While you were gone on break, we had four snowstorms here (made the skiers happy) and the zodiac was changed (made others way unhappy). This week makes the fifth snowstorm (more happy skiers). Also while you were gone, in Tuscon (as you know) 6 people were killed and 14 were seriously injured, including Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, in another irrational American shooting spree.
These and all events in the United States today, whether trivial or tragic, take place within a single envelope called "a nation at war," placing upon every action and activity the invisible but inescapable mark of war. Someone else is dying, perhaps at this very moment, while we are living on. Americans have been given no other role than to be by-standers while less than one half of one percent of our population does the hardest work. No matter what side of the war policy you're on, it's not a fair way to conduct any war. Until these wars end or are ended, don't we have to devise a way for all Americans to share this lop-sided burden? Otherwise, we occupy the seats reserved for "free riders."
Last Monday, with the help of some student volunteers and some expert support, the "Theater of War" staged a mock draft classification process in the atrium of the Murray-Aikins dining hall. I wanted to bring students a little closer to what it usually means to be a nation at war. This generation is the fortunate beneficiary of growing up in the age of the voluntary military. But by enjoying this de facto deferment from being drafted, the downside is that your stake in this country's policy and destiny has been reduced to practically nothing. And not just you, but all of us.
So I tried to focus students' sights on this unhealthy situation by dramatizing what if there actually were to be a draft (there won't, because the military does not want it)—how might you feel to be inducted into the military? Or rejected from it, for that matter? What if you were told your college days would be interrupted? A student or two complained about the inconvenience of being delayed for dinner. How inconvenient was that compared to the inconvenience of going to war?
In fact, you don't know for sure what our government will do when it needs more bodies for the military. This volunteer military, designed for short term purposes, has been able to fight two long-term wars only because so many re-enlist multiple times (again, how fair is that?). Sooner or later, you will be informed of another way more of you will share the sacrifice. We just heard Pres. Obama in the State of the Union Address last week actually urge institutions of higher education to open its campuses to military recruiters. How do you feel about that? Is it a good thing, because more of you will carry the military burden, or a bad thing, because it provides only for the single option of military service?
What if you were given more service options, including civic and humanitarian service? Maybe it's time to start talking about Universal National Service, where all young people between the ages of 18 and 24 would be required to choose some kind of service, like Peace Corps, Vista, Teach for America, military or others. To talk this over, I invite you to come to a Universal National Service Study Group at 8 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8, in the ICC (postponed from earlier this week due to storm). This very kind of thing is already done in a variety of ways in different countries. We might research the idea, adapt it, improve it, and then advocate for it. Who of you would like to get a national conversation going?!
Then, to bring more of our thoughts and feelings about this together, please consider attending an hour of "Reflection about Being a Nation at War" featuring poetry, song, dance, and image contributed or performed by your fellow members of the Skidmore community at 5 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11 in the Dance Theater.
Thoreau said he went to Walden Pond for two years simply to "front a fact," as he put it, to face the barest facts of life. Here's our chance to front another kind of fact, the mortal fact of being a nation at war. Only when we acknowledge where we are, can we go on to consider what our responsibilities as Americans today really should be.
Rick Chrisman is director of Religious and Spiritual Life, teaches occasionally in the Religion and Philosophy departments and suspects art is the one true religion.