Nineteen Years

Featured image: A memorial to fallen soldiers of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq located in Santa Monica, California.

By Miguel Von Fedak

Three days into the new year, Iranian General Qassim Suleimani’s assassination sent Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook into a frenzy. After recovering from their post-New Year’s blues, Americans woke up to #WorldWar3. [1] For a few groggy seconds, the country confused the hashtag for a headline. Scenes from protests, epic paintings, and declarations of war flashed across America’s collective conscience, beckoning forth a question family to American history: when’s the draft?

Forty-seven years after the draft’s termination, women praised sexism for exempting them from mandatory military service; video gamers compared kill streaks to see who would lead the charge; and Gen-Zers imagined themselves in their favorite war movies, crying beside the corpse of their dear friend. The draft crept underneath this generation’s psyche, spreading its roots into our blackbox of nightmares, forcing us to think about war as we never have before. You’ve probably stopped thinking about those nightmares, and for good reason— a draft isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The draft descends from the Constitution, a document deliberately designed to uphold the institutions of slavery, sexism, and colonization. Warfare, under this context, has served as the United States’ primary tool for imperialism. I myself have always found any and all war morally repugnant, but the Constitution details the ability to declare war as an essential political power. Barring a major overhaul of the entire document, war will always occupy a pivotal role in U.S. law, and considering that the majority of Americans like the Constitution, one can reasonably assume that another Constitutional Convention won’t happen this time next Tuesday. People who live in the United States are not helpless; we have the means to influence government policy, to discourage this country’s love affair with militarism without upending the entire Constitution. We can reinstate the draft.

When I moved to the United States in 2007, I went from residing in a country at peace to a country at war; I couldn’t tell the difference. The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 under the false promise of swift success; today, the nation remains mired in civil war, serving as a focal point in the world’s largest refugee crisis. [2] This nineteen-year blunder continues without organization, purpose, justification, nor awareness.[3] I, alongside other nineteen-year-old able-bodied citizens, sit here, in total denial that Uncle Sam is stepping on Afghanistan’s face. That denial did not exist during the Vietnam War. Throughout the Vietnam War, massive public action—protests, riots, and cultural upheaval—demanded every American to take a stance. [4] Public fervor forced a conversation that needed to happen. Some might argue that Vietnam was different, that it was a larger, more costly embarrassment to the United States. America’s time in Vietnam cost $168 billion, an equivalent of $1 trillion today. [5] The quagmire in Afghanistan has cost this country $2 trillion. [6] I would argue, however, that American perception is American reality. Vietnam is larger than Afghanistan because each of us knows Vietnam through more than statistics. We have seen the dead protesters, sympathized with the draft-dodgers, and heard the crazed politicians. All we see of the war in Afghanistan are numbers, and I bet that last figure on GDP elicited the largest reaction you have ever had regarding the conflict.

Growing up in the shadow of armed conflict is not the hallmark of this generation; its hallmark is the ability to ignore its existence. Those who lived out their adolescence in the 1960s know intimately what a nation at war should look like. As they chose their courses, declared their majors, and applied for jobs, they supported, protested, or derailed the war effort. The stakes are no longer the same. Today, the government pays for war while the poor incur the costs.

Working-class recruits make up a large portion of enlistees, many of whom join the military to get the social benefits and education they need to support their families.[7] Enlistees choose between a life with PTSD or life without basic necessities. A democracy that chooses to declare war must spread the costs of war across its citizenry, not concentrate them on its ostracized, disadvantaged inhabitants. The thought of forcing any American citizen to go to war, regardless of class, race, sex, political leaning, or opinion, affronts the American ideal of free will. Why not just let people volunteer? Besides the aforementioned injustices surrounding military benefits, the idea that anyone can make an informed decision to go to war is wrong. Nationalist propaganda, racism, and sexism have convinced generations of an American righteousness that does not exist. I do not know what war is, but I have read and heard from people that do. Their words amount to one conclusion: war sucks. A draft seems like the last institution that could undo this thinking, but without one, our generation will never take the time to properly consider what war entails.

The draft will never undo the injustices built into the American military complex. All the draft does is place some of the consequences of declaring war on the shoulders of those who make that declaration. Even under a draft, Americans will eliminate from their cost-benefit calculations the burned orphans, malnourished refugees, and devastated lands that follow violent conflict, but they will not ignore their own suffering. When a politician votes in favor of war, the draft forces them to vote in favor of sending their relatives, friends, and co-workers to the frontlines. America has always justified its wars as righteous battles against the forces of evil; if American politicians hold that belief, they will not cower from committing those they love to the righteous cause. Without a draft, war becomes a tool for personal gain, one which trades the blood of volunteer soldiers for financial and strategic gain.

The prospect of swapping out Yale blues for army greens terrifies me, but the fact that working-class Americans are bearing the burden of American militarism while Ivy-leaguers laugh at the memes sickens me. I don’t want the draft; I want to stop the laughing.

[1] Arango, Tim, Ronen Bergman, and Ben Hubbard. “Qassim Suleimani, Master of Iran’s Intrigue, Built a Shiite Axis of Power in Mideast.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 3, 2020.

[2] Almukhtar, Sarah, and Rod Nordland. “What Did the U.S. Get for $2 Trillion in Afghanistan?” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 9, 2019.

[3] Almukhtar, Sarah, and Rod Nordland. “What Did the U.S. Get for $2 Trillion in Afghanistan?” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 9, 2019.

[4] Editors. “Vietnam War Protests.” A&E Television Networks, February 22, 2010.

[5] Amadeo, Kimberly. “How the Vietnam War Affects You Today.” The Balance. The Balance, June 25, 2019.

[6] Almukhtar, Sarah, and Rod Nordland. “What Did the U.S. Get for $2 Trillion in Afghanistan?” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 9, 2019.

[7] Halbfinger, David M., and Steven A. Holmes. “Military Mirrors a Working-Class America.” The New York Times. The New York Times, March 30, 2003.

Miguel Von Fedak is a first-year in Berkeley College. He can be contacted at