Saturday, November 19, 2011

Draft the Boys at Sixty-Five

Clarence Jordan was a practical theologian who founded a Christian community in Georgia that he named Koinonia.  The bride and I spent several days there when we were in college, it it had a marked effect on our lives.

One of Jordan's essays was called "Draft the Boys at Sixty-Five."  The only place where I was able to grab a copy was at this site, where, unfortunately, you will be subjected to some annoying ragtime music.

But hit PAGE DOWN about 9 or 10 times, mute your sound, and read.  It's tongue-in-cheek...or is it?  I am reproducing the essay (written around the time of the Vietnam War) here in its entirety, with some of the quotes that I particularly liked bolded and in blue.  Substitute the word "terrorist" for "Communist" and it's totally contemporary.

There's a lot of talk going on today about how we don't need peacetime conscription in a nation like this. But we might as well just face up to the fact that we've got to have the draft. In the first place, we've gotten too civilized to go to war voluntarily. We've just got to be made to fight. And then, automation has taken all the sport out of killing. Time was when an honest man could go to battle against an honest man, and there was a lot of sport in that; there was a lot of fun, a lot of challenge. You don't have to be drafted for that kind of sport. But who wants to operate a computer to kill scads of women and children? We're just not going to war and do that kind of thing unless we're drafted.

Look at it this way—a very peace-loving nation like ours has the responsibility to keep the peace, all over the world, even if we have to do it by ourselves. And even if we have to kill off everybody else in the world to keep the peace in the world. We got to do it. It's our responsibility. Peace is that important—we've got to have it. The trouble is, some people think you can have it without plenty of guns and planes and napalm and bombs and men. Well, you can't. You've got to have these things. And when too many folks get to arguing about this, the only thing you can do with folks who are arguing is just draft them.

Without the draft, there'd be entirely too much talk about peace and too little real fighting for peace. So until people quit thinking and talking, we're gonna have to have the draft, that's it. Now, I admit we might have to occasionally make a few changes in the draft law. For instance, at the present, we're drafting kids from eighteen to twenty-six. We shouldn't be drafting those kids. They're too young; they're too flighty; they're too sexy; they're too immature. They're not even represented in Congress. They don't have any say-so about this decision. Besides, those kids need to stay at home and get married and get into their vocation and start raising a family and all those kinds of things. Then too when you send these kids off, you got to have such a long veterans' program. They come back veterans eighteen, nineteen years old, you know. You gotta keep 'em on the rolls for another forty to sixty years.

Now, it could be that we could draft middle-aged folks, but, you know, they're too productive. We got to have them to make the bombs and the planes and the napalm, without which there can be no peace. We need them to run our big banks and our big corporations, to keep the economy booming. We gotta keep ‘em in Congress, to pass draft laws and tax laws and laws against draft-card burning and all like that. We got to keep these middle-aged folks at home, to make committees in Congress, to investigate people who ain't peace loving. And then we got to keep ‘em at home to teach their sons the glory and the beauty of killing off men, women, and children that they've never seen before. We can't have peace in the world without our middle-aged folks staying at home.

Well, that only leaves our senior citizens, but they're too—well, now wait a minute, what about our senior citizens? Yea, what about our senior citizens? How about starting the draft at sixty-five? Looky here, at that age they're getting ready to retire and they could go at their own expense. We wouldn't have to pay ‘em—they're on Social Security, and old-age security, and all like that. They're on their pensions….
And then another thing, and I noticed this, that the older a man gets, the more belligerent he gets. You listen to these guys talk in Congress. There isn't anybody who's more anxious to give the Communists hell than a man who's too old to deliver it. Now anybody that's as anxious to deliver some loads to the nether regions as our senior citizens ought not to be denied the privilege of delivering them in person. They wouldn't even have to be drafted to do it. If given the opportunity, they'd volunteer in droves.

And too, by the time a man reaches sixty-five and had to be drafted, he usually wouldn't leave at home a sweetheart or somebody like that weeping for him. This would definitely cut down on hasty marriages. And when he was given his two-week leave before being shipped abroad, his wife probably wouldn't get pregnant, and that would cut down on the war boom of babies and help the population explosion.

But I think his wife ought to be drafted too. We ought to draft them all—men and women that are sixty-five years old—so she could go along with him to do his cooking and cleaning and see that he comes home at night like a good soldier should. With their wives along, these elderly GI's would not be liable to turn these foreign cities into brothels and burden its citizenry with illegitimacy.

It's also obvious from the traffic on our toll roads that senior citizens love to travel. You get on Interstate 75, and you see one camper trailer after another going up and down, going to Florida. Most of our senior citizens, by the time they're sixty-five, have seen practically every tourist place in the United States. Let's give 'em a chance to see the rest of the world. All we'd have to do with this new army would be to equip 'em with a camper trailer and let 'em get on the road. Now you would have to have in these foreign countries adequate tourist places with adequate rest stops and so forth. This might be a real nasty problem in backward countries with outdoor privies. But we might be able to even get around that. This army would be highly mobile with their camper trailers. Perhaps they could be even more mobile than in helicopters, and we could do away with the expensive helicopters.

