Fix the Divisions with Equal Opportunity Dying

‘Reviving the draft, abandoned in 1973, would mean that most American families have skin in the game when their political leaders embroil the country in a war of choice. It doesn’t take much of an intuitive leap to guess that the last 16 years of war would have unfolded differently if more than a tiny cadre of America’s sons and daughters had to fight

 Requiring everyone to serve in some fashion, other than those too physically or psychically impaired, would be a profoundly democratizing action. In time, it might even encourage more civilized political discourse in this atomized land, by putting young people in proximity to those with roots in different ways of life and thinking. It’s harder to sneer at the “other” after you’ve both shared a life-transforming experience.
Bringing back the draft could restore a healthier sense of the military’s proper place in our national life. It deserves Americans’ full support but not quite the saintlike status that Mr. Kelly assigned it and that the absence of compulsory national service encourages.’
[Op-Ed NYT  25th October]
As Dr Johnson said about hanging, the prospect of being shot concentrates the mind wonderfully. I’m sure there was a lot of joyous camaraderie, fellow-feeling and mutual love on the gallows at Tyburn on hanging day.

45 Responses to Fix the Divisions with Equal Opportunity Dying

  1. StillBernie says:

    You’re not keeping up, Squirrel. It’s ok, you’re not an American, but the NYT op-ed pages have been – i dunno, trying for “balance”? Been taken over by the Russkies? The Third Way? Dick Cheney?

    Here’s a delightful sample of what they’ve been serving up lately.

    Erik Prince: Contractors, Not Troops, Will Save Afghanistan

    This one by one Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos and founder of Blackwater.

    There are others in that vein. But the more insiduous ones, which even a lot of the Dembots on there aren’t falling for, are by the likes of Steven Rattner, Mark Penn, and a whole slew of fossilized Clinton wing Dems as to why a move to the left is suicidal. They need Wall St, triangulation, insurance companies, free trade, automation, H1Bs, immigrants to do jobs for shitty wages and shitty working conditions so the rest of us can be better off (seriously, one yesterday actually came out and said just that). And they trot out the anti-Sanders ones whenever he seems to be making any headway.

  2. bluthner says:


    It won’t happen. And the reason it won’t happen is only that it would cost far, far too much. We’d have to raise taxes FFS!

  3. StillBernie says:

    Bluth –

    I got the feeling that they were ultimately expecting volunteers. Nobody wants to pay for labor anymore.

  4. NatashaFatale says:


    Any excuse for showing the Raft of the Medusa is a good one.

    The phrase “skin in the game” is a giveaway. It’s Wall Street speak for speculating with one’s own cash: them as has skin in the game earn the right to have an opinion about how a company is run. It’s become a cliche in certain circles (for example, only those own a significant amount of property or have a certain level of investments should entitled to vote, cuz that’s the way it was in 1789. That is accepted as a truism by more than a few of the people I’ve worked for.) In the context of this Op Ed, it translates to something like “them as mostly survive a shooting war have earned a higher level of citizenship than those who have not – are alone entitled to a say in how the country is run.” If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Vet.

    There are reasons why this may not happen. The end of the draft took the wind out of the anti-war movement’s sails. Smart conservatives who were around at the time should be able to play that backwards: we all knew we had skin in the game when we were expecting a draft notice in the mail at any moment, and we acted up accordingly, Last time we had it, the draft did not produce the docile sheep this writer is imagining – anything but, And the career brass openly deplored the quality of troops the draft gave them. Surely some semi-sclerotic memories of these things survive in some of the people who’d otherwise be pining for this?

  5. bluthner says:


    The expense ain’t the wages. Even volunteers have to be housed and clothed and fed and supervised. And they have to be given something to do, which, being young and inexperianced, they probably aren’t good at doing, so they have to be taught. And then whatever it is will require tools, and almost certainly materials, and there will need to be an entire system of managers put in place to oversee, and to do all the planning…

    And besides, if all they want is volunteers, then nothing has changed at all. Any kid can find plenty of things to volunteer for right now, if he or she feels the call and, more importantly, can afford it.

