I received the email below from Frank Schaeffer, Co-Author of AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service — and How It Hurts Our Country. It’s lengthy email, but I thought I should share the entire thing.
If the suggestion of renewing a national draft surprises you (or scares you) I strongly recommend that you read AWOL. It makes a very compelling argument about why “Service to your Country” is important and fair. It will also almost certainly make you uncomfortable – especially if you have never served.
Personally I know from experience that the Military can’t use as many people as would be available each year if we has an across the board draft – and many of them just wouldn’t have the character, aptitude, or attitude that the Military wants, and needs. So I agree with Frank that there are a LOT of other ways people could become involved in Public Service, with or without the draft. But people are generally lazy and/or self-centered; so perhaps we do have to force them to serve. I don’t know – I haven’t really made my mind up on this issue. It would be a much better world if the compelling reason to serve came from within each of us. But that is not the reality.
My parents had six sons – five of us served (voluntarily). One in the Air Force, three in the Army, and one in the Navy (me). I have an 18 year old son, and I don’t want him to serve. Not specifically because of the war in Iraq – I knew before my kids were ten years old that I would prefer they stayed out of the Military. Why? Because I want them to grow up with friends they’ve know all there live’s. I want them to be able to buy a home and live there for as long as they wish. Besides, I think my family has served enough for a while – we’ve served in every generation we can trace back. Surely we can skip a generation now.
Certainly, if we were at a global war, fighting for our existence, I would encourage my children to serve, and I would offer to serve again. Although the war against Radical Islam is global, it isn’t an all-encompassing World War.
Perhaps that’s part of the problem – we are in a war that our Government is trying to keep small – and perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps we as Americans should feel the same sense of importance, and tacticality that our soldiers do. Perhaps if we thought our future as a a nation, and as a Free People were on the line we would be more involved.
These are some of the questions the book raised in my mind.
I now own every book Frank has written. In many cases they are too “preachy” for my tastes. But they all have a resounding voice of basic truth, and fairness, and honesty. And above all Patriotism – the desire to serve for serving’s sake.
Having most of our population never contributing beyond paying taxes weakens our country, I think.
Read the email. Read AWOL. Form your own opinions. But before you form them, get educated on the subject.
I’m sending this from my wife’s better, faster, nicer computer but please respond
to me at email@example.com. My new novel—BABY JACK—is in bookstores
now and also available from Amazon.
Here is the Amazon link:
When President Bush was recently asked what sacrifices we were asked to make
in the wake of 9/11 the best he could offer was that we all pay taxes. And when
he led us into war most Americans didn’t know anyone doing the fighting and dying
or face the prospect of losing a son or daughter. And no one was surprised that
the president’s military-aged children weren’t in uniform. With some notable
exceptions, it has been a long time since our political, business, media and
entertainment leaders have lead from the front.
One group of Americans is asked to give their lives while the vast majority is
asked to give nothing. We have privatized the responsibility to defend our country.
Serve if you want, otherwise don’t. Be a patriot if it suites you, if not, we
all pay taxes, right?
We need a draft. It should include a non-military option that could promote activities
such as tutoring primary school students, auxiliary police patrols, environmental
cleanup, border patrols and other civilian service attached to federal agencies.
The military would still get the benefit of volunteers as well as the benefit
of only having men and women serve who chose the military when drafted. But there
would be no excuse for people avoiding service of any kind to their country because
they object to the military.
If this draft swept up too many people to manage we could have a fair no-deferment
lottery-based draft so that while not everyone served nevertheless everyone would
at least be in the system. This would make our country fairer. We need to close
the gap between those asked to give everything and the rest unless we’re content
to look more like the late Persian Empire than our ideal of what America should
If we really are in a long-term war with Islamic-fascism and if we are ever going
to pull ourselves together into one country again—rather than accepting the
contentious status quo of “red” and “blue state” divisions—our leaders must
call us all to contribute. Democracy and fairness are linked.
