Do I Feel a Draft?

Twitter is a great help when it comes to not writing my memoir (or exercising, taking walks, doing chores, etc). Hella depressing though, especially the recent chorus of tweets from those who believe the military is rife with racism and Nazi worship. Yes, I know I’ve been out twenty years, but that wasn’t my experience at all, and I don’t believe things can have changed that much since I was in.

One of my lasting childhood memories is of going through sixth grade in a whites-only segregated school in Springfield, Virginia. I was not a politically-aware child, but even at twelve I knew something was wrong. From the third through fifth grades I’d been in an integrated Department of Defense school at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Many of my classmates there were black, and that was normalcy to me. Now, back in the States, black kids my age were nowhere to be seen. I knew it wasn’t right and I knew it would have to change.

I’m not naive about military resistance to President Truman’s 1948 executive order to end segregation in the military. Resist it the military did, but not for long. By the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 the fight was over and the military was way out ahead of the country in racial integration. Sure, racial tensions have disturbed the force from time to time since then, but never for long: military leaders are always quick to clamp down and IMHO the military remains the example for the rest of America to follow.

Military culture is the opposite of what we see with torch-carrying white supremacists (and, frankly, what we see in many police departments around the country). Sure, racists do join the military, recruit weak-minded followers while they’re there, and later use some of their military training once they’re out and terrorizing minorities in the streets of America. But that doesn’t originate in the military: it’s outsiders coming in, using the military for whatever they can get out of it, then returning to civilian life and the racist culture they originally came from.

Yesterday and today, I’m seeing headlines about military leaders condemning racism. Which is fine, except there’s something about the way the headlines are worded that makes me think the reporters and editors who wrote them believe the military is the source of the racism tearing the country apart, and that military leaders are just now beginning to realize it. What worries me is that people will read these headlines and come to the same conclusion. Considerably less than ten percent of living Americans have ever served in the military, so there are few of us able to counter this narrative, as I’m trying to do here.

My suggestion to military leaders is this: find the troops bringing white supremacism into the military and recruiting others, and show no mercy in drumming them out. How hard can it be? Any good noncom or company-grade officer knows who their shitbirds are, and the Aryan Brotherhood types must be the shitbirds of all time.

And that leads me to another suggestion, not to military leaders but to the president and congress: bring back the draft and stop creating a military caste in this country. Those assholes in khaki Dockers and white Polos we saw chanting “blood and soil” in Charlottesville? Had they spent a few years in the military, working alongside the rest of us, most of them wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

© 2017, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


2 thoughts on “Do I Feel a Draft?

  • Good column. I will say that I read the statements by the heads of the services and the impression you’re concerned about is not one that I got in reading the statements.

    Regarding your solution I don’t think that’s going to happen and I also think that even when the draft existed there was still a military caste with most officers being from the south. Even if that is correct their behavior was not in keeping with the current administration’s philosophy.

  • I spent my first 13 years serving in submarines and had my share of preconceived notions walking in the door. Working closely with Sailors from all backgrounds quickly put those to rest. When I was commissioned in ’92 I heard stories of racial tensions on board surface ships, mostly carriers. And there was some of it but it was dwindling as I began my last 22 years (predominately carriers) of service.

    Interesting as I joined the carrier community and we were just integrating women into combatant ships. Lots of issues there, mostly with what I refer to as “stodgy old white men” resisting their presence. As I saw in the Silent Service, we (as a community) quickly got over it. There were pockets of misogynistic behavior and some of that remains, but those are in serious decline. That’s not to say we don’t still have work to do, but I’d say we remain leaps and bounds of our civilian counterparts.
    And as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell went away, it was remarkable how nobody really cared. We all knew they were there, we for the most part knew who they were, but they were shipmates and it wasn’t a big deal.

    Of course, there are still those who objectify women, judge people by the color of their skin / religion / sexual preference / etc. When discovered, they tend to make headlines and fodder for grandstanding politicians. I stay in touch with close to a hundred of my Sailors on a regular basis. It still pisses me off to no end when one of my kids tells me of some E-9 hitting on them, or some of the shit they have to deal with but every one of them will tell me those episodes are fewer and farther between.

    As a recently retired Senior Officer, I can assure you we still look closely at everyone as they check on board, looking for those young men and women who were raised to hate and a great deal of effort goes into convincing them to change their ways. In the end most come to see the light but there are a few who are shown the door (with a less than honorable discharge and an RE-4 characterization of service)

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