Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer: AWOL; indeed a moral debate

Authors: Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer; Foreword by General Tommy Franks
Title: AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service ** and How It Hurts Our Country
Publisher: Collins, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-088859-8
238 pages, hardbound

This book was mentioned in a Washington Times syndicated column by Suzanne Fields, Nov. 6, 2006, the column titled “Not-so-smart college boys: The military teaches what universities don’t”.

I think you can tell the tone of the book from the title, and indeed that is the case. This book deals with the unequal burden of the risks and sacrifices it takes to protect freedom and democracy. At the end, not surprisingly, the authors discuss ideas for national service, with Mr. Schaeffer particularly willing to make it rather compulsory and rather tough. There is a bit of “rite of passage” mentality here, perhaps, though for both men and women. Compulsory service could become the great equalizer.

All of this sounds anti-libertarian, because it smacks of involuntary servitude. Actually, it gets into another area of morality that we used to understand, but have somehow forgotten in the past few decades of increasing individualism and demands for narrowing of the law. That is, you don’t take what you have for granted, and you share burdens.

We have cast this, software-like, as personal responsibility, except that for purposes of factoring it into libertarian or objectivistic terms, you could call proving that you can take care of other people and share in common efforts (“pay your dues”) as part of personal responsibility.

The authors mention the military don’t ask don’t tell policy for gays early (particularly in discussing the refusal of some universities to admit recruiters because of the Solomon Amendment). But the real place that I wonder about it is what would happen if the draft really came back (the reserve retention policy for Iraq amounts to a “back door draft”), or if military service was a preferred option in national service (which it probably would be).

In the early 1990s I took a computer programming job with a company that specialized in selling life insurance to the military. Now when President Clinton proposed lifting the ban on gays in the military, I decided to become involved in the debate. I had been thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) in 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I was gay, but I served in the Army 1968-1970 without incident, although I did not go to Vietnam and share the sacrifice with my own body. I decided to do my own book, well documented elsewhere, and that presented a conflict of interest. Fortunately, the company was bought by a larger company, and I made a corporate transfer to avoid the conflict and moved to another city. When my mother ran into problems, my absence could have threatened her care. I don’t want to go into too much personal detail here about that, but a sensitive point was that I did not feel that I should derive income directly or indirectly from the military if it could say publicly that I was not morally worthy of service were it to be necessary. That would have been true ultimately even if I had not written the book.

Social issues have been presented with surrogate problems narrow in scope (abortion, gay marriage, etc) that cover up the debate on deeper problems about how burdens and sacrifices are to be shared. Indeed, that debate must connect to our respect to human life. In the meantime, our individualism can be carried to such an extreme that with, one mistake, a person is through. (Indeed, in drawing our laws into narrow focus, we sometimes throw people who cross certain legal lines to the wolves – see the previous book in this blog.)

No comments: