In this space 42 years ago, with the nation in the midst of a divisive and deadly war, the News railed against the injustices of the draft. The editors at the time did not argue that conscription was morally wrong, but rather that “students [had] been bought off with deferments.” Young men sitting comfortably in classes at Yale, the paper said, were sheltered from the horrors of war while those less fortunate fought in their stead.
Today, we at Yale remain comfortable even as hundreds of thousands of troops are deployed abroad. Our nation’s military is largely populated by men and women about our age, but we at Yale still remain far too silent about their sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. College campuses should be the lifeblood for discourse about national issues, and especially for discourse about war; but without the draft, and at Yale, without even the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, we all too often forget about our troops.
It wasn’t always this way. In the late 1960s, when deferments were ended and all male students became subject to the draft, the debate over the Vietnam War engulfed classrooms and dining halls alike.
Now, as we hear from President Obama that 30,000 additional men and women are headed to Afghanistan, it is time to reignite the study of and discussion about our military on campus. Even as we continue to oppose the draft, we call on Yale to resurrect ROTC and we call on this campus to speak out when major military decisions are being made. Indeed, we should speak out as if it were us heading to Kandahar.
The war that we are fighting today began in earnest on Sept. 11, 2001, a day of fire unlike any other in our history. When we learned that thousands of women and men had been senselessly killed, we stood up and made our voices heard.
Over the past eight years, though, we have lost sight of our mission in Afghanistan. What began as Operation Enduring Freedom, as a war to destroy the infrastructure that provided support for al Qaeda, has turned into a war that will surely last more than a decade. At the same time, we have lost sight of the reasons this war matters.
When the military is deployed overseas to fight on our behalf, we must recognize that, under different circumstances, it could be us in Fallujah or Kabul. Whatever one thinks of President Obama’s decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan — and surely there is room for debate about his decision — there can be no denying that we at Yale do far too little to appreciate the sacrificies of our nation’s fighting women and men.
So, let us all take time this month, as we celebrate the holidays and spend time with family, to remember those who ate Thanksgiving dinner in an airplane hangar in Afghanistan and who will send Christmas greetings by videochat from Iraq. Let us not look away from the war we are fighting. Let us salute those who have the courage to enlist.
We are at Yale to study in peace. But we should be mindful that had we and all Americans been more studious citizens, keeping Afghanistan and our troops and our mission in the public consciousness, perhaps this war would already be over.