Now I think the uniforms for this new army should be usual tourist shorts—both the men and the women should be equipped with the usual shorts that these senior citizens wear when they are touring the country. Now the reason I prescribe shorts is that if you were to get all of our senior citizens with their knobby knees and their varicose veins descending on a country, the psychological effect on that country would be such that they would capitulate immediately.

This army would have other psychological advantages also. Practically all of the elderly GI's would be grandparents, with the standard ailments and aches and pains. It's doubtful that any enemy, no matter how fierce or determined he might be, could long resist a vast invasion of grandparents talking about their grandchildren and their aches and pains. No tonnage of bombs could produce a greater stampede to the conference table.

Now the morale of this army would just be superb. It would be boundless, because when a man's sixty-five years old he's had forty, fifty years to reflect on the bliss of private enterprise and the gross evil of Communism, and without hesitation, he would be so committed to his superlative ideals that he would gladly and eagerly spill his iron-poor blood. Who would want to fade away in boredom at a retirement center, when he can go down in a burst of glory for his superlative ideals on a foreign shuffleboard court?

Another boost to morale would be that some of the troops would be the directors and chairmen of the boards of huge corporations with war contracts. Given the opportunity to execute the wars that they helped plan, and that have made them rich, their zeal would just be boundless. Well may it be said of these rich men who plan the wars, “His strength is as the strength of ten, because his heart's corrupt.”

But to provide the greatest morale stimulus, the law to draft at sixty-five would have to allow for some exceptions. For instance, the president as commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, even though he may not yet be sixty-five, should not be denied the privilege of volunteering, donning his shorts, and leading his shorted army in this great expeditionary force. We should give the commander-in-chief the privilege of accompanying this senior army.

In the next place, I think we should make exceptions for the Armed Services Committee, and also for the House Appropriations Committee. If you're going to make laws for appropriations and all like that, certainly you need some field experience. And these men, even though not sixty-five, should be given the privilege of joining the army.

Now, let's consider some more of the economic aspects of the draft at sixty-five. The first big thing I see would be in the cost of recruitment. You wouldn't need but two recruitment centers for these elderly GI's –one in Florida and one on California. And you wouldn't have to have any pre-induction physicals, in view of the fact of universal disability. Now there might be one or two physically fit men, but the number of fit would be so small that you could just go ahead and dispense entirely with the examinations and conscript them all. It could be too that there would be a tremendous savings to Medicare, provided we could have rather high casualties, because most of these guys are just beginning Medicare and if we could arrange to have a casualty rate pretty high, think of the savings it would be to that program.

Another thing is that by drafting only those over sixty-five, we could almost eliminate the enormously expensive Veterans Administration. A maimed man of this age would hardly consider it worth the effort to learn how to use artificial arms and legs. Nor would he likely want to go to college, or to buy a twenty-year house on a forty-year mortgage. Even his meager needs wouldn't last too long, and because the crop of veterans would disappear so rapidly, we could afford to have twice as many of 'em. And by raising the draft age to sixty-five, we could completely bypass the astronomically extravagant training centers and camps. When a man's that old, he's just about as trained as he's gonna get. The government not only would be spared the considerable expense of training him, but would profit immensely from his long years of experience. Overnight, we would have, not a band of immature amateurs, but an army of decrepit professionals.

Besides the savings in money, though, there would be the greater savings in manpower. For instance, when you kill a man off at eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old, you're killing off a guy that's got twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years of productive life left in him. Now these folks that make automobiles up here in Detroit, they wouldn't catch an automobile right off the assembly line and junk it. They would expect to get some mileage out of it. You wouldn't take a kid right out of college and junk him on the battlefield. You want to get some mileage out of him.

Now, another thing is that when you kill off a boy that's maybe eighteen, nineteen years old, you don't know but that maybe you're killing a future Einstein, or a future Abraham Lincoln, or a future George Washington. You don't know, you might be killing some great genius of some kind. But when you kill off a guy sixty-five years old, you know what you're killing.

There's one final thing that might be said. This army would really have no equal in the art of pacification. Its ranks would be filled up with retired bankers and insurance company executives. They could completely rebuild the crude economic structure of a foreign country. The elderly newspaper and radio editors and managers could supply a whole lot of American intellectual trash for the foreign people. The enlisted personnel who in private life were captains of American industry could have a whole foreign country on cigarettes and wheels in no time at all. And these are the foundation of any civilization. The conscripted politicians could teach the foreign hopefuls all the ins and outs of, well, you know, under-the-table deals and how to conduct a successful candidacy and all like that. In a matter of weeks, after storming the beaches, all these mighty architects of the American dream, these wrinkled but wise GI's, would transform alien lands into prosperous territories begging for statehood. With prospects of such affluent bliss, most countries would actually invite us to invade them. And we've never needed any pretext other than an invitation from a corrupt regime.

But if this calls for more senior citizens than we could supply, it might be necessary to have a war waiting list. Some countries that are fairly well off might just have to be told plainly that we wouldn't invade 'em under any circumstances. So the only thing then that stands between us and world peace and plenty is one little minor change in the draft law.

Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) founded Koinonia, an interracial farming cooperative in Americus, Georgia, in 1942. A Bible scholar, he is the author The Cottonpatch Gospel, a translation of the New Testament from Greek into colloquial southern English.


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