No Draft, No Vietnam, No Outrage: Iraq War 2008

11 Apr

66% of Americans currently oppose the war in Iraq, yet there is little of the public outrage that spilled into the streets during the Vietnam era.  As discussed in a previous post, one explanation lies in questionable media coverage of the conflict.  Another factor is the lack of a Selective Service draft.  The draft was activated for the Vietnam conflict in December of 1969 with a birth-date lottery for men 19-25 years of age.  A protest movement that had been forceful and wide-ranging grew even more powerful as anti-draft demonstrations began in 1967. 

Today’s American Military is an all volunteer force.  Soldiers, sailors, and marines come from all areas of the country and, for the most part, all strata of society (although the very rich and very poor are under-represented).  Most Americans know someone who has served in the conflict.   However, a draft increases the scope of war beyond that of volunteers to the families of all American men between the ages of 18 and 25.   

If one is eligible for conscription or has a son, nephew, or cousin who is draft-able, perceptions of and responses to war are likely to change.  The conflict then becomes an active, harsh reality.  The engagement is suddenly tactile and palpable.  Simply, a draft brings the war into more American households.  At that point, “Whatever”  or “That’s a shame” can easily turn into, “Hell, no.”  Self interest is a powerful motivator.

In Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore questioned members of the 2003 Congress and found:  “Out of the 535 members of Congress, only one had an enlisted son in Iraq.”   (Give Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson and his son credit here, as well as John McCain, whose son is also serving in Iraq.  At least he practices what he preaches.)  Common sense suggests “leaders” would be more wary of commiting troops if their sons and daughters were eligible to face fire.  Average citizens who oppose the war might be more inclined to take to the streets in protest if someone in their family was ticketed for Iraq via a draft.   And one can question if those in favor of the war would continue to be so if their children might be sent to fight.  The all-volunteer force allows a luxury of distance for those those not directly connected to a volunteer serviceman or servicewoman.   

That distance did not exist in the Vietnam era.  One-third of those serving there were drafted.  But another important consideration is the size and nature of the respective conflicts.  Vietnam’s reverberations through American society were much greater than we are experiencing with the Iraq war.  In 1969, troop levels In Vietnam peaked at 543, 000, over three times the highest levels in Iraq (170,000).   Over 50, 000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, with over 300, 000 were wounded.  In Iraq, the numbers are considerably less, with just over 4000 dead and 29, 000 wounded to date.  The war in Vietnam touched more American families in negative ways.  Publicly displayed opposition to that conflict corresponds proportionately in size and scope to that of Iraq.

Protests against Vietnam were widespread and often large.  April 15, 1967, 500,00 gathered in New York’s Central Park and marched to the UN to rail against Vietnam.   In April of 1969, 250, 000 marched to protest the Vietnam war in New York.   In November of 1969, 250, 000 demonstrators gathered in Washington, DC.  An April 24, 1970, another 200,000 protested in Washington, while 156, 000 marched in San Francisco.   2005 and 2007 protests against Iraq drew more than 150, 000 in Washington.  But the ferocity, volume, and effectiveness of protest in the Vietanm era was much greater than found today.  Just a glance at the archive of the UCal Berkely Libraary Media Resource Center  (the source of the above statistics) will confirm that.   

One fact remains clear:  The impact of the war in Iraq on the home front today is considerably less than Vietnam’s was in the ’60’s and early ’70’s.  This is reflected by a lack of publicly expressed outrage and civil disobedience.  Troop levels, the number of killed and wounded, the Selective Service draft, and media coverage all contribute to the difference.  There is less protest today, and the protest which has occurred has been ineffective.  The 2006 midterm elections, which were considered a referendum on the war and resulted in a stronger Deomcratic voice in Congress (gaining six senate and 29 house seats), has done nothing to slow down American involvement in Iraq.  In fact, the current “surge” strategy escalated our presence there.  

The American people have a voice.   But Iraq protests and demonstrations have been few and ineffective.  The citizenry spoke in the 2006 midterms and it proved to be a whisper.  The upcoming Presidential election will give Americans another chance to express their opposition through action, with clear choices cut along Democratic and Republican lines.  It may be the public’s last chance to effect Iraq war policy.   At the conflict’s current level with an all volunteer force, the Iraq war just does not generate the amount of outrage needed to fuel political change. 


