Monday, February 18, 2008

No more spinach ... and please pass the dessert!

At a church Men's Forum a few years ago — indeed, it was the "Just War Theory and Iraq" forum, held shortly before the March 2003 invasion — Elder Klaus suggested reading books by people with whom we knew we disagreed, in order to challenge our own thinking with a different perspective.

To that end, last August I finally forced myself to pick up the copy of Darrell Cole's When God Says War Is Right that I'd had around the house. A pro-this-war brother at Emmanuel Covenant arranged a bulk purchase of that title — also right around the time of the Iraq invasion — and I simply never managed to muster the wanna to take it up. But last August, I decided that I must, primarily for the benefit of this weblog.

I think I read two or three chapters, tops. (And managed a couple of corresponding posts, here and here.) But it was like slogging through a cold plate of cooked spinach. I figured it was probably good for me — but I really didn't like it. Cole's style was dry — not at all compelling. To make matters worse, I couldn't shake the suspicion that he was baptizing American militarism with the views of several early church fathers. Now, I don't really have a problem with the views of the church fathers — I'm convinced the Bible sanctions just warfare. But in the few chapters that I'd read (and in some of the peeking ahead) I got the feeling that Cole felt all of America's military engagements have been just.

Then, while I was still choking down the spinach, my lovely bride set some ice cream and hot apple pie out on the table! She'd chanced across The Coming Draft: The Crisis in Our Military and Why Selective Service Is Wrong for America, by Philip Gold, at the public library, and thought I'd probably be interested, so she brought it home for me to look over.

Gold snagged me right out of the gate, for several reasons:

• He can turn a bourgeois-witty phrase — "Conscription sucks so bad, you get hickeys on your brain just thinking about it" — and he's not afraid to use made-up words like "ponderization" and "humongouser" (as in "more humongous").

• While he most vehemently opposes conscription, Gold also "[clings] to the antediluvian belief that every American male should spend some time in uniform as a normal part of life and of citizenship." (Might he be sympathetic to a militia-based national defense?) And while he finds conscientious objection both "personally and politically abhorrent ... were the draft to resume, I would extend the right to everybody, no questions asked." Conscience first, Caesar second.

• Gold's own life actions reflect both his opposition to the draft and his convictions re. duty-based, yet voluntary, military service. While in his senior year in college in 1970, Gold received a draft notice, which he mailed back to the draft board with this note:

Dear Draft Board,

Thank you for sending me this induction notice, which I am returning to you. I have no intention of serving in the United States Army. I will never serve in the United States Army. Please stop wasting my time, your time, and the government's postage.

Sincerely yours,
Philip Gold

PS: I recently joined the Marines
Gold served in the USMC officer corps for 11 years. (Not only that, but he's Jewish, and not afraid to lay the Iraq debacle at the feet of the neoconservatives — yes, he uses the "N-word"!)

Upon attaining his Ph.D. in history at Georgetown in 1981, Gold was commissioned by the Discovery Institute "to do a book on why we need the draft back."

My crest not only fell, it hit the floor with an audible thud. ...

It wasn't what I wanted. But fifty thousand to write a book and a year as a senior fellow in a no doubt prestigious think tank held a certain appeal. And so began what turned out to be a twenty-five year ponderization of two of the strangest ideas that human beings have ever come up with.

First, that a democratic state has the right to tear its citizens away from their homes, families, and private endeavors in order to send them anywhere the government desires to suffer, fight, kill, and die.

And second, that the citizens of a democratic state have the right to refuse.
In short, Gold's stance — "respectful of the military but unimpressed by the uses to which it has been put" — is what motivated him to write The Coming Draft.

After tearing halfway through the intro of the library's copy, I decided that I simply had to order my own from Amazon. (There are currently 30 new & used available from $3.89.) "Of course," I told myself, "you still must finish the spinach before starting dessert." So I gave Diannne the library's copy to take back, and put my own copy on the shelf when it arrived a couple weeks later.

But alas, I simply lost interest in Cole's book. Other priorities, and ... well, you know.

But now my family and I have a meeting with our Congressman, Trent Franks, this Thursday. We intend to ask him to work to eliminate Selective Service registration. (If nobody wants a draft, why do we still maintain the machinery of conscription?) Rep. Franks is a fellow believer, and I intend to first appeal to him with a biblical argument against the draft. But I figure I'd better read The Coming Draft as well, for prep work. (Heck, I'll probably offer to buy him a copy.)

Pass the ice cream and apple pie, please?

Service vs. slavery

The subject under consideration is, narrowly, the draft; more broadly, military service. But broadest of all is the question: Is there, can there be, any morally compelling, rationally structured, and militarily effective relationship between service and citizenship in the world and the age now upon us?

... [I]ssues of conscription and service, although currently atop nobody's list of concerns, will matter again greatly. And sooner than anyone thinks.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Good Intentions, meet
Unintended Consequences

Good intentions are not good enough, and we should always be humble and accept the possibility of being wrong. The lesson of the law of "unintended consequences" of our previous policies is to realize in our current policies that ends never justify the means.

Pragmatic reasons for any policy must always be consistent with moral rationale. If bad means appear to achieve good ends in the short term, then it is simply that we have failed to appreciate the real costs which in fact outweigh the presumed benefits.

~ Prof. Abdullahi An-Na'im, Emory University Law School, cited
by William Fisher in "Charlie Wilson's War, Act Two"