When the Army Was Democratic by William Pfaff | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

4 Aug

The final paragraph (my boldface):

What fundamentally was destroyed in Vietnam was the democratic army. The all-volunteer professional army enables undemocratic wars, ideological in nature and inspiration, and, it would seem, without real end.

Pfaff opens by recountin Gen. McCrystals’s call for a universal draft if it intends to continuing fighting wars. However

But I cannot think that he is so far out of touch with his country as to fail to understand that the restoration of American national morale, unity, and sense of solidarity and patriotism he wants to see would come not as the result of universal national military service, but as the condition that makes universal service possible.

The war in Vietnam destroyed the draft:

The US had national service from September 1940, just before World War II, until 1971, when the Vietnam War was ending. It was accepted with patriotic resolution at its start, and hated by its end. I am of an age to have put on my country’s uniform in high school ROTC in 1942, when I was fourteen years old. I put it on again for the Korean War, and did not take it off for the last time until 1958, after limited active reserve service. That was a total of sixteen years.

I can’t say that I enjoyed military service, but I learned a lot, about myself and about others—including the young black men who made up a good half of my all-southern, and mostly rural, basic training company (where I was not only the sole college graduate but probably the only high school graduate)… The regular army…hated and feared the consequences of that order, but said “yes, sir” and did it, producing undoubtedly the biggest and most successful program of social engineering the United States had ever experienced …

The army, in my opinion, did more to desegregate the United States than the civil rights movement of the 1960s. From 1948 on, nearly every able-bodied young man in the United States served and lived side by side with Americans of all colors, all in strict alphabetical order, in old-fashioned unpartitioned barracks, sleeping bunk to bunk, sharing shelter-halves on bivouac, in what amounted to brotherly endurance of the cold, heat, discomfort, and misery of military training—and following that, of service…

When their war was over, the survivors, white and black, didn’t go home to Georgia and hang out together on Saturday nights. They hardly saw one another again. But those two years changed them. It certainly changed many of the younger generation of white southerners who served and who a decade and a half later were ready to accept desegregation, even though they disliked it. A man-to-man respect existed for their black contemporaries.

via When the Army Was Democratic by William Pfaff | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

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