  6. bluthner says:

    Also, let’s not forget the Pogue’s version of this great painting, used on the sleeve of their greatest album:

  7. bluthner says:

    Woops, it didn’t embed. I never get that right. here’s the link:

  8. StillBernie says:

    Bluth –

    Volunteer pay was what i meant, but it was early here. They have to find something to do with all of these unemployed deplorables. A draft with a stipend might take care of the ones who don’t od. Fucking lot cheaper then what they pay our servicefolks now, nevermind the bennies. And we can surely find no shortage of situations worldwide that we’ll need bodies as fodder for. Training and fresh tools not required, although granted they’d need to eat.

  9. bluthner says:


    I didn’t take you for such a naive optimist! You think you can just send a bunch of kids halfway across the globe, with no tools, no training, no nothing except a bit of food (and even feeding Americans abroad is hugely expensive, because no way can they be expected to eat the local food, nor quite a lot of the time will they). And then they are going to need medical care. And you think you won’t need a load of managers and beaurocrats to run the program? And what about compensation for the ones who injure themselves? What about when they get drunk and drive over the locals, etc etc etc etc. Any program that had a duty to look after and take responsibility every single 18 year old in America for one or two years would cost untold BILLIONS.

  10. StillBernie says:

    I honestly think our country doesn’t give a shit. And who needs taxes when you can keep it off the books like Bush did.

  11. StillBernie says:

    You think that i factored in any compensation for the ones who injured themselves? Or the need for managers and beaurocrats? I’m thinking charge of the light brigade.

  12. bluthner says:


    I’m not saying Trump and his orcs wouldn’t like to overhaul the entire civil legal system and erase, dunno, sixty years of statue law entirely, and shoot all the trial lawyers, but barring getting those things done first, your fantasy of conscripting the youth of the nation and sending them to pointless slaughter in faraway deserts and jungles in order to get them off the books at home and decrease the available labor supply probably is going to run aground on one or two legal reefs.

    Other than that it would probably work just fine. I mean it’s not like all those kids have parents. Or siblings or friends. And as Nat pointed out it worked out just dandy in the late 60s. Not hardly any rucktions at all!

  13. Expat says:

    I remember reading commentary somewhere recently that the USA managed to survive and prosper under circumstances of relative inequality that would have caused revolution elsewhere because of the opportunity offered by its physical size, and the frontier. Go west young man! We need a new frontier – probably a virtual one – but too many people think zero-sum. Mind you the Moon and Mars are on the cards again. Where is Kevin btw?

  14. StillBernie says:

    Squirrel, they’re always trying to get cheap labor out of us here. Welfare work requirements – conveniently taking a job someone would otherwise have to pay for. Streetsweepers, park trash cleaners, etc. Cheaper to pay a welfare recipient than a government union wage. Didn’t you have the same sort of thing over there where Poundland and Lidl got free shelfstackers on the government dole? There’s been mooting here for awhile where they want us to sing for our supper when we retire by babysitting or tutoring or wiping butts for the SS we already paid in to. Now tech wants us to do that, but even earlier than retirement. Still paid for by the gov’t of course, not the tech firms.

  15. StillBernie says:

    Bluth – sorry, i’ll remember to add my black humor tags next time.

  16. StillBernie says:

    Expat – ok, you first.

  17. Squirrel says:

    I mean it’s not like all those kids have parents. Or siblings or friends.

    But they’d all have skin in the game. . .

    Sounds like a line from a Dylan song, doen’t it?

  18. Squirrel says:

    Nat: I have sort of been keeping up, and I had noticed. I wondered if this was somebody going off on one of those tangents having heard about that Ken Burns Vietnam series.

    (Which is on telly over here, and by which I’m not particularly impressed.)

    I can’t remember now what it actually is, but it’s only a pretty small fraction of the US military who actually get to pick up a gun and shoot someone with it. (Slightly greater if you include them shooting senior officers rather than the ‘enemy’.)

    Most will find them walking endlessly around miles of barbed wire or polishing ammunition or something. I was too young when Britain had conscription to know much about it, but the French still had it up to 1996, and French friends reported lengthy periods of utter unrelieved tedium.

    Oddly, Macron thought of this too back in March, apparently:

    “The strategic situation that I have described and the threats that weigh on our country forces us to reinforce the link between the army and the nation,” Macron said.

