About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Please, bring back the draft!
That problem has been addressed with increasingly sophisticated advertising campaigns aimed at "selling" the concept of patriotism. In fact, last year the federal government ranked 25th in an annual list of big advertisers, above Microsoft and Wal-Mart, spending a ghastly $1.2 billion (that's with a "b") on making death palatable to young Americans.
We are all familiar with the WWI poster of "Uncle Sam" pointing a finger at the bystander inviting him to help with the war effort, but modern advertising is getting slicker by the minute, promising job skills, college tuition, and of course parading a variety of apparently convincing one-liners, such as "an army of one" (an oxymoron if there ever was one), "the few, the proud" (presenting the Marines as some sort of elite warrior cast that would have been perfectly reasonable at the time of the Roman empire), or "be all that you can be" (as if your life's fulfillment depended on learning how to kill other people). Moreover, the various branches of the US military have become web savvy, with the army web site even giving out free downloadable war video games to entice people to enlist for the real thing.
The selling of the product, like in any successful advertising campaign, relies on association with popular cultural icons. Just in the same way as car commercials wants you to think you'll get the girl if you just started driving that equally beautiful (insert make and model here), the military associates itself with (surprise surprise) Nascar drivers and football games, and even asked Spike Lee (real surprise here!) to direct one of its commercials. Add to this the fact that the Bush administration is keeping a (secret, until recently) database of all potential recruits to be freely used by pushy, specially trained young officers, and the picture becomes sinister indeed (especially for younger students: how is it that in this country some people can make the decision to get killed for the greater glory of the nation at an age wher they are not allowed to drink? You would think the latter would help the first!).
The problem, of course, is that news from Iraq are making it increasingly difficult to sell the "product," especially to parents. They are referred to by the advertising agencies that work for the military as "the influencers," and are increasingly being targeted by ads themselves, to try to fool them into thinking that it's still a good bargain, especially for minority and/or poor families, to get the government to pay for their kids' education -- despite the increasing danger of getting them into arm's way.
All of this is what prompted New York Rep. Charles Rangel (a Democrat, of course) to ask for the reinstatement of the draft. In his words: "There's no question in my mind that if we had a draft we would not be at war in Iraq, because affluent families would not want to put their kids at risk. They're targeting poor white, black and Hispanic high-schoolers in urban and rural areas with these ads." So I say (as a convinced pacifist and former conscience objector), bring back the draft! Bring back democracy to the decision to go to war.