February 1, 2013
DRAFTEE OR VOLUNTEER, Part I
Those of you who know me are aware that I’m a pretty relaxed guy, diplomatic to my detriment, and consistently gentle (I hope).
So, you might ask, why would I write a musical story about soldiers and warfare, in lieu of my temperamental track record my lack of military service?
Or, to state it another way, why did I feel emotionally drafted to volunteer a story about military protagonists when I could have taken some of the thematic material Lydia had given me and gone a different way?
Well, for one thing, I grew up in a family in which the morality of warfare was debated constantly. My uncle and my brother were conscientious objectors (meaning opposition to all wars). I can remember noisy conversations between my father and my brother on while I contemplated the floor or the ceiling and wondered how I could tear myself away to read some historical novel about a war.
For another, for over five years straight, I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace every year. For me, it’s still the most compelling historical novel ever written. (Some might quibble with my labeling it that way, but it is an accurate, if admittedly questionable use of the term.)
Another factor is my employment for the last eight years at Norwich University, the oldest private military college in the country. I’ve enjoyed my time there, and I’ve been immersed in supporting military undergraduates and graduate students. I’ve met a lot of military folks that I would not have met otherwise, a surprising amount of them female. (If someone had told me years ago I’d been in such a situation, I’ve have thought them mad.) I’ve found these soldiers, some already combat veterans and others officers in the making, varied and intriguing.
Finally, in my copious free time, as an independent historian as well as the holder of a master’s degree in international relations, I’ve had the opportunity to learn, write, teach, and think about the issues of war and peace. I’ve stated that I think that warfare is the most militantly coercive political activity, but that phrase, while well-turned, doesn’t help me resolve my conflicted feelings about war.
I am dubious about war, but I am equally dubious about wars in a penultimate context, ie, the “last war”, wars to “avoid” more wars, or wars of “ideology”, because they’re the deadliest, most total wars of all. I’ve told my students to be skeptical of the motives of those, from Kant to the present, who are proponents of this sort of perfective enterprise.
As David Bell, for one, has written, the almost endemic, “cabinet wars” of the 18th century, were relatively small scale affairs, amoral, with a relatively few casualties, and those limited, by and large, to professional soldiers.
By contrast, the wars of the Napoleonic era, by contrast, as well as those from 1914 on, were wars with an ideological bent, to export an ideology, to be the last war, to protect peoples from “terror”, to ethnically cleanse, or to perform some other endeavor that demonize enemies and produce enormous destruction and casualties among soldiers and non-combatants alike.
Another piece of disclosure: Vietnam was an issue for me, but not the big one that it was for those my brother’s age. For me, it was feminism. The draft was gone by the time I was of age, but I was awash in all sorts of discussions at college, and my best friends were almost all women.
This ambivalence toward warfare, my wish to always prize women’s experiences, and my unexpected exposure to military students all combined to inform my voluntary acceptance of being drafted to write about the military experience in this particular opportunity.
Next Time: DRAFTEE OR VOLUNTEER, Part 2, CONSCIENTIOUSLY OBJECTING
Lars lost his battle with