To the Editor:
(Re: “Professor suggests better ways to engage in debate,” letter, 1/31)
I want to clarify that I have nothing but admiration, which perhaps borders on awe, for the protests against Vietnam and for the students who risked a great deal to participate in them. These kinds of protests were anything but irrelevant.
My concern is that too much has changed since the Vietnam era, that the same kind of protests won’t carry the kind of weight they used to. The primary thing that has changed is the attitude of the students and other young people, which I’m inclined to think has a lot to do with the Internet and the convenience culture that has sprung up around it. The political commitment that people have come to demand nowadays is a click of the mouse and an electronic signature to a petition that the signers will never even hold in their hands.
I find this a disconcerting and disconnected political process. Nevertheless, this kind of one-step political action (and, by the same token, the ease with which anyone can just delete those e-mails and petitions) has apparently killed young people’s will to protest on a large scale. None of us students feels more than the most abstract kind of personal responsibility for the war, as much as we despise it. It is despicable that this war is being fought primarily by what professor Rosenbaum calls “the young ‘underclass,’ ” and it was the News editorial board’s side-stepping of this reality that sparked my response in the first place. But I simply cannot accept the idea that the answer lies in escalating the American death toll in Iraq. 60,000 was a horrific loss in Vietnam, and we cannot have that happen again. I certainly agree with Rosenbaum’s idea that reinstating the draft would create the huge wave of protest that we need, and that this might eventually lead to our leaving Iraq, either sooner or later. But I look at that number — 60,000 — and it simply does not seem justifiable.
Aside from the deaths that it will incur, I see another problem with the draft. A major problem with the war in Iraq is the message of “us vs. them” that the U.S. is sending to the Muslim world, whether the president wants to admit that or not. Starting a draft or sending in 20,000 new soldiers will blow up that message to the most disastrous of proportions. Maybe 20,000 new soldiers would “stabilize” the region, as the president says, although I’m skeptical. But if that is indeed the case, it would be the end of any remaining American political legitimacy, and it would be a de-facto occupation that would again risk the atrocities perpetrated against the Vietnamese.
My generation grew up in the shadow of the ’60s and Vietnam. When we were young, we put patches on our jeans and wore flowers in our hair; when we were older, we looked at pictures of Vietnam and protests against the war and couldn’t believe what we saw. I think that many of us yearn for the feeling of collective responsibility that we read into that era, especially as we grow more disconnected from the people around us through technology and the Internet. Yes, the draft would put us into a similar position. But the cost is far too great.
Rosenbaum writes that we either get out quickly or draft people to shoulder the burden. I have given this much thought. We must get out quickly; the disaster that we have already achieved in Iraq will pale with what is still to come if a draft or escalation ensues. If Bush does go ahead with his plan for 20,000, it would be a terrible tragedy to force the same kinds of young people who have already fought in Iraq into service. In the case of 20,000, a draft will be necessary, and yes, it must be necessary to stop the sacrifice of the less privileged, as well as to stop further escalation. But it is my greatest hope that we get out before this happens.
Alexandra Schwartz ’09
The writer is a regular columnist for the News.