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PBS’s “The Draft”: A Slanted, Bitter Truth

AETN re-aired Tuesday night PBS’s “The Draft”, its 2015 hour-long look at the history of America’s military conscription.

The film opens and closes with statements by military veterans who basically try to link obligatory military service with being a good citizen, even closing with the clip of President John F. Kennedy’s famous statement in his inaugural address:

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

The film traces America’s wars from the Revolutionary War to our current invasions in the Middle East, and the political struggles with creating and abolishing the draft, including the biased forced inductions of primarily our nation’s poorer classes.

The draft sent Americans to Vietnam.

A large part of the production concentrated on the Vietnam War, its decade of futility and the ever-growing number of draftees which, more and more, began to include middle-class Americans; and how their inclusion began turning the public more and more against the war. Richard Nixon’s being elected president led to the eventual end of the draft.

This section provided some balance to the film’s opening and finish by including interviews with those opposed to the Vietnam invasion, including military veterans and draft resisters.

Still, there are two particularly disturbing factors regarding this film:

One, again for emphasis, is the close: Its effort to connect being a good citizen only with military service. It doesn’t consider the possibility of good citizenship through every other aspect of American life: ranging from possibly serving in the Peace Corps to even being a hardworking citizen supporting the country by paying taxes.

But the most disturbing factor is the limited view of the film, not touching on some of the hard truths about America’s wars stretching from the 1960s and Vietnam to today and the U.S. involvements in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria.

Here are some of those hard truths:

  1. War is a racket. We wrote of this in a 2014 column entitled “Is War a Racket? An Honored Marine General Said, ‘Yes’ ” We quoted Congressional Medalist Smedley Butler who gave a speech and wrote a book called “War is a Racket,” and who emphasized of war: “It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
  1. America’s invasions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria are illegal invasions under the U.S. Constitution, which allows only Congress, not presidents, to declare war. And Congress’s passing the buck by approving the War Powers Resolution of 1973 — allowing the president to invade countries, then report later to Congress – is illegal. Why? Because the Constitution does not provide Congress the freedom to abdicate its responsibility to declare war. These invasions are also aggressive acts, and aggressive war was the major crime we charged against the Nazis at Nuremberg.
  1. The film doesn’t touch on the major atrocities brought on our own troops through these aggressive, illegal invasions. They range from spraying millions of Vietnam acres with Agent Orange (which we wrote about in our column “In Vietnam and U.S., Millions Still Haunted by Agent Orange”) to the over 280,000 active and veteran military suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These injuries in turn lead to daily suicides, and a third of America’s homeless being military veterans. We included this among Congress’s major failings in our column “As U.S. Austerity Deepens, Prepare for Revolution”, and “Reprise: Our Lost Soldiers Wandering America’s Streets”.

Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler

If we’re going to debate the realities of the draft, as one academic pleads for at the end of “The Draft”, then we need to debate ALL the realities, and not a simplified view of citizenship requiring Americans to serve in a military.

Our faithful citizens who serve in the military take the oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Perhaps instead of trying to re-fight the old, pre-21st Century wars, we, as loyal Americans, should protect our military by making citizens’ arrests of our domestic enemies: those enriched few – ranging from the Millionaire Congress and Millionaire President, to the weapons manufacturers and the wolves of Wall Street — who create the war racket.

Perhaps, as Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler recommended, we should make those war-racket creators be the first to go into battle.

Watch full episodes of “The Draft” here.

Roger Armbrust

Roger Armbrust's articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He formerly served as national news editor of Back Stage in New York City, where he also taught a professional writing course at New York University. His recent book of sonnets -- oh, touch me there: Love Sonnets -- is available from Amazon and other book sites. He is an associate curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. He is also co-founder and co-curator of reality: a world of views.

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