The privatizing of service is part of a trend of institutionalizing selfish individualism
in the name of “choice” and “preference.” Our elites migrate from private high
schools to top colleges and jobs and rarely work with or even meet, less fortunate
Americans. I know. Until my youngest son unexpectedly volunteered for the Marine
Corps I might as well have been living on another planet when it came to a sense
of sharing in the responsibility to serve our country. I never served. But through
my son’s service, I experienced a “draft” of the heart. My son was guarded by
sons and daughters from every ethnic, religious and economic group. And he was
ready to give his life for them. The anguish and pride I felt as he was deployed
Trying to earn your living doing something you believe in isn’t necessarily a
contradiction in terms. Part of my draft of the heart has included choosing material
to write about that, a few years ago, would have seemed foreign to me. I chose
to write the story of BABY JACK as a tribute to the men and women who sacrifice
for us. But as I wrote this novel about service, sacrifice and redemption my
fear was that I would inadvertently hurt the feelings of the loved ones of our
men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why did I care? Because they are
my family now.
John—my Marine son—came home alive from combat. And I was writing my worst
nightmare about what might have happened in my story about a Marine who dies
in combat. Just writing the book was gut-wrenching. I could only imagine what
going through the real tragedy was like.
I took the best precautions I could. Before sending my novel to my publisher
I asked Mindy Evnin, mother of Mark Evnin, a Marine killed in Iraq, to read the
manuscript. I told her that if I had gotten something wrong or if it offended
her I’d change the book. She told me it was okay and I sent it off. But I still
was nervous. So in the last few days I’ve been very relieved to hear from several
parents of those killed in action who have just read the book. Amongst other
messages I received several emails from Danni Wyatt, the mother of Daniel, a
young Marine. (Danni gave me permission to share this with you.)
“When Daniel gave his word, it was kept no matter what. Even if it was going
to hurt him somehow in the end, he had given his word and by God he was going
to keep it. He understood and lived by the honor that the Corps teaches . . .
. Three weeks after setting his boots on the ground of Iraq, while on a patrol,
a remote controlled IED was detonated right next to Daniel. The blast killed
him instantly. That was on Oct.12, 2004 . . . .
“While hurt and pain will never go away, we are also blessed in knowing that
if Daniel could have chosen how his life would end, it would have been this—doing
what he believed in, and with his brothers surrounding him, and that it would
have been him instead of any of his brothers.
“I need to add in true Marine Corps fashion, hours after the blast that killed
Daniel, the trigger man and his two cohorts were picked up by another unit and
brought back to the FOB [forward operating base]. Although our Marines may have
been tempted and I am sure the thought crossed their minds, the terrorists were
not harmed or roughed up or mistreated. I will always be very proud of the Corps
and everyone who served serves or will serve in the future . . . .
“Frank: Just finished reading ‘Baby Jack’ . . . . All I can say is, without experiencing
all of it Frank, you GET it. You absolutely get it: the whole Marine experience
right down to suffering through the death and aftermath.
“Some parts were so very hard to read. I have to tell you that I had a Kleenex
stuffed to my eyes and my mouth to hold back sobs. There were times I had to
put it down and walk away… walk off the tension and sorrow and hurt that was
building up inside. But I couldn’t walk away from Jack because he was [my son]
Daniel in so many ways . . . .
“One of the things that the CACO guys said when they came to tell us about Daniel
was ‘He is our brother and we’ll never let him go, and that makes both of you
always part of our family. We will never let you go either.’
“[My husband] David and I will also never let you go Frank. There are too few
who really get it. We need to cherish those who do…
“Always, warmly and with gratitude, Danni Wyatt”
Like all writers I hope my work will get good reviews. No review will ever mean
more to me than Danni’s letter. I’m humbled and grateful. To me her letter represents
how we in the military family are connected in a way few people understand.
We’ve never met but Danni is closer to me than many of my oldest friends, and
not just because she likes my book. Service, even service by a loved one, has
drawn us together. I don’t know where Danni goes to church, or if she does, or
what the color of her skin is or if she’s rich, poor or middle class. All I know
is that she believes that the individual owes more to the common good than chasing
his or her preferences. And she has sacrificed her heart to that principal by
supporting her son.
