I believe that democracy is a shared responsibility. The problem with any core belief is that life has a way of testing it. My most recent test came in the form of the Iraq war. I failed.
I was against the war from the start, although my opposition never translated into a protest march in Washington or a letter to my congressman. It remained no more than a quietly held belief. Today, there’s talk of leaving Iraq, but I don’t know what to think. I want our soldiers to come home, but can we really abandon the Iraqi people to what is essentially a civil war of our own making?
I don’t have a solution, but I think I may have figured out what’s missing from my perspective on democracy: pain — universal, democratic pain. In terms of the Iraq war, this country’s burden is being shouldered by a select few. Some families and communities have been devastated by the war. Others, like mine, have been far too insulated. We can’t truly share the responsibility for our democracy until we all share in its suffering.
And so, in the name of shared pain, I support the reinstitution of the draft.
Don’t get me wrong. I have two children, ages 13 and 17. I don’t want them to be drafted. I’m frightened at the idea of having them serve in the military, just as I would be at the prospect of having a cop or fireman in the family. But guess what? If I’m mugged, I’m going to turn to my local police department. If there’s a fire in my house, I’ll want to hug the man or woman who saves my home. And if my way of life is threatened by outside forces, I’ll be forever grateful to that soldier guarding the wall. Unfortunately, that soldier is invisible to me. I know he’s out there, but he doesn’t have a face — certainly not the face of my child.
The idea that our troops are risking their lives thousands of miles from home, while my life is essentially unchanged, is chilling. I’m not saying that I don’t care. I’m saying I don’t care enough. When soldiers are dying to support our nation’s decision to go to war, “we the people” should not have a choice about our level of involvement. We should be drawn into the fray, kicking and screaming if need be, but fully engaged.
So draft my kids. Force them — and me — to be part of this democracy. Make no mistake: If I believe the country is waging the wrong battle, I’ll fight you tooth and nail. I don’t want my children going to war.
If every parent does not have to fear losing a son or daughter — if every politician does not have to face that fear in his constituents — decisions to go to war will continue to be too easy. I believe that a true democracy comes from shared responsibility for our collective choices. If that choice is war, we must all share in its tragedy.
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