers none the less.

      I’m not yet halfway through Enge’s book, but I recommend it. It is completely data driven and supported. It is not some ideologue’s collection of pet theories about “What’s wrong with America.”

  38. Sharon Aldrich
    August 8, 2023 at 10:24

    Thank you Mr. Lawrence for another extremely though-provoking article. Eliminating the draft seems to have gotten those in power what they wanted, — a quiescent public. But now that it seems to have started to back-fire, they are left with the question. “How do we spin this now?”

    • Chris
      August 8, 2023 at 14:24

      Let’s identify the Empire’s enabling cogs:
      Congress. Abdication its constitutional duties to debate and declare and raise taxes to support war.
      The Federal Reserve. Pushing the cost of present wars to future generations.
      SCOTUS.Refusing to allow/answer the very ripe and asked question by those with standing as to whether the above shenanigans are constitutional.

  39. Dienne
    August 8, 2023 at 09:49

    Shoot, I forgot one. Move 2 down to 3 and add a new No. 2: military-age family members of media personalities who write, broadcast, etc. in favor of war.

    • Observer
      August 8, 2023 at 12:07

      Cute — but the reality was and is quite different: those categories of people tend to be the last ones sent to fight. What we used to call the “chicken hawks” and their offspring.

  40. Dienne
    August 8, 2023 at 09:42

    We do indeed need a limited draft. Said draft needs to be limited to, in order:

    1. Military age family members of presidents, vice presidents, congresscritters and other government operatives who vote for, fund or otherwise promote war.

    2. Anyone who votes for said presidents, vice presidents, congresscritters, etc.

    If you support war, you should go fight it. Leave the rest of us out.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 8, 2023 at 14:42

      Regarding your final sentence. We will still be paying for it, financially and politically. If the empire continues to send all its money to the MIC, those who choose to be “left out” will suffer as all social programs are eliminated so all money can go to pay for the war that they won’t have to fight. I am anti-war, which means no imperialist wars, no human sacrifices, no waste of money and the lives of millions, who will still die as you are “left out”.

  41. mgr
    August 8, 2023 at 09:31

    Excellent, thank you. “This is what empire looks like.” Decadent.

    “America had a choice: It would be empire abroad or democracy at home, but it could not be both. The choice is now bitterly obvious.” You nailed it.

  42. Jeff Harrison
    August 8, 2023 at 09:30

    Theoretically, having a citizen, as contrasted with a mercenary, army means that there is some control over the war like actions of the government. If they can’t get people to sign up, maybe they should consider changing what they’re doing.

  43. Paul Citro
    August 8, 2023 at 09:27

    Young men are wising up. It is getting harder to dupe them into fighting for a corrupt empire. It is going to have to resort to conscription and will have an army of reluctant soldiers.

    • DebsWas Right
      August 8, 2023 at 11:59

      Doesn’t it depend on who’s recruiting? Many are leaving the military and walking with their killer skills over to the Proud boys and the like.

      • Valerie
        August 8, 2023 at 17:10

        Gearing up for civil war perhaps. (Or a modern “Bastille” day.)

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      August 8, 2023 at 14:44

      In Vietnam the “reluctant soldiers” threw hand grenades into the tents of their superior officers.

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