In World War II Eleanor Roosevelt embraced this ideal when she wrote: “[M]y husband
would have been very much upset if the boys had not wanted to go into the war
immediately, but he did not have to worry very much because they either were
already in before the war began, or they went in immediately.”
In 1917 when the draft was introduced during WWI one reason given in Congress
was that too many of the educated upper classes were clamoring to volunteer and
it was time the lower classes shared some of the responsibility. Times have changed!
But we don’t need to go back to WWI or even WWII to find that a spirit of shared
responsibility was once the norm in America. Not long ago Americans from all
classes considered national service an obligation. For instance in the mid-1950s
roughly half the graduating classes from our Ivy League schools served. Now less
than one half of a percent of Ivy League students volunteer. And the students
in our best schools act as if it is a virtue not to serve. As if they are more
moral because they don’t. Hence the loud protests every time anyone even suggests
re-introducing the ROTC to elite campuses.
When my son volunteered I undeservedly stumbled into the American family that
gives back more than it takes. The sons and daughters of my new “family” were
led by officers earning less than construction workers and commanded by generals
making no more than nine times the pay of the lowest ranking private. When my
son went to war I relied for comfort on people who reached out to me across the
divide of class, race and economic status because of the brotherhood our sons
and daughters shared.
Our political leaders don’t want the draft. Why? Is it because by privatizing
service into just another life-style choice the military becomes easier to use?
It is always the “other” out there sacrificing. But the idea that service to
our country is something to be avoided makes no sense given its redemptive power
to build character. And I have received many letters from men who were drafted
before 1972 and who say the experience was good, taught them a lot, and even
if they hated the idea they served well and look back with pride on that experience.
Nowadays while our best colleges do everything they can to discourage their students
from even being asked, the reality of service gives the lie to their anti-military
moralistic selfishness. For instance according to those very few Harvard and
Princeton graduates who have recently served—I surveyed them while writing
“AWOL-The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes From Military Service
and How It Hurts our Country” (co-authored with Kathy Roth Douquet)—service
is rewarding and uplifting. These are typical of their responses:
“Joining the Army formed my character. I learned confidence, toughness, how to
fail gracefully, how to win as a team. I didn’t learn this in Harvard but in
the Army. I would encourage any woman who really wants to challenge herself to
“The military experience absolutely has benefited me. There is no doubt that
I am an infinitely more mature person than I was when I graduated Princeton.
“Military service is about getting people out of their ghettos, both physical
and intellectual. It is about overcoming racial and cultural differences and
divisiveness to achieve a common goal. It teaches responsibility for self and
others that depend on you in a way that cannot be taught elsewhere.”
A draft with a non-military option could teach the same character-building lessons
and a sense of solidarity that military service does. And if all Americans experienced
service (or at least be called upon to be part of a lottery-draft system), we
would still argue about politics, race, religion and social issues but we’d be
debating with those we had sacrificed for and depended on. The egregious gap
between those asked to give all and the rest of us would narrow.
Our enemies might see a more united country. And we might begin to behave more
like a band of brothers than a collection of selfish individuals. Words like
duty and responsibility might even find their way back into our vocabulary.
I’m hoping BABY JACK will help stimulate a long overdue discussion we need to
have on fairness, service and class. It is not about Republicans or Democrats
or who we vote for but about what makes us all human beings.
BABY JACK asks what sort of country we want to be. Is it right to let a few Americans
like Daniel Wyatt and his family do all the heavy lifting while the rest of the
country is never even asked to consider service? How does our celebrity-obsessed
culture plan to survive if the “values” of irony, greed and self permanently
eclipse the tradition of participating in our democratic process of self-rule,
a process that requires a willingness to sacrifice?
P.S. Feel free to copy this email to anyone you want, or post it or publish it.
Also, please check to see that BABY JACK is in your local bookstore. If you happen
to read it and like it please tell someone. And you can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.