9 Responses to “No Draft, No Vietnam, No Outrage: Iraq War 2008”

  1. sahabat88 April 11, 2008 at 2:44 pm #

    thank 4 your info…
    nice to see your blog..😀

  2. george in the sticks April 15, 2008 at 12:21 am #

    Again, not to be overly cynical. The Hangover is correct that in 1969 the “lottery” draft system was created. But it is instructive to recall why such a system was created. The United States had a draft for many years going back to the 1940s. For the most part, young people ended up either serving two years in the military or some other period of public service. For example, many of the folks who joined the “Epidemic Intelligence Service” arm of the CDC did so in lieu of two years of “turn your head cough” tours in the military upon completing medical school. This was because the draft board were local affairs that had a quota to fill. By the time of the boomers, draft boards had far more candidates than slots to fill. The lower percentage of slots, combined with deferment for college and graduate school, ensured that most of the upper and middle class folks avoided the war. James Patterson summarizes Christian Appy’s _Working Class War_ to say “Roughly 80 percent of American soldiers in Vietnam were from poor or working-class backgrounds.” (James Patterson, _Grand Expectations_, 616). LBJ was so incensed that the wealthy and educated were shirking their duties that he informed draft boards that under the new lottery system he expected them to focus on college graduates. Quoting LBJ from Patterson’s _Grand Expectations_, “Start at age twenty-three… If not enough go to twenty-two, then twenty-one, then twenty, and lastly nineteen.” (Patterson, _Grand Expectations_, 632). LBJ wanted this new focus to start in 1968, but the draft boards had already filled their quotas, so it didn’t really come into effect until 1969. It’s important to remember that even a renewed focus of drawing from all aspects of the draft pool (college graduates and not alike) would still only call upon a relatively small portion of the available youth. 1968 (when the new draft intentions became clear) was also the year of large student protests against the war which escalated until 1970 when both the increasing troop drawdown (and Vietnaminization) of the war made the likelihood of being drafted even less of a threat and student protests had largely ended by the time Nixon ended the draft in 1973. It was in this period of ’69 and ’70 that our fearless leaders William Jefferson Clinton and George W. Bush and the many “chickenhawk” neo conservatives concocted various ways of avoiding service. This reality makes the service of John Kerry and John McCain all the more exemplary. So again, what was the driving force of the student protest?

  3. alguschip April 15, 2008 at 8:52 am #

    It is interesting to note that if the draft were reinstituted today, it would be significantly different regarding student deferment.

    From the Selective Service:

    “Before Congress made improvements to the draft in 1971, a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full-time student making satisfactory progress toward a degree.

    Under the current draft law, a college student can have his induction postponed only until the end of the current semester. A senior can be postponed until the end of the academic year.”

    Student protest would rise again: faster, stronger, more ferocious.

  4. george in the sticks April 16, 2008 at 8:06 am #

    Agreed. But what would they be protesting? The war or the fact that they might get sent to it? And if that is the basis, is that really how we should decide our foreign policy?

  5. alguschip April 16, 2008 at 3:28 pm #

    Foreign policy should at least pay some heed to public opinion. It is what got us out of Vietnam, after all. And there aren’t too many who would argue that that was a bad thing.

    I would rather see public opinion have a greater influence on policy than corporate interests–which seems to be the prominent factor in this administration’s decision making. If Al Qaeda had blown up Halliburton’s headquarters, Cheney would have had Bin Laden’s head on a stick outside Number One Observatory Circle.

  6. george in the sticks April 17, 2008 at 7:42 am #

    Sure, as long as it is informed public opinion and not ‘it’s ok unless something could happen to me.’

  7. aaron, of course April 17, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    Last I checked public opinion DOES help form foreign policy. We elect the President who then assembles advisors, staff members, appoints ambassadors etc. Additionally, we elect Senators and Representatives who speak for us in Washington DC.
    In fact, the democrat party gained seats during the mid-term election running on a platform of, among other things, troop withdrawal from Iraq. That’s a pretty clear foreign policy statement. People bought it, voted them in, and have been largely disappointed ever since.

    We have another election coming up, and the people will be able to give voice to their foreign policy wishes then. Until that point they can lobby their congressman and reps directly by calling, emailing and mailing them. In Mass. our congressmen are Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. Has anyone ever tried calling their offices? Good luck!

  8. Illegal Immigration July 26, 2008 at 4:03 am #

    I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird, and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.FranklinDelanoRooseveltFranklin Delano Roosevelt, 1882 – 1945, 32nd U.S. President

  9. NAU July 27, 2008 at 1:34 am #

    Why are so many unexpressive in love, but highly expressive in anger?StephyWassermanStephy Wasserman

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