- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this space about the terrorist rats at Club Fed in Cuba living the good life in comparison with their American Regular Army guards. A grunt wrote: "A Marine general came right down and read your column to us, and things immediately began to improve. We got hot chow that very next day and cold beer that night."
An Army officer had canceled the Marine general's beer order. Apparently the thinking went that the troops we trust to defend us with their lives can't be trusted with a can of beer. Another MP wrote: "Your article got everyone's attention. Even our Army leaders are now visiting us and acting like they care about our welfare."
The soldiers who blew the whistle say their communications are monitored, and they've been told to clam up when the press is around. They're regulars, the Army is their job, and almost 70 percent are married, with mouths to feed. Since sounding off is a sure way to get on the CO's black list, they're superparanoid about being ID'd.
That's nothing new. I saw the same censorship during Desert Storm, in Haiti and during our ops in ex-Yugoslavia. Nothing like a Top Secret Pentagon stamp to cover up bad leadership and botched missions such as "Black Hawk Down."
So our regulars either accept the gagging drill and play the game, or they find a new profession while the rest of us rarely pay much attention to what's going down in the armed forces unless it personally affects us, our family, our town.
In 1965, when our all-volunteer forces first went to Vietnam, Jane and Joe Average Civilian were similarly disconnected. And while almost everyone deployed to 'Nam instantly knew it was a bad war and that our forces were ill-trained to fight their veteran guerrilla opponent, no one sounded off. Not until the draft kicked in and planeloads of dead conscripts began coming home in caskets did America's moms and dads start asking hard questions and getting the straight skinny from their sons. At the end of the day, it was the draftees who kept our politicians and brass reasonably straight and caused Lyndon Johnson to hang it up and Richard Nixon to finally pull the plug on that ill-conceived conflict.
Now we're engaged in an even more difficult, more complex war that could well become our longest and our most costly in terms of casualties and dollars. With it being waged right here in the United States, with our very way of life on the line, the burdens of battle should be more intimately borne by us all, not just by our pricey volunteers. The draft would bring this war home to every family in America and if our own kids' lives were on the line, you had better believe that we would watch the threat conditions and how and where the war was being fought even more closely than the saga of Enron.
Our military would be infused, as it was during World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam, with sharp citizen soldiers who would not only be fulfilling their civic duty and reducing the high cost of defending America, but also would be keeping the Pentagon straight. With their proud record of exposing the trespasses of the brass, draftees are Olympic gold medal whistle-blowers.
It would also be a plus for our youngsters most of whom need the military as much as the military needs them. Too many have lost their way because their parents and our institutions haven't given them the right values to be good citizens and lead worthwhile lives. No question Uncle Sam's drill NCOs could provide the moral compass.
And consider the positive ripple effect on our country if the kids of the powerful, the connected, the privileged and those who take all the wonderful gifts of democracy for granted without ever thinking about who pays the price were defending our country side by side and back to back in the melting pot with their patriotic regular brothers.
Though national service is a turnoff to so many, it has kept our country free since we booted out the Brits. And those who have had the privilege of wearing the uniform come out of it much better Americans. Maybe it's time to sow the seeds for a Greatest Generation II.

David H. Hackworth is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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