Young men and women go off to die in wars started by old men and, sadly, women too. That's the way of the world.
My wishful solution has always been this: Revive the draft, make it truly universal, with no loopholes, no way to dodge it—not even for members of Congress. Oh, and make the draft age 55.
Why am I bringing this up out of nowhere, you might ask. My answer: a Colman McCarthy column in the National Catholic Reporter. Reflecting on the new class of women in the 116th Congress, he expressed the hope that they'll remember the first woman ever elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin. She so distrusted war that she voted against not only World War I, but World War II. In the resulting avalanche of hostility, she lost her seat twice.
In his column, McCarthy lists several of his favorite Rankin quotes. At the top of the list: "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." And just below it, this one: "If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race." That got me thinking again about making the draft age 55.
This would solve a couple of problems.
One is the Chicken Hawk problem: people who love war, who gladly push our nation into it, but don't want any part of fighting in it themselves. Two prime examples are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Despite my utter contempt for the current "president," he doesn't really belong in this category. Yes, he found a way not to be in the military. Hence, one of his many nicknames: Cadet Bone Spurs. Yes, he actually said that avoiding sexually transmitted disease was his own personal Vietnam. But at least he wasn't an advocate for the Vietnam War. He was too busy amassing money and failing to pay workers what he owed them.
The other problem is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps us make wise choices. Generally, it doesn't fully develop until 25. That means that far too many young men and women join the military long before their brains are fully capable of making life-altering decisions, like subjecting themselves to repeated deployments to the Forever War. Some may join because of patriotism. Some are seduced by two endlessly repeated phrases in our culture, "decorated veteran" and "war hero," that make war seem the path to glory, when it's really the road to gory.
Set the draft age at 55, make it impossible to dodge, and the number of stupid wars would decline sharply. This sounds Pollyannaish, of course, but not nearly as insanely optimistic as the mistaken view that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can actually be won. We've been hearing that lie repeatedly since 2001.
So, thanks to Colman McCarthy and Jeanette Rankin for stating and restating this simple truth.
First in my class in Officer Candidate School. Late to the conclusion that our attitude toward the military is idolatrous.