Bill Moyers discusses how bringing back the military draft would force the leaders in Washington to fight the war in Afghanistan properly or end it outright.
NARRATOR: It’s Firing Line with William F. Buckley.
BILL MOYERS: Watching the CBS Evening News on Afghanistan this week I thought for a moment that I might be watching my grandson playing one of those video war games that are so popular these days.
REPORTER: An American military convoy traveling northwest —
BILL MOYERS: Reporting on the attacks that killed eight Americans, CBS turned to animation to depict what no journalists were around to witness. This is about as close to real war as most of us ever get, safely removed from the blood, the mangled bodies, the screams and shouts.
October, as you know, was the bloodiest month for our troops in all eight years of the war. And beyond the human loss, the United States has spent more than 223 billion dollars there. In 2010 we will be spending roughly 65 billion dollars every year. 65 billion dollars a year.
The President is just about ready to send more troops. Maybe 44 thousand, that’s the number General McChrystal wants, bringing the total to over 100 thousand. When I read speculation last weekend that the actual number needed might be 600 thousand, I winced.
I can still see President Lyndon Johnson’s face when he asked his generals how many years and how many troops it would take to win in Vietnam. One of them answered, “Ten years and one million.” He was right on the time and wrong on the number — two and a half million American soldiers would serve in Vietnam, and we still lost.
Whatever the total for Afghanistan, every additional thousand troops will cost us about a billion dollars a year. At a time when foreclosures are rising, benefits for the unemployed are running out, cities are firing teachers, closing libraries and cutting essential maintenance and services. That sound you hear is the ripping of our social fabric.
Which makes even more perplexing an editorial in THE WASHINGTON POST last week. You’ll remember the “Post” was a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq, often sounding like a megaphone for the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine. Now it’s calling for escalating the war in Afghanistan. In a time of historic budget deficits, the paper said, Afghanistan has to take priority over universal health care for Americans. Fixing Afghanistan, it seems, is “a ‘necessity'”; fixing America’s social contract is not.
But listen to what an Afghan villager recently told a correspondent for the “Economist:” “We need security. But the Americans are just making trouble for us. They cannot bring peace, not if they stay for 50 years.”
Listen, too, to Andrew Bacevich, the long-time professional soldier, graduate of West Point, veteran of Vietnam, and now a respected scholar of military and foreign affairs, who was on this program a year ago. He recently told “The Christian Science Monitor,” “The notion that fixing Afghanistan will somehow drive a stake through the heart of jihadism is wrong. If we give General McChrystal everything he wants, the jihadist threat will still exist.”
This from a warrior who lost his own soldier son in Iraq, and who doesn’t need animated graphics to know what the rest of us never see.
So here’s a suggestion. In a week or so, when the president announces he is escalating the war, let’s not hide the reality behind eloquence or animation. No more soaring rhetoric, please. No more video games. If our governing class wants more war, let’s not allow them to fight it with young men and women who sign up because they don’t have jobs here at home, or can’t afford college or health care for their families.
Let’s share the sacrifice. Spread the suffering. Let’s bring back the draft.
Yes, bring back the draft — for as long as it takes our politicians and pundits to “fix” Afghanistan to their satisfaction.
Bring back the draft, and then watch them dive for cover on Capitol Hill, in the watering holes and think tanks of the Beltway, and in the quiet little offices where editorial writers spin clever phrases justifying other people’s sacrifice. Let’s insist our governing class show the courage to make this long and dirty war our war, or the guts to end it.
BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. Log onto our website at pbs.org and click on “Bill Moyers Journal.” You’ll find a web exclusive conversation with the political analyst Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. There’s also more from economist James Galbraith and the Journal’s complete coverage of the financial meltdown and bailout.
That’s all at pbs.org. I’m Bill Moyers and I’ll see you next week.
This transcript was entered on May 15, 2015.