I recently came across two interviews with the Dean of Faculty at the Virginia Military Institute, Dr. Alan Farrell, conducted by VMI student cadets for a course in Military History and Strategic Analysis. Dr. Farrell, a rare teacher by all accounts, taught at another southern college for 25 years before being lured to VMI. Before that he was in Special Forces, training and leading indigenous highland tribesmen against North Vietnamese soldiers sneaking across the Laotian border. And then writing poetry about it (Expended Casings).
You couldn’t find two people with more different backgrounds. Me, an immigrant kid from New York (with all that implies), a homeless refugee for the first 7 years of my life. Farrell from a rock-ribbed New Hampshire military family that fought in the Revolution.
And yet I was shocked to discover that we couldn’t agree more. About everything: from the terrible reality behind the mythologized battle in the Ia Drang that we’ve all seen being won on screen by Mel Gibson to the current occupation of Iraq. But most especially we agree that there needs to be an end to Congress’s draft dodging. Congress needs to face the issue of universal conscription if we are ever to cope with the “wars” we keep stumbling into. I never thought I’d find myself advocating for reinstatement of the draft, but here I am, standing with Sergeant Major Farrell.
“The trouble with the way America fights wars now,” says Farrell, ” is that the whole population doesn’t go . . . We’re still letting a very narrow segment fight our war for us…if we’re talking about volunteers and a special sort of person who’s willing to suffer in the name of the Republic, whether he understands it or not – that means that you lose your best guys in that kind of warfare…I’m not in favor of war. I’m inclined to think, if we’ve got to have one, everybody goes – everybody. ”
This is not just coming from the older vets. Some months ago a young Marine sergeant back from four tours in Iraq writing anonymously, argued that “a government that wants an indefinite, badly managed war placed on a credit card without complete consent of its citizens could only do it with an all-volunteer military… As my senior drill instructor said the morning of graduation, ‘Ladies and Gents, it’s time to sac up and eat the shit sandwich.’ We are going to have to make hard decisions that will not look anything like the irresponsible, childish partisan bickering of the preceding three decades. We are going to have to do what Americans do best in crises: SACRIFICE AND COMPROMISE… An open and vigorous discussion of compulsory national service, for all classes…needs to be part of the way forward . . . As a young person who served in a war you made, I don’t want your handshake, your pity, your daughter’s phone number, or your faded bumper sticker. I did my frigging job, so now do yours.”
The young Marine’s essay was titled “You can go strangle yourself with that yellow ribbon, or, here is what I want you to do instead of shaking my hand.”
Amen to that.