"For the first time in our history we are entering a war of significant size...without drafting young men to fight the threat," Charles Moskos and Paul Glastris wrote recently in The Washington Monthly. For Moskos, a Northwestern University professor and author of the armed services' wildly successful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, this is an intolerable irony. The article's toldja-so title -- "Now Do You Believe We Need A Draft?" -- is the giveaway: After years of arguing for forceful social cohesion, Moskos joins the long list of pundits whose pet projects (in his case, Tojo-era mass conscription) have been magically justified by September 11.
Sadly, there's even less to the justification than meets the eye. The armed forces show a distinct lack of interest in a new draft (an inconvenience Moskos chalks up to institutional rigidity), and arguably have reached a state of professional specialization that renders conscripted legions unnecessary or problematic. It's hard to argue that forcing the services to feed, clothe, house, and equip massive new numbers of post-pubescents would have had anything but a deleterious impact on our ability to wage war in Afghanistan.
Thus, Moskos is pushing a free-ranging national service. In the spirit of team-spirit busybody and Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam, Moskos conceives an era of impressment for both civilian and military duties. If conscripts don't want to serve in the military, they can paricipate in civilian projects to be named later.
While Congress remains indifferent to the idea, a rogue's gallery of retired colonels and politicians has answered Moskos' call; and as the push for a draft gathers steam, we see looming administrative headaches. Sure, the information society can never have enough riveters and air raid wardens, but how many kids can America really keep busy with homeland defense or highway median beautification?
Ordinarily we'd reject the draft on general principles. But these are extraordinary times. It's time to pitch in with some suggestions for how America's new generation of draftees can fill what will no doubt be their many idle hours:
- Man the Butterball Hotline over holidays.
- Provide discount dog-walking to the Dept. of Homeland Defense.
- Assist Lynne Cheney's Council of Trustees and Alumni in interviewing 5,000 agronomy professors suspected of holding unpatriotic opinions.
- Ride Amtrak.
- Guard against terrorist attempts to introduce bio-chemical agents into the water at Sea World.
- Distribute copies of Bowling Alone to the homeless.
- Fill congressional representatives' seats during C-SPAN broadcasts.
- Send daily letters to the editor that begin, "Wake up, America!"
- Inspect Mr. Softee trucks for cross-pollination of rainbow and chocolate jimmies.
- Visit Ground Zero, site of the worst terrorist attack in history.
- Visit Ground Zero, soon-to-open chain of theme restaurants owned by Sly, Bruce, and Arnold.
- Monitor Internet postings for misuse of the who/whom distinction.
- Become slaves for the elderly.
- Ghostwrite three-dot "Nobody asked me, but..." columns for free Weekly Shopper circulars around the nation.
- Provide "local color" for visitors to New York City by dressing as Hasidim, construction workers, and Hare Krishnas.
- Revive America's fading poetry fad with a grassroots poetry slam campaign under the direction of U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.
- Become USO magicians.
- Assist producers of the various yellow pages in coordinating production and door-to-door delivery.
- Form a cordon around George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch to assure that nobody gets in -- or out.
- Assist local law enforcement "Toys for Boxcutters" exchange programs.
- Explain values of coerced patriotism and collective purpose to other draftees.