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Mark Shields' op-ed column: A Case for the Draft

 Jim Webb condemned the separation of those in power from those in uniform.
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Date published: 3/3/2013


--Years before he was to be elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from Virginia and when he was still very much a Reagan Republican, Jim Webb--who as a Marine rifle platoon and company commander in Vietnam had earned the Navy Cross, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts--condemned the total separation of Americans in power in Washington from Americans in mortal peril in the Persian Gulf.

His words still ring true: "If the U.S. military was truly representative of the country, you would have people going through the roof right now." The impersonal detachment of civilian policy planners and think-tank guerrillas toward American soldiers and Marines in harm's way clearly outraged Jim Webb: "Their attitude strikes me as, 'You volunteered. You took the money. Shut up and die.'"

Of the 535 members of Congress in office when Ronald Reagan was running for the White House, 412 of them--because of the draft law in force between 1940 and 1973--had served in the U.S. military. In the current Congress, just 103 have worn their nation's uniform. Does military service influence the public policy choices of a politician? Consider this: Only one major presidential candidate in the two most recent national elections made the outlawing of all forms of torture of prisoners of war his cause.

He happened to be the only presidential candidate who, as a prisoner of war, had himself been tortured: John McCain.


One real benefit of the draft was that it meant that practically every American family had a profoundly personal interest in U.S. foreign policy. War was not an abstraction. War was not a spectator sport. War could--and did--kill people you knew and loved and make others into widows and orphans.

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Mark Shields, who served in the Marines, is a syndicated columnist and a commentator for the PBS NewsHour. He wrote this column for The Free Lance-Star, in which his column appears.