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May 29, 2004
Slaves? I Think Not

The First Mate and I had dinner last night with a couple who are good friends of ours from a non-profit for which we all volunteer. As usual when we get together, the conversation flowed over many topics for several hours, which is why you didn't see me post at all last night. We talked about everything except politics until the end of the evening when our friends were ready to leave. We usually skip politics because our friends are fairly liberal and they know that Marcia and I are fairly conservative.

On the way out, however, "Sally" asked me how long I thought we would be in Iraq, to which I replied, "Well, we're still in the Balkans, and I think we'll be out of Iraq before we leave there." This prompted a brief but spirited conversation, at the end of which she claimed that the Bush administration, specifically Rumsfeld, wanted to restart the draft, and that she wanted to leave the country (Sally has young sons, one of which is in high school now). When I told her that it was the Democrats that wanted to start the draft and that the Republicans opposed it, she scoffed, until I told her specifically that Charles Rangel and Fritz Hollings proposed it and that all the co-signers were, in fact, Democrats. Sally still didn't believe me, and I wound up discussing re-enlistment rates and our friend who's in Iraq now and what the men and women who are actually there have said about the mission.

I doubt I changed Sally's mind about anything, but I know she left with my words on her mind. The entire conversation got me thinking about Reggie Rivers' op-ed piece in yesterday's Denver Post on how he feels that the military practices slavery, not because Sally agreed with that position (I highly doubt she would) but because it indicates, like Sally's incorrect assumption about Bush and Rumsfeld, an ignorance of current reality and history that will prove dangerous in the long run.

Rivers, a former football player for the Denver Broncos, wrote yesterday that soldiers in Iraq are nothing more than slaves, unable to leave once inducted into the military, and that the government exploits them no differently than any antebellum plantation owner in the South did with their slaves:

Our military is one of the last bastions of slavery in the United States. At the moment, our slaves are stuck in a combat zone, getting killed and maimed, and there's nothing they can do about it except hunker down and pray.

Yes, our slaves signed up of their own free will, but most of them were as misled about their job as the rest of us were about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And I don't think "slave" is too strong a word to describe someone who is not permitted to quit his job no matter how dangerous it becomes or how much he hates it. For most of us, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and guaranteed that we have the right to withhold our labor. It doesn't protect soldiers.

Our armed forces recruiters are quite adept at making military service appear beneficial (it mostly is) and safe (it's not). The threat of war is minimized, because few rational people actually want to fight.

You might pass this off as the ravings of a deluded mind, but unfortunately Rivers represents a point of view that has a significant following. This opinion was much more prevalent, of course, during the Vietnam War, but the circumstances were different -- a large part of the military had not joined of their own free will but had been involuntarily inducted as part of the draft. Today, however, despite the efforts of Rangel and Hollings, the US armed forces consist entirely of volunteer forces, a fact that Rivers dismisses as irrelevant due to the evil machinations of "recruiters", a malevolent force that somehow convinces young people that armed forces don't see combat.

There are so many things wrong with Rivers' statement that it's hard to know where to start, but first and foremost, Rivers argues that enlistees aren't responsible for their choices. The volunteers somehow are dupes who don't know any better. In other words, they're idiots who need Rivers' protection. According to the NFL veteran, once they find out what combat means, they want to leave -- but the military won't let them just quit, and so they're slaves. Of course, they signed a contract explaining that giving two weeks' notice isn't an option, but in Rivers' world of professional athletics, a contract means little and loyalty even less.

The test of Rivers' hypothesis is in re-enlistment rates. If what he says is true, then the military must have tremendous problems getting combat-exposed troops to sign up for another tour. What about that?

There were no signs of the shrapnel wounds from a roadside bomb in Iraq as Staff Sgt. William Pinkley raised his right hand and swore once more to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Despite his wounds - and despite the rising death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq - he and other soldiers are signing up for another tour of duty, re-enlisting at rates that exceed the retention goals set by the Pentagon. ...

As of March 31 - halfway through the Armys fiscal year - 28,406 soldiers had re-enlisted, topping the six-month goal of 28,377. The Armys goal is to re-enlist 56,100 soldiers by the end of September. ... The Marines, which along with the Army has borne the brunt of combat in Iraq, said it already has fulfilled 90 percent of its retention goal for the fiscal year for getting Marines to re-up after their initial commitments. The Air Force and the Navy said they, too, are exceeding goals for getting airmen and sailors to re-enlist.

It seems that the "slaves" just might be, instead, intelligent, brave, and honorable young men and women who want to serve their country, who understand that being handed a rifle and being trained to use it means that they run the risk of going into combat. Rivers' hyperbole insults the men and women who serve this country, but it's not the only insult they've borne during this conflict. Rangel and Hollings have given their share of insult as well, claiming in slightly less inflammatory rhetoric the same concept as Rivers -- that these soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen are little but mindless naifs manipulated into dying for the rich:

Rangel said many people had joined the National Guard for economic incentives, or to feel patriotic and march in Memorial Day parades, or to respond to floods or other emergencies but not to spend a year in Iraq. ... My staff is researching now the number of people killed in action and wounded in action and where did they come from, said Rangel. Its a profile of who are the National Guard people and what are their backgrounds and how fragile are their economic backgrounds.

Are they people who thought theyd be spending a year in the combat area where they are fish in a barrel and there is no game plan at all?, he asked rhetorically.

Rivers can be excused for his opinion, but Rangel and Hollings cannot. Neither of them mentioned a draft when we started sending troops to the Balkans, where a significant contingent of American soldiers remain. Neither of them talked about a draft in the days following 9/11. Neither of them talked about a draft during Afghanistan. But because they oppose the war in Iraq, now they want to institute a draft that the Defense Department does not want -- precisely because they don't want "slaves" in combat! Why? Because Rangel and Hollings want to cripple American will to fight by presenting us with another domestic debacle, radicalizing the youth of the country and bringing us the 1960s all over again. They're gambling that the country would blame the Republicans, who would have to administer this disaster, rather than the Democrats who pushed it into law.

Which, ironically, brings me back to Reggie Rivers and Sally again. Naivet does exist, and I'm certain that some enlist in the armed forces with stars in their eyes, just as I see people like Sally who only hear part of the news and automatically assume that Republicans want to take her son away, or Rivers who thinks that contractual agreements were nullified by the 13th Amendment. The true danger to America isn't so much external as internal; the danger is willful ignorance, the kind that allowed us to believe that terrorists wouldn't attack America even as they did so again and again. It's the kind that believes Saddam didn't have WMD even after he slaughtered Kurds with nerve gas and chemical-weapons shells were discovered, or didn't have ties to terrorism even after the discovery of Salman Pak or the sponsorship of Abu al-Zarqawi (and Abu Nidal, or a host of others). It's the kind who sees our heroic and courageous young men and women in the armed services as nothing more than stupid victims, and the kind that thinks the solution to war is to create another generation of radicals.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 29, 2004 8:48 AM

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» Ever Wonder Where Reggie Rivers Went? from Cranial Cavity
Reggie Rivers is a former running back for the Denver Broncos. In his football retirement he has hosted a radio show in Denver, and is also a columnist for the Denver Post newspaper. Friday's edition carries an editorial by him... [Read More]

Tracked on May 29, 2004 6:22 PM



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