by Jack Random
July 17, 2004
David went to Canada, Dick received a college deferment, Charlie was granted conscientious objector status, George joined the National Guard, Sam was classified 4-F, and Johnny got his gun (see Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Get Your Gun).
We all remember what happened to Johnny. He was shot down in Nam, a victim of the Tet Offensive, reduced to the unending nightmare of a living, thinking mind trapped in a body paralyzed to the eyes. He learned to communicate by blinking and by blinking he communicated the horror that was his life.
To those who believe that military conscription is the answer to our growing need for soldiers: There never was and never will be an equitable draft. Those who believe that the inequities of the past can be corrected by legislative means have lost contact with reality. The wealthy and elite will never serve involuntarily and those who volunteer will serve in a manner their wealthy and elite parents demand.
The heroism of John Kerry and John Fitzgerald Kennedy belies the greater truth: The commanders of our military forces are neither fools nor morality’s slaves. They know who butters the bread and who stands between them and promotion. They will not send the prodigal sons and daughters of the ruling class to glorious death on the battlefields of foreign lands.
Johnny got his gun because he was nobody’s son, because he had no pedigree, because he had no connections to members of congress or secretaries of state, and because no one bothered to tell him the truth. No one bothered to tell him there were alternatives. Johnny got his gun because Johnny was a common boy who would never grow into a common man. Johnny got his gun because his life did not matter and his name was not on the social register.
Military conscription is a crime against humanity. Rationalizing the morality of an equitable draft is like condoning slavery or forced prostitution if it can be applied to all victims without prejudice. How is it easier to compel a child to kill than to force a child into hard labor or acts of depraved sex? It is an abomination and one that any mother understands by gut instinct.
Future generations will look back on this practice in wonder and amazement at how primitive this culture was, at how callously we sent our young and innocent souls to their ends, at how carelessly we threw away the best of our species, and how cruel we were to condemn the powerless to horrors beyond belief.
Johnny got his gun and 58,000 of his brothers came home in a box. The Vietnamese did not require conscription yet millions of their Johnnies died by our conscripted hands. Hundreds of thousands of Johnny’s brothers came home with broken bodies and hundreds of thousands more came home with broken hearts, broken minds, broken spirits, and souls shattered by the gruesome realities of war.
Will we send our Johnny off to war once again? Will we add our Mary to the parade? Will we explain to them why they must march? Will we explain why they must die? Will we ask them if they have a different mind? Will we disdain them if they do?
There is no greater scourge on society than to have condemned its own children to the hell of war. There is no greater shame a parent can bear than to have sent a child to the killing fields. There is no child that can understand or forgive such betrayal. There is no medicine that can heal such deep wounds.
Cry, America! Weep for your children! For as sure as votes go uncounted in Florida, your children will be compelled to war.
The people who now hold the reigns of power in this nation have begun to change their tune. When once they spoke of decades of war, now they speak of centuries. If we do not stand up to them now, we are condemned to mourn forever. If we do not stop them while there is still time, our great grandchildren will curse our remains.
We know the way to right this wrong, to end this nightmare and to settle this war on terror. It does not require greater armies and greater weapons; it requires greater understanding. It does not require commanders and warriors; it requires diplomats and peacemakers. War itself is the curse of human kind. We must find a better way.
We have no business in Iraq. Let us withdraw and make amends as best we can. Let us devote our resources, our genius, our devotion and raw effort to the development of alternative sources of energy.
If America harnesses the power of the sun, the power of wind and running water, and the power of ingenuity, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. If we no longer need the remains of dinosaurs, Johnny will not need a gun.
And Johnny’s mother will not need to cry herself to sleep.
[The War Chronicles is at City Lights SF and Amazon.com.]