    “I therefore want every young French citizen to experience, even if only for short time military life – a short, obligatory and universal national service,” Macron said.

    He said the conscription would involve about 600,000 young men and women each year and occur for a one-month period between the ages of 18 to 21. The army and national gendarmerie would oversee the service.

    A notice goes up outside town halls in France every year still, telling 18 year olds they must all register their availability for national service. A lot, if not most, as I understand it, totally ignore it.

  19. Expat says:

    Sq – My son, who is a British citizen only, had to register for the draft when he turned 18 and was on the register unit he turned 26. He would not have been able to get student loans if he hadn’t registered. He would also have been barred from subsequent citizenship or federal employment. According to the registration website 90% of those required to register, including illegal aliens, do so. And unless the law changes my grandsons will have to when they turn 18.

  20. NatashaFatale says:

    When I was a foreign student in a French lycee, we were advised annually that we were perfectly free to not register for our own countries’ draft on the day we became eligible for military service. But we should understand that if we didn’t, we’d immediately be drafted into the French military – and not for any one-month trial-bonding period.

    True, a lot of Vietnam-era draftees did a lot of things other than fight. But I knew an awful lot who went straight into conscript-only rifle companies, and from there straight to the rice paddies.

  21. Expat says:

    Vietnam vets are pretty much all retiring now but I worked with a few. One, since he wasn’t going to college at the time, was advised by his father to join the navy to avoid being drafted into an infantry unit. After basic he was selected for more advanced technical training and was offered a few options including mechanic, electronics technician and medic. He chose medic and ended up as a corpsman attached to marines in the very rice paddies his father’s advice was meant for him to avoid.

  22. Expat says:

    Expat – ok, you first.

    Since I was a kid growing up in the 1960s SB I have always had a thing about space exploration. And what more obvious of a frontier?

    (Sq – do you remember Raymond Baxter and James Burke on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World? And Baxter was a WW2 RAF Spitfire pilot to boot!)

    Not sure how it would work now though.

    Nor if it would really employ that many people – at least of the non-boffin type.

  23. NatashaFatale says:


    Shared a house in college with a guy who put himself through school as a gunsmith. He got drafted and told the army about his gunsmithing skills. He first took a test along with maybe 200 other guys. Got called back for a second test with maybe 100, then a third with maybe 50 – and finally a fourth with maybe ten. He aced them all. His prize was an unappealable posting to Live Ordinance Disposal – basically, Danger UXB directly on the battlefield. He made it home, too, but he was no longer the guy I used to live with.

  24. Squirrel says:

    Sq – My son, who is a British citizen only, had to register for the draft when he turned 18

    Blimey. I never knew that. Never even imagined it!

    I remember when I was an undergrad a boy who had British and French citizenship got his French conscription order. He was appalled: he didn’t even speak French. He hadn’t even learnt it at school. (I can’t remember now, he must have done either Spanish or German.) We got him out of it, but I’ve forgotten how.

    Hmmm. Time to rescuscitate the ‘underground railroad’ to Scandinavia again? I never actually knew how it worked for Americans escaping Vietnam: they just opened my French window which I’d be warned to keep unlocked a day or two earlier—my room was on the ground floor—and after a day or two on my floor in a sleeping bag they’d disappear out of my window in the early hours of the morning on their way to the docks. I wasn’t the only one, obviously, but it all worked on a kind of cell system so I never knew who the others were, who brought them, who took them away, or even who my ‘guests’ were. We didn’t ask.

    Quite Le Carre really.

    This was after another hall on the same site got raided by American military police, who dragged two boys away. We were absolutely furious (even the British police couldn’t come in without a warrant) and so was the Vice-Chancellor, so another couple of boys in my hall were moved around all over the place until we got them away as well. And we denied all knowledge when Americans wearing suits and thin ties (this was the late sixties, early seventies!) turned up claiming to be relatives or friends from back home . . .For some reason, we declined to believe them . . .

  25. Expat says:

    Sq – Just finished reading Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson about WW2, in particular the involvement of Britain, the exiled european governments there, and their initially fumbling and often fatally disastrous attempts at resistance and rescue in occupied Europe. Your underground railroad story reminds me of the escape route code-named Comet, and lead by Andrée de Jongh, nome de guerre Dédée, who guided allied personnel from Belgium and occupied France through Vichy and over the Pyrenees to Spain. There were several other routes. All the inspiration for the BBC’s Allo Allo and Rene Artois – but I digress.

