A Fierce Love

Thoughts on the looming draft

| July / August 2004

It seems appropriate to write this column on Mother's Day -- a perfect, warm, breezy Sunday. The lilacs are intoxicating, my oldest son will be home from college in a few hours, and my stepson and daughter-in-law are coming over to cook dinner, so I'll have all my babies under my wing.

My middle son appears, only slightly ragged in the aftermath of last night's senior prom. This son will be 19 -- and eligible -- on June 15, 2005, when the draft apparatus could be ready to swing into operation for the first time since it ended in 1973. I see him and think of the original intention behind Mother's Day. In 1870, in Boston, Julia Ward Howe issued a call to women:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:
'We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.'

The twin bills currently in the U.S. Senate and House, proposed in January 2003 by Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC), would make this draft an equal-opportunity one -- women as well as men, no deferments (for the latest news, see draftdiscussion.org). The military rule of thumb is that there need to be twice as many soldiers in the pipeline as there are on active duty. By that measure, we are 125,000 short right now. Even with National Guard and Reserves tours extended. Even before we reap the payback of the hatred we are spawning around the world.

And where are the bodies going to come from to feed this insanity? My mind goes to the mundane: the pregnancies and births, the endless nursing, and years of interrupted sleep. I machinate on how to save my children. Ship them to my sister in Australia? To my daughter-in-law's family in Sweden? Or maybe the homophobia angle -- I've read that the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy may be the best loophole out of the military: Come out and you won't be allowed in. (I have lots of pictures of my children playing cross-dress-up.)

There are a thousand issues that inflame me. Like most of you, I am outraged by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. I think it is essential that we defeat Bush in November (though I am afraid that if we don't head off paperless voting, this coup d'?tat may be complete). I am distressed by continued environmental degradation, the unfairness of the criminal justice system -- the exhausting list goes on and on.

Somehow, I manage to hold the breathtaking enormity at the fringe of my awareness as I move through the details of my life. But threaten to take my children, and the mother tigress is unleashed. And if not my children, then some other mother's, in this country and in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else the Bush Doctrine leads us. 'We women of one country,' Julia Ward Howe said, 'Will be too tender to those of another country / To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.'

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