I can't believe I missed it! Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the first United States draft lottery drawing, Every young man my age and many older and younger waited in front of their TVs with sweaty palms and pounding hearts (I'm not kidding) as the numbers came out of the barrel. And those in this photo were the "old white guys" who did it. The one drawing the number is Republican House Armed Serviced Chairman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) and the man to his right is the (then) despised Chairman of the Selective Service (the Draft) General Lewis Hershey.
OH and one more thing: just beyond that camera, over to the left, was me. Sitting with a telephone and reading each drawn number to the CBS News studio where the number was then posted on the screen. Each number was a birthday, and the order in which they were drawn determined the likelihood that the men in the list would be drafted and, most likely, go to Vietnam. First birthday drawn - lottery number 1. Last birthday drawn - lottery number 365.
As I read the numbers into the phone, I was reading death warrants. Of men my own age. And I knew it.
Every number, every birthday, could be someone I knew - an old boyfriend, a cousin, someone's brother, a high school classmate, a teacher, another someone's son. The war was real in a way it hadn't been before, even though there had always been a draft. Up until the lottery, college students and graduate students were deferred and so were married men. In fact, there were more than a few weddings to keep boyfriends home.
Many of these rules, which were, after all, based on class since there were so many more white middle class men in college than other groups, were wiped out when the lottery began.
That meant that on a theoretical level, I should have been proud. My country was spreading the risk, spreading the pain - and even if I opposed the war, I knew that others were not being asked to fight it for me and my peers anymore. Those we loved were also at risk. All I felt though was fear, and anger, and despair. Which is probably not a bad way to feel when loved ones are about to be drafted to go fight in a "dirty little war" in Vietnam.
So today, after the President's speech last night, I wonder. We know the military prefers a volunteer military even with all the re-deployments and disruptions. It's building a "military class" in our country of people who know things we don't - won't learn. And they're proud to be there, scared or not. It's effective. But is it fair? Is it even productive, when it insulates so many of us from an imminent sense of loss? When we never have to fear the husband in a wheel chair, the son whose PTSD will not fade and, worst of all, that dreaded knock at the door,