    A few years back I built in my basement a small aeroplane and reckon that I could, nap of the earth and Lysander like one night, make it up the Hudson, over Lakes George and Champlain and into Free Quebec before Trump’s goons could get to me. Of course Nat just has to go into his back yard and hop a fence.

  26. Expat says:

    Blimey. I never knew that. Never even imagined it!

    You can’t miss the forms while queuing for stamps at the Post Office.

  27. Oddly enough I watched the BBC Tinker Tailor thing with Alec Guinness for the first time just a couple of months ago after finally caving in to the chorus about how good it was. I’ve never read any LeCarre, so I had no sense of the story at all.

    I found it such heavy going, by which I suppose I mean kind of dull, I never made it through the second episode. Still don’t know how it all played out.
    I’ve also found Guinness to be almost embarrassingly unwatchable so often (Lawrence of Arabia – wasn’t he in that epic soap opera with that creepy Omar guy and the overwrought O’Toole? – Holy christ that was almost unbearable), so that certainly didn’t help.

  28. Squirrel says:


    Don’t know that book, but I’ve read something about the disasters. At least we didn’t have the Gestapo on our heels. Just CIA at the beginning; but we had two of them arrested who we’d found wandering about in the early hours of the morning once, courtesy of a police inspector in the same hall who was on sabbatical doing a sociology degree.

    (We didn’t actually intend to defenestrate them from the third floor where we’d found them skulking, but since one of the posse who cornered them was a rugby player and another a boxer—I bet they weren’t expecting that, just a few weedy hippies in a marijuana daze—they might possibly have got that impression.)

    Apparently they spent several hours in the local cop shop’s cells until they were escorted onto a train back to London and told not to come back; they’d refused to believe our fellow student was actually a cop which hadn’t improved his temper since we’d had to wake him up. So in turn the cops refused to believe they weren’t ordinary dodgy English burglars either until they eventually came clean and got the Embassy involved.

    Anyway, we didn’t see any more after that.

  29. NatashaFatale says:

    Getting to Canada during Vietnam was not a problem: you just went, and when the Canadian customs guy asked the purpose of your visit, you told him you were a tourist, Once you were in you looked up the Quakers in the phone book, and they took care of the paperwork and got you settled.

    Those days are long gone, Canada is very selective now – they want either younger people with needed skills or older people who have enough money that they’ll never be a burden on the state (especially the healthcare system). Of course anyone can get in as a tourist but staying is a whole nother story. I imagine that border-hopping in your homemade Lysander doesn’t buy you much more than a little publicity. And maybe some sympathy: sorry but we have to send you back.

  30. NatashaFatale says:


    You’ve convinced me – you really are as immune to fiction as you claim.

  31. StillBernie says:

    Gunny –

    It’s not easy going. Wasn’t pretty to look at either. Most of us here who saw the BBC production probably read the books first. Which themselves were no easy going. Takes time and patience, for some it may not be worth the trouble. (I never made it through the Naive and Sentimental Lover.) Something a Graun review said was about the respect that LeCarre showed to his readers – he didn’t need to handhold or dumb it down, assumed that we would figure out the gaps by ourselves. Maybe worth the hassle for some, maybe not for others. But people like what they like and don’t like what they don’t – there is a whole slew of stuff i’m supposed to like but i don’t. Which is all good, not good to pretend some emperors aren’t naked.

  32. Expat says:

    Good grief 9k. Robert Bolt gave Alec Guinness some of the best lines in moviedom in LofA. And he played them to perfection.

    Prince Feisal: No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees. There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.

    Prince Feisal: There’s nothing further here for a warrior. We drive bargains. Old men’s work. Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men. Courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men. Mistrust and caution. It must be so.

    Prince Feisal: With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.

