If you are the type of person who blames the spate of mass shootings on our gun culture, ask yourself: Why has this gun culture taken root? Is there something different about Americans’ relationship with guns in 2017 from their relationship with guns in 1977? There is. If you believe guns are the root of mass shootings, and you want to stop them, then bring back the draft.
Hear me out:
The United States is a warrior nation and always has been. Less than 250 years ago, we earned our independence from the dominant global empire of the time by waging war. A few generations after that, the Union was tested and preserved by a “total war” strategy pioneered by General Grant.
A few generations after that, we ascended to the pinnacle of global power through the major wars of the 20th century—all of them fought by conscripts.
WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam all combined elements of a permanent, professional military with legions of draftees. The Vietnam war, rightly or wrongly, was unpopular. In no small part, it was unpopular because those 18 to 21 year old men who couldn’t get a deferment through student status or for health reasons went overseas to fight an unpopular, arguably colonial war, and tens of thousands of them came home in body bags. By 1973, America had had enough and the draft was ended. Since then, our wars have been fought by volunteers. Volunteers have fought our longest war, in Afghanistan, for 17 years and counting.
When a society sends its young men to fight and die in the mud, it reacts differently depending on how those men and women are selected. When those men are drafted, and forced to go to war, there can be great angst, a feeling of being wronged, a feeling that veterans are victims. This is, for some on the left, a favorite narrative. That even though we have a professional, volunteer force, men and women in uniform are somehow victims, being used.
For many, especially on the right, there is the opposite sentiment when the force is a volunteer one. All veterans are heroes, all things martial are to be lauded, and support of veterans and national effort involves an almost worship of the military culture, to include the tools used by our nation’s warriors.
The evidence is all around us, in plain view. Since 9/11, fueled by fear over terrorism and the blurred line between civilians at home and soldiers at war, we have seen an explosion of martial worship. Hipsters today wear beards that look a lot like those that seen on special force members returning from Afghanistan in the 2000’s. Tactical backpacks with Molle gear have become the norm for a simple hike on a Saturday afternoon. Tactical firearms are hot sellers, not because veterans are buying them after returning home from the battlefield, though some do, but because a generation of men who, instead of enlisting after 9/11, stayed home and allowed others to fight in their stead wants them. They want them to go to the range and shoot steel, and feel a sense of manliness they associate with the imagery and the weapons of war. The top selling video game in 2017, Call of Duty, allows young men to fantasize about glorious deeds in battle, with no exposure to actual danger. Even coffee companies and baby carriers have become tacticool. It’s not an accident.
When a generation is not asked to serve their country in a time of war, its feelings of envy and guilt manifest themselves in odd ways. One of those is to purchase a weapon of war.
Look, I don’t think we should bring back the draft. But I know that asking a small segment of a population to fight our wars without common sacrifice had led some to hero worship and a fetishization of all things military. At Veterans For Responsible Leadership, we know that the vast majority of veterans are neither heroes nor victims. Some are, and we should honor those heroes and help those victims. But painting all veterans with one of those two brushes is problematic, because it leads to hero worship when a simpler phrase would suffice to describe these men and women: a citizen who performed their duty.
If you don’t think civilians need semi-automatic rifles, maybe it’s time to ask more instead of less from the generation now reaching adulthood. After 9/11, my generation wasn’t asked to do anything more then go shopping. What does it mean to be a man in a nation that no longer asks its men to fight?
Square that circle and you will do more to unravel gun culture then any protest on the National Mall.