The Bill for National Service

As we all know the Iraq War was carefully orchestrated.  The McClellan book calls attention to the propaganda campaign that preceded the war and continues throughout the campaign.   The historical precedent that was probably examined for the use of media for manufacturing consent to the war, or the appearance of consent, was the Spanish-American War.

At the same time, great effort was made to create a situation in which Americans would not be affected by the war; it would be nothing more than a television program here, with the media there tightly controlled.  For the first time in history taxes were reduced as a war was launched.  Mercenaries were hired to conduct much of the war.  The economy here  benefited by the extensive us of contractors, formerly called war profiteers.

The military even manufactured stories to create warrior icons, insulting the family of Pat Tillman (which still fighting to get to the truth of the coverup) and embarrassing Jessica Lynch, who gave one of the most moving speeches imaginable to Congress when she disclaimed the lies that had been concocted about her.  This was all part of an effort to re-engineer many of the social influences that contributed to the anti-war movement that brought an end to the Viet Nam War.

Perhaps the most significant factor in boosting the anti-war movement of forty years ago was the draft.  College age men were forced to go to war, excluding people such as those comprising the current administration who exploited privilege or exemptions from service.  Others went to Canada, prison or became conscientious objectors.  The fabric of society was torn by the appropriation of people to fight the war.  When the war affected the lives of most people here, there was a great deal more concern about it and the reasons for it.  The volunteer army circumvents much of this.

Congressman Rangel is concerned that the volunteer army is disproportionately composed of the poor and people of color, people who do not have a strong voice in politics.   Congressman McDermott wants a system where people will care about policies that result in the deaths of huge numbers of innocent people.  Last week two independent surveyors estimated that over 1,200,000 innocent people have been killed in Iraq.  In propaganda jargon this is “collateral damage.”

The founding fathers were quite aware of the damage to the society that could be done by an unpopular war.  So they sought to built into their government’s framework structure that would avoid such a possibility.  One measure was to forbid a standing army.  This has gone into the historical dustbin.  Another was to give Congress the duty of appropriating money for any war.  James Madison in the Federalist Papers thought that this measure assured that there could never be an unpopular war in the United States.  We have seen this aspect of governmental checks and balances fail.

Jim McDermott and Charles Rangel have sponsored a bill that is intended to create a structural impediment to unpopular war.  Like the architects of the Iraq War, they used the Viet Nam War experience as a guide.  Their bill will institute a two year period of national service, military or other service.

The bill would require people between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service of some sort for two years.  McDermott at a speech at the University of Washington characterized the bill as an attempt to re-invest democracy in our society (where service is not born disproportionately by lower economic groups) and create a sense of community in the country.

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