The mission of the Men's Resource Center for Change is to support men, challenge men's violence, and develop men's leadership in ending oppression in our lives, our families, and our communities.

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Web Editorial - December 2004

Do You Feel a Draft?

by Michael Dover
MRC Co-Director

President Bush's Iraq war grinds on in its second year with more than 1,200 American dead (at least 50 Marines died in November's Falluja offensive alone), more than 8,000 wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost. With ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military is relying more and more on National Guard units to fill out their fighting forces. ("One weekend a month, my ass!" says one scrawl on a barracks wall in Iraq). At home, recruitment efforts have ramped up and the Internet has lately bristled with rumors of a revival of a draft. During the recent presidential campaign, Senator Kerry speculated that Bush would reinstate the draft in his second term, a charge the president repeatedly denied. Draft or no draft, the human cost of our continued military adventures falls most heavily on our young men, often those from poor and working class families. War may well be the oldest and most fundamental of men's issues.

The close identification of masculinity with war has been around since antiquity. Indeed, it's safe to say that many of the problems we associate with the male stereotype today--isolation, lack of connection with any emotions other than anger, readiness to resort to violence when conflict arises, excessive risk taking--are characteristics that have often been fostered in the process of making men into war-making machines. Throughout history, soldiers have been conditioned to fight by dehumanizing and regimenting them to the point that they will follow orders without regard to their own safety or survival. The Army recruiting poster says it all: Under a picture of a man stretching to reach upward while climbing, it proclaims, "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Vulnerability equals weakness equals non-masculine. Pain isn't a signal that something's wrong, it means you're not strong enough. When will we ever lay that old line to rest?

A lot of male socialization helps pave the way for young men to push away their "kinder, gentler" side in preparation to become members of a fighting force. From an early age boys are taught not to cry, that they should be ready to defend themselves with their fists or even go on the offensive if they expect to survive. Trust in this world is for sissies, unless it's with others who are willing to fight alongside you. Survival depends on domination or associating yourself with whoever is dominant.

Here at the Men's Resource Center, we take seriously our mission to support men and challenge men's violence. If we reject violence in the home or the schoolyard, can we accept the organized mass violence of war? From the earliest times, comfortable politicians have blithely defined their nations' "interests" and then sent someone else's sons (and now daughters) to kill and die for them. As long as young people continue to allow their bodies to be used as instruments of someone else's policies, war will continue to be an "option" for whoever attains power and wants to wield it. During the Vietnam War, opposition to the draft played a crucial role in turning public opinion away from the war. It also affirmed young men's right to redefine masculinity in nonviolent terms, to embrace connection and compassion as they rejected the male stereotypes that make the good soldier. "Make Love, Not War" could be viewed as the first slogan of the new masculinity.

Today's young men don't face a draft (yet), but they are required to register with Selective Service on their 18th birthday. And military recruiters are hard at work convincing the most economically vulnerable among them to join up. Eighteen isn't the easiest time to be making life-or-death decisions, but that's what registering for the draft or enlisting in the military calls for. Young people are asked to come to terms with the fact that they may be required to commit acts of extreme violence for reasons they may never understand or accept. For young men in particular, they may need to ask what society expects of them as males in today's complex world. That's what we ask every day at the MRC. And we seek answers that say "no" to violence in all its forms.

For information on alternatives to draft registration and military recruitment, visit the newest section of our Links page.

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