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Turning Twenty-Six
Dana Williams
For many young adults, milestones include the “Sweet 16”, the legal age of 18, or the drinking age of 21. For me, there was 26. You see, since turning 18. I have become seriously adverse to violence, especially its manifestation in war. For American men, 26 is the magic age out of the draft. I no longer will be drafted by the US government to fight another stupid war for American imperialism and capitalism.

I've been extremely privileged to celebrate such a milestone. I went to college and even graduate school. My parents wisely talked me out of joining the marines (who had nearly convinced me that I could learn lots of great computer skills and money in the service). And I've seen a number of my friends from high school join the armed forces-- Jason joined the Navy, Curt the Army, Jeff the National Guard. I never needed the “college money”and never really bought into “America über alles”.

I had enough education to allow me to read books by Noam Chomsky, which blew my eyelids off. At first, I couldn't fathom the things Chomsky said. Somehow, deep down, I suspected it all along. I've always had this sharpened sense of power and domination. It's been second-nature for me to view powerful institutions to often (if not always) be dominating forces.

Consequently, I suppose I know a great deal about American foreign policy, much more than the average American. Yet, I understand why people join the military. Most do not, I think, join the military in order to kill people or expand the American Empire. Most join because they a) need the money for college, b) their family is a military family and it's “expected” of them, or c) they want to see the world. However, the military tries to eliminate free thinking from most general enlistees and instill in them a feeling of moral superiority in American policies (regardless of what Chomsky says to them).

Military enlistment has continually been on my mind during the last year and a half, and for purely self-involved reasons. After the attacks on September 11th, 2001, I was struck by the realization that this would be a perfect opportunity for US power to utilize patriotism to restart the draft. Since I was not yet 26 I could be drafted. I knew that I would be one of the last ones they would pick, for a variety of reasons: I was too close to 26, I had two college degrees, and my political views are probably cross-indexed somewhere, indicating to the military that I would not be worth their time.

But, it still was there, that sense of unknowing the doesn't often strike my privileged life. I hypothesized in my head for hours afterward: what would I do if drafted? Would I run to Canada? Would I brazenly ignore it until eventually arrested? Would I go underground? If I went underground, how and where would I go? This is my generation's “Vietnam” or “Gulf War”, and I had never before had to even consider this. Clinton's Yugoslavian wars and tirades into Somalia never raised enough fervor back domestically to warrant a draft.

Now that such a possibility is gone (it now being two months past my birthday), I realize that my brief need to consider such possibilities has raised my awareness of other things that affect kids everyday: the choice of whether to enlist or not. In such dissent-crushing and civil liberties-smashing times, the military seems to even more attractive to kids. And neither media nor schools are offering any information to counter the hardcore PR campaigns by the armed forces. The media never brings up the issues of demilitarization or pacifism, while schools openly invite recruiters into their doors at intensified levels. Kids can find Junior ROTC brochures and Marine recruiters all over the place, but where are the brochures from the War Resister's League or the Central Committee on Conscientious Objection, or the presence of CO counselors?

There is a lot of work ahead for the anti-war and anti-militarism movement in this country. We have to do whatever we can to stop current and future wars, to reign in the jingoism and military budgets, to stop missile defense and Star Wars systems from being developed, closing the School of the Americas (and its dozens of counterparts), pull out troops and bases out of dozens of countries, and on and on. But, we also have to work at reaching the next generation of youth, so that they are even more committed to nonviolence than our generation.

I think that the peace movement is even more wide spread and deep in American culture than it was during Vietnam. So many more generations are active, there's so much more of a sense of how to resist war, and there is greater understanding of US foreign policy and power. But, every new generation includes large numbers of flag-worshipers and imperialists. And due to the reformist nature of “our” country and the greater lengths the military goes to hide its actions, the sinisterism of the politicians, and the unresponsiveness of the corporate media, we face a difficult task of convincing people who are understandably brainwashed.

We need to get into schools, to kids as young as possible, to do nonviolence training, to do conflict resolution training, to restructure history classes to discuss everything from Columbus's genocide to Bush's wicked “War on Terrorism”, to acculturate students through sociological teaching about the realities of America's class system and interlocking oppressions, and to install (at least) a fairer balance of peace-oriented literature and personnel to counter the bullshit that they get from the rest of society. And, why not go further and remove the recruiters from school altogether?

I don't want another generation of kids to have to ponder what I did, and to do what my friends chose. The military draft is slavery, and no one should have to face it. Nor should they ever have to consider becoming trained killers (or at least aiding-n-abettors) by joining for the “training”, “money”, or other “perks”. Let's demilitarize our minds and our world.