This I Believe

Mary - Durham, North Carolina
Entered on January 27, 2008
Age Group: 65+
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It was startling, if you watch the nightly news, to see this tall, straight soldier, in camouflage, hat and boots, strolling into the Southwest Branch Library on a Wednesday afternoon. He could easily have stepped out of a television set from a dusty Iraq street. We followed him into the front door. Inside, he was being embraced by a woman, and then he strode away. The woman was my neighbor, Wanda, who I know is a military veteran. I said lightly, “Wanda, do you hug every man in uniform?” She hugged me and said yes, as a matter of fact she did, and if she happens to be in a fast food line, she pays for the soldier’s meal. With distress in her voice, she said “ he’s only 20, maybe 19”. I was humbled.

Wanda, lives alone in the house on the corner of our street. Wanda is black and a nurse. She tutors and mentors at a high school where the drop out rate makes headlines in the morning paper. This is to say that Wanda’s families are vast, and include all those that she cares about.

I don’t know how Wanda feels about the current war. I know that I am totally to it. Most of the men in the military are from the Midwest, the heartland, boys escaping from the small towns, out to get an education , training, and to see the world. This has always been so. Sailors, whalers, and even ship’s captains often started out as runaways, cabin boys and deck hands. Drivers of the great locomotives were probably also drawn to the adventure. Recently, when recruitment for the military lagged below its goal, the standards were lowered, so that more, less educated boys could enlist.

During the Civil War, a wealthy family could buy a substitute to send to the war. Conscription was very unpopular, especially in the North, seen as an invasion of new found rights. So again, it was the boys without property, with no promising future, who served. President Wilson signed a Draft Order in May of 1917 to fill the ranks for the First World War, and on June 5, 1917, on that one day, ten million men were registered. That war ended on November 11, 1918 along with the draft. President Franklin Roosevelt re-initiated the draft in 1940, the first peace time draft, and it remained in effect, with some changes, until 1969. Regardless of the changes, every young man had to, and still has to register for the military on his eighteenth birthday, and before 1969 had to serve unless he had one of the numerous deferments. The draft evened the financial and educational levels of the armed forces population , and desegregation made advancement and training benefits available to all persons.

It has been suggested that the draft would end the war in Iraq, if everyone had to go. But there is no draft and only those volunteering are sent off to be killed and maimed by road side bombs, to learn to retaliate by torture and killing. Surely they signed up for the change, for the promise of training and education, and some, because of patriotism. Whether or not the cause is just, I believe that our volunteer soldiers are heroes. We owe our respect. We owe the best of care, and perhaps a thank you hug.

I applaud my neighbor.