My father is a Vietnam Veteran. He was an officer in ROTC in 1968 while he was in college and went to Vietnam as a Lieutenant the year I was born. My father felt an obligation to his country and a duty to serve when called. I was born in a snowstorm in rural Minnesota while my father was halfway around the world in the jungles of Vietnam. I am proud of my father and his service to my country.
When I was a teenager, going to private Catholic school, I was approached by military recruiters. I was encouraged to join the military and to enlist in the ROTC program, much like my father had been. For whatever reason, I declined. I was not yet a peace activist like I became after the first Gulf War, but something in my instincts told me that I could not serve in the military the way my father had served.
In 1990, while I was enrolled at the University of Minnesota, George Bush Sr. began beating the drums of war. I was enrolled in the selective service program at that time in order to get student loans to go to college. I remember clearly the night the bombs began to drop in Iraq for the first time. I was living in the student district of Minneapolis and there had been anti-war activity on campus leading up to the invasion. Students were busy organizing against the campus military center, sometimes called the stockade, holding demonstrations and putting anti-war material in front of the recruiting and training center.
The night of the first bombing and initial invasion in 1991 I witnessed something I had never seen before, a spontaneous anti-war demonstration. Demonstrators began marching from the University district and marched, without a permit, into downtown Minneapolis and over to the uptown district, several thousand people marching a distance of five or six miles. Something about that demonstration vitalized me and helped me to commit to a path of peace. I knew at the time, based on my religious convictions, that I could not kill another human being in the name of my country, no matter what the reason. Although I am no longer a person of faith, I still retain the same conviction to this day and remain a pacifist and committed to the path of non-violence.
I joined the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors at that time and met with a Quaker counselor from the American Friends Service Committee. I decided at that point in my life to begin to serve the path of peace.
My story is only one story of many paths to adulthood. Besides having deep respect for my father and his choices in life, we have something in common, we both had the opportunity to choose how to serve our country. This choice, which has been a mainstay of American life since shortly after the Vietnam war, has never been under greater threat than it is right now. Our military forces are taxed to exhaustion, and a back door draft of sort already exists with our national guard reserve. President Bush has chosen to keep one hundred forty thousand troops in Iraq in addition to the thousands already serving in Afghanistan and the hundreds of thousands serving in over one hundred and twenty countries around the world.
Nearly every person in the military today is there because they were able to choose to serve. Regardless of how one feels about the process of military recruitment, the targeting of poor and minority communities, even recruiting persons who are not yet citizens of this country in order to serve, the alternative to this is far worse. I do believe that we need to scale down the size of our military. We cannot afford the extreme financial burden that this military is costing us, both in current expenditures and obligations we have on past expenditures, such as debt from previous military expenses which is as yet unpaid, and the financial obligations that we have to the health and welfare of our nation’s veterans.
There has been talk in the military of reintroducing the draft. It is argued that we cannot afford to keep going the way we are. There has even been speculation that the very reason that our national reserve forces are being taxed to their limits is to reintroduce the draft as a socially acceptable resolution to the current crisis in Iraq. Our military forces are broken. They are being taxed to their limits, but the solution is not the reintroduction of a draft. This war in Iraq was based on lies and manipulation. There is nothing honorable about recruiting unwitting young men in order to support the lies and misdeeds of the current administration.
The solution to the crisis in Iraq is to bring the troops home now. Our national guard has served the country well. They have answered the call to serve, in spite of the betrayals of the current administration, and it is time to bring them home. Then it is time to let our military heal from the current round of conflict. We need a peacetime administration that is focused on using alternatives to violence and warfare in order to solve international conflicts. We need elected representatives who are committed to the path of peace and who are more concerned about the economic crisis at home.
I am still proud of my father and everything he has done. I am also proud of my friends who have chosen not to serve in the military. I am proud of the peace activists I know who have chosen to serve their country and the world to promote the cause of peace. I believe that there can be reconciliation and understanding between these two very different communities, each choosing to serve in the way they believe is best. The act of choosing is one of the most important rites of transitioning into adult life. Don’t our children deserve the opportunity to explore all the alternatives that life has to offer them, in education, in job training, in community service? We don’t need another draft. What we need is a new outlook on our government.
We need a government that is dedicated to the idea that serving the people is the highest priority. A draft will only reinforce the idea that Americans are cannon fodder for greedy warmongers who can’t make good foreign policy decisions and then need to sacrifice American lives in order to cover for their terrible decisions. Instead of investing more money in war let’s invest it in peace. Let’s make sure that every American graduates from high school. Let’s take the money that we would spend on guns and spend that money on health care. Let’s take the money that we would spend on military bases halfway around the world and spend that money on our own domestic infrastructure. Let’s take the money that we would spend on bombs and spend that money on social security. Finally, let’s take the money that we would spend on training our young men and women to be soldiers and instead spend that money on training them to be teachers, doctors and engineers.
We can lift this nation out of poverty. We can find alternatives to warfare and violence. We can solve our international problems without invading foreign countries and occupying them. We can have peace and security at home without resorting to a draft. It is time for us to take the steps towards peace that we have been waiting to take. It is time to look at real solutions to the economic crisis facing this country. It is time to restore the honor and dignity that is the soul of this nation. I believe we can do this. All we need is the leadership and the representation to make the right decisions in Washington DC. Let’s take the first steps toward becoming the people that we deserve to be by resisting talk of a draft and instead let’s bring the troops home now.
Chris Lugo is a candidate for the US Senate from Tennessee running on a platform of Peace.