Draft coming, students told
By SUSAN ELAN
THE JOURNAL NEWS
November 5, 2004
Reinstatement of the military draft is imminent, war correspondent and author Christopher Hedges told a crowd of more than 120 students and residents yesterday at Manhattanville College.
“We are losing the war in Iraq very badly, but the Bush administration will not walk away from the debacle without trying to reoccupy huge swaths of the territory they have lost,” Hedges said. While working for The New York Times, he covered fighting in Central America, the Balkans and the Middle East, including Iraq during the first Gulf War.
To regain territory lost in Iraq, it will take double or triple the current 140,000 troops, Hedges said during the last lecture in a series called “The Costs of War.”
The reservists and National Guard members who make up half of the U.S. forces are stretched to the breaking point and need relief, he said, and the draft is the only way to assemble the numbers needed. Reintroduction of the draft will be made in the name of the war on terrorism soon after an attack in the United States or abroad, he predicted.
“The war in Iraq will no longer be an abstraction,” he said. “It will become deeply personal. In the next few weeks look for shifts in administration policy leading in the direction of an escalation of the war.”
Hedges encountered no detractors at Manhattanville, unlike his experience at Rockford (Ill.) College in May 2003, when he was booed off the stage while giving a commencement speech shortly after President Bush’s battleship announcement that the U.S. mission in Iraq had been “accomplished.”
On the contrary, many in the audience last night said they had braved rainy weather to hear Hedges indict the seductiveness of war and the dangers of mindless jingoism as an antidote to their depression over the results of the presidential election.
“It’s been a hard week and there are much harder times ahead. That’s why it is so important for us all to be together tonight,” said Connie Hogarth, who has a peace and justice center on the Manhattanville campus named after her. “After we finish grieving, we have to get back to working for peace and justice, and an end to this war and its killing.”
Hedges’ audience remained rapt as he wove poetry, mythology, history and Freudian psychology with anecdotes about colleagues lost on distant battlefields and his own brushes with death. He criticized military heroic ideals that thrive during war and the way war distorts the human imagination. In the fervor of war the individual sacrifices thought for a false sense of belonging to something larger, he said.
“At the end of the Vietnam War, we became a better country in our defeat,” Hedges said. “We asked questions about ourselves that we had not asked before. We were humbled, maybe even humiliated. We were forced to step outside of ourselves and look at us as others saw us. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.”
Those who confuse his anti-war stance with an anti-soldier position are mistaken, Hedges said. “War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics.”
Reach Susan Elan at selan@the journalnews.com or 914-696-8538. Reach Susan Elan at selan@the journalnews.com or 914-696-8538