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The Draft

July 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Late last month, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, proposed bringing back the draft.

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population. I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.

We’ve never done that in the United State before; we’ve never fought an extended war with an all- volunteer military. So what it means is you’ve got a very small population that you’re going to and you’re going to it over and over again. Because it’s less than one percent of the population… people are very supportive but they don’t have the same connection to it.”

A few days ago, at the New York Review of Books blog, William Pfaff offered his reaction in a post I highly recommend. I hesitate to quote from it, as no short excerpt can accurately represent the range of Pfaff’s thoughts. Here’s just one bit, on a powerful contribution of the draft.

The army, in my opinion, did more to desegregate the United States than the civil rights movement of the 1960s. From 1948 on, nearly every able-bodied young man in the United States served and lived side by side with Americans of all colors, all in strict alphabetical order, in old-fashioned unpartitioned barracks, sleeping bunk to bunk, sharing shelter-halves on bivouac, in what amounted to brotherly endurance of the cold, heat, discomfort, and misery of military training—and following that, of service. The kids I trained with—and they were kids—were nearly all of them scheduled to become infantry replacements in what was commonly called Frozen Chosin [during the Korean War].

When their war was over, the survivors, white and black, didn’t go home to Georgia and hang out together on Saturday nights. They hardly saw one another again. But those two years changed them. It certainly changed many of the younger generation of white southerners who served and who a decade and a half later were ready to accept desegregation, even though they disliked it. A man-to-man respect existed for their black contemporaries.

Pfaff goes on to discuss how Vietnam altered the nature of the draft, concluding, “What fundamentally was destroyed in Vietnam was the democratic army. The all-volunteer professional army enables undemocratic wars, ideological in nature and inspiration, and, it would seem, without real end.”

Speaking of which, it never hurts to recall Dick Cheney’s famous line, “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.”

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Categories: Politics, Society, War

A Different America

July 21, 2012 Leave a comment

I learned my lesson during the last presidential campaign, in the early days of this blog, when I wrote post after post on Republican mendacity. It wasn’t worth the effort. I was only stating the obvious, and getting myself very upset. Liars and knaves. What else is new?

But Romney and his pals are mining new veins of mendacity, with all their hints about Obama’s un-Americanness, his apology tour, and most recently Romney’s deliberate mis-reading of Obama’s words in order to say Obama attacks success.

I have my own list of Obama complaints. I hardly think he’s perfect. But Romney’s goal is clearly different: to paint Obama as “other”. Romney stops short of the more extreme claims. You know: Obama is a Muslim. Obama was born in Kenya. Whatever. But the point is the same, that Obama isn’t like you and me. Rather than recognizing Obama as the ultimate example of the American dream, Romney represents him as the dream’s arch-enemy.

Which brings me to this week’s astonishing attack on Obama by Romney crony Suzy Welch. Former reporter, former Bain colleague of Romney, former editor of the Harvard Business review, current wife of GE bigwig Jack Welch.

Last January, as was widely reported at the time, Obama visited the Apollo Theater in Harlem and spontaneously sang a tiny bit of Al Green’s immortal hit, “Let’s Stay Together.” A few days ago, a new Romney ad featured Obama’s Apollo effort while accusing him — get this — of rewarding big fundraisers rather than helping the middle class.

This is where Welch comes in, contrasting Obama’s singing of “Let’s Stay Together” with Romney’s choice of “America the Beautiful”. I’ll quote Gary Silverman’s piece about it in the Financial Times. (Hat tip: Paul Krugman.)

In an appearance on CNN with her husband, Mrs Welch suggested that Mr Obama’s personal style and choice of musical material define him as a member of a “different America”. I would imagine this is why Mr Romney’s campaign included the snippet of Mr Obama singing “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They hoped it would convey his otherness.

“It’s the difference between the songs that they’re singing,” Mrs Welch said. “Mitt Romney didn’t exactly do a beautiful job on that song, but think about what he’s singing, OK? I mean it’s that patriotic song and he goes all the way through it. Then you’ve got the very cool Barack Obama singing Al Green. That is the two different Americas. Isn’t it?”

Silverman goes on to interpret Welch’s comments as reflecting a generation gap. “I think it spells trouble for Mr Romney’s strategic effort because you have to be really old – or, I guess, spend a lot of time with someone really old – to hear ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and think of it as a symbol of a ‘different America’.”

I had a different interpretation. What I hear her saying is, “Look, that guy’s black. Romney’s white. Who are you going to vote for?” It’s that simple, isn’t it? Or, as Atrios put it yesterday, “Did I Mention Al Green Is Black?” Mind you, it’s not Romney who said this. It’s Suzy Welch. But I’m not seeing much difference.

Too depressing.

Enough. Let’s take a moment to listen to the original:

Categories: Lies, Politics