I experienced a series of seemingly unrelated events over the Memorial Day weekend that confirmed my conviction that our country should institute a universal draft.
First, I attended three church services in which the pastors asked the people in the pews to stand if they had been in the military. At the first service no one stood. In the second, only one. And in the third, three men in their 80s rose to be recognized. It struck me how disconnected I and a lot of us are from the military and even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
See, in the ’60s I served as a pall bearer for one of my best friends who was killed in Vietnam, and I was really paying attention because my draft status was 1-A. In contrast, the conflicts going on now rarely move from my head to my gut.
Second, I attended a backyard barbecue with five people I’ve known for 20 years. Everyone there, except me, served in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps right after graduating from college. The corps is kind of a religious Volunteers in Service to America. Twenty years later, all five live in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and are still walking their talk about peace and justice.
Third, I started reading a memoir by Donovan Campbell who, as a Marine Corps lieutenant, led 40 men through seven months of house-to-house urban combat in Ramadi. He made two statements that stuck with me.
I knew that I wanted to learn to lead, which, I soon discovered, simply meant serving others to an increasingly great degree.
Day after unrelenting day bound our platoon tightly together, eventually creating a whole much greater than the sum of its parts, and we grew to love one another fiercely.
How does that confirm the desirability of a universal draft in which every young man and woman right out of high school or college or medical school would have to go through a six-week boot camp with instructors yelling at them from morning till night and in which most of them would be challenged physically like never before?
Because I don’t think we would have invaded Iraq if we had a universal draft.
I was opposed to starting the war, but I didn’t even call Senator Durbin and certainly didn’t march in protest. But if my two children, who would have been draft age at the time, could have been two of the thousands to be sent into harm’s way, you bet your life I would have gone into action and walked my talk.
Second, we have an obesity epidemic going on. Imagine what six weeks of boot camp, or even the certain knowledge that someday you’d be in boot camp, would do to help our young men and women become healthier.
Third, we are increasingly becoming a segregated country – not racially as much as in terms of lifestyle, and it’s all by choice. Around 90 percent of Oak Parkers voted for Obama. Pro-lifers stick out like sore thumbs over there, if they dare to make their opinions known.
A universal draft would mix blacks and whites, rich and poor, educated and drop outs, men and women, pro-lifers and pro-choicers in six weeks of hell and then a year of service to their country – maybe in the military, maybe in the Peace Corps.
Lieutenant Campbell learned that leadership means serving. My friends living in the Austin neighborhood had values reinforced in their volunteer days that they continue to live by.
And finally, there’s the L word. Lieutenant Campbell said the experience of enduring hardship as a team in which everyone depended on each other to make it through their time of trial created in them a fierce love for each other. You have to think that President Obama’s visit to Notre Dame a few weeks ago would have turned out differently if everyone in the abortion debate would have gone through six weeks of boot camp together.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.