  33. NatashaFatale says:

    “…not good to pretend some emperors aren’t naked.” Whether you meant it or not, that sounds perilously close to “if I don’t like it, it’s just no good.” I detest Lawrence Durrell but there has to be something there – too many well-rounded and discriminating-about-other-books readers adore him. I happen to think LeCarre’s a fast and thrilling read, and I think the same about the BBC Tinker Tailor. I’m also partial to tartar steak and Madras curry, which I’m quite sure many people think (and with good reason) are the culinary equivalents of bodice rippers and Annette Funicello movies. I don’t think this qualifies as a mystery worth solving. Nonetheless I’m surprised to hear that you found Tinker Tailor to be tough going and patience-demanding, and yet enjoyed it.

  34. NatashaFatale says:

    Expat – You’ve read Seven Pillars?

  35. StillBernie says:

    “if I don’t like it, it’s just no good.”

    Nope. Just that people see things differently, and because some groups find something worthy in something, may be naked to a whole other group. There is surely something very worthy about Jane Austen, but i’m at a loss to figure out what it is, or why i’m supposed to give even the remotest shit about any of the characters in those books. Couldn’t manage it. I’m certainly not going to write off the colossal slew of people who find something in those novels. But they mean fuck all to me.

    I found the Karla trilogy, Spy who Came in From the Cold, etc very rough going. In the sense that i had to stop and reread parts of the book many times and ask, exactly what the fuck is going on here? It wasn’t always obvious. It got easier over many books and rereads, as i got used to his style. And for me the payoff was very well worth it. Kinda like The Dain Curse. Still halfway through it, and was like, what the fuck is this bullshit? He’s a great writer, has he lost his marbles here? Or course it all made sense and he tied it all up in the end.

  36. Expat says:

    Expat – You’ve read Seven Pillars?

    No – but there is another good couple of lines from the movie that probably sums it up from what I have heard about the book.

    [asked by reporter if he knew Lawrence]

    Jackson Bentley: Yes, it was my privilege to know him and to make him known to the world. He was a poet, a scholar and a mighty warrior.

    [after reporter leaves]

    Jackson Bentley: He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey.

  37. StillBernie says:

    I also get why Gunny found Guiness unwatchable – because Smiley himself was supposed to be a deathly boring character. Why is why Guiness played it perfectly.

  38. Expat says:

    ….and of course you can’t beat the Guinness classic:

    Obi-Wan: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

    Stormtrooper: These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

    Obi-Wan: He can go about his business.

    Stormtrooper: You can go about your business.

    Obi-Wan: Move along.

    Stormtrooper: Move along… move along.

  39. NatashaFatale says:


    Re “…probably sums it up…” Uh, no. Nobody has ever summed it up yet. I’ve read it six or eight times (first time a day or so after saw the movie when I was 14 and last time last year) and I always find quite a bit I’ve missed before. Kinda like Jane Austen.


    Re “Smiley himself was supposed to be a deathly boring character.” Either that’s just not true or I and quite a few others just love to be bored. I find Smiley endlessly fascinating. But I agree that Guiness played him flawlessly.

  40. StillBernie says:

    His interestingness is all internal. Even LeCarre said he’s a meat and potatoes on Sunday kind of guy. Look how he’s described – “breathtakingly ordinary”, “tubby, bespectacled, permanently worried George Smiley” – Bond he ain’t. Not easy to play, and if you’re looking for a charismatic lead character, look elsewhere.

  41. StillBernie says:

    I find the relationship with his wife an eternal mystery. You’re not really going to get it from the film. Read the books, you get a better handle of the nuance, but i still don’t get it. And i”m probably not supposed to. In Smiley’s people, all in a sentence she starts crying you’re left to figure, wow, he’s finally leaving her. And then Karla tosses the lighter back to him at the end.

  42. bluthner says:

    Seven Pillars is a great read. There is also a pretty good biography of T.E. by John Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder, which won a Pulitzer back when.

    Someone is going to have to explain in what way Smiley is ‘boring”. Just can’t wrap my brain around that.

  43. NatashaFatale says:

    A Prince of Our Disorder – one of a few hundred books the ex-wife snagged and then no doubt threw away when she discovered they were worthless, dollars and cents-wise. I’d forgotten about that one till now.

  44. bluthner says:

    I’d lend you my copy but I’m sure you could get it off the One-breasted Whore for a tenth of the price of transatlantic postage.

  45. NatashaFatale says:

    Thanks, but I’m a locavore.

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