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Monday, April 26, 2004  

Analysis: New 'hero' symbolizes inequality

The Right blogosphere is as full of itself over in a casualty in Iraq as it has been since the reign of false claims about Pfc. Jessica Lynch. You recall that we were supposed to believe she went down fighting, and, was raped and tortured by Iraqis afterward. I was among the first bloggers to express doubt about that made for television version of events. The truth turned out to be that Lynch never fired a shot. The Iraqis who were accused of abusing her actually saved her life. One might believe people would learn something about the difference between fantasy and reality from watching the myth of Jessica Lynch disintegrate. Instead, we are privy to another round of myth making.

The new All American Hero is Pat Tillman, a white, middle-class former football player who is beng being embraced right and left by conservatives. (Well, not Left.) Tillman's 'heroic' act is being the only American casualty in a firefight in Afghanistan. An article that purports to give the details says his platoon pursued mujahedeen who ambushed them in rugged terrain.

[Lt. Col. Matthew] Beevers also gave a few more details about the firefight that cost the 27 year-old Tillman his life.

He said it occurred at 7:30 p.m. Thursday on a road near the village of Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost. After coming under fire, Tillman's patrol got out of their vehicles and pursued the attackers, then were ambushed. Beevers said the fighting was "sustained" and lasted 15-20 minutes.

He said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no information about what type of weapons were involved or whether Tillman died immediately.

Though the word 'heroic' should be saved for people who make a sacrifices for others, it is often misused. I will reserve it for soldiers who attempt to help or save comrades or civilians. A soldier who pursues his adversaries is just doing his job. Tillman is a soldier who died in the poorly conceived war on terror. I don't see any reason to elevate him over other people who have suffered the same fate.

My interest in the Tillman story is largely about what lurks beneath the surface. Tillman is being hailed partly for reasons of class and race. But, in a volunteer military, both his class and his race fail to carry their weight. People like Tillman, who have prospects in civilian society, largely eschew military service. Those who do not have better options, the poor and working-class, especially minorities, settle for the only jobs they can get. That has resulted in a military skewed toward a disproportionate share of America's least appreciated citizens. The Army has consisted of from 24 percent to 29 percent African-Americans over a twenty-year period. More than half of women in the Army are nonwhite. Hispanics are also disproportionately represented. The data from other branches reflect disproportions, as well. Nonwhites tend to be enlisted and relegated to low level jobs. Projections for coming years say the imbalance will continue unless there is government intervention. More legislators are questioning an unfair status quo.

Will Uncle Sam soon be calling? He might if some lawmakers have their way.

Some lawmakers said the United States should resume the military draft. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel said our forces are being stretched too thin and our volunteer army isn't large enough.

Locally, Senator Neil Breslin said he's also in favor of reinstating the draft. Breslin said a large majority of the military is made up of minorities and working class citizens.

He said, "What the draft does is it spreads risk among all economic levels, and it brings it closer to home because right now, inner-city kids, blacks and Latinos and poor rural kids are dying on a daily basis in Iraq, and it's not fair."

. . .Legislation is pending in the House and Senate proposing the draft be reinstated as early as next June.

The Congressional Black Caucus has been aggressively involved in the movement to reconsider conscription. The National Catholic Reporter has been following the controversy.

At the beginning of this year, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., along with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the Universal Service Act 2003, a bill requiring two years of compulsory military or alternative civilian service from all American men, women and legal permanent residents ages 18-26. The president would determine the number of people needed and the means of selection. Deferments would be limited to those completing high school, up to the age of 20, with no exemptions for college or graduate students. The bill, introduced in the Senate by Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., remains in committee and is unlikely to come to a vote in the near future.

I am leaning in the direction of supporting reinstating the draft. Seeing the fuss being made of over Tillman makes me more sure that is a goal to be pursued. Working-class and nonwhite people make up a disproprortionate share of our armed forces. Yet, when America watnts to create a hero, it selects a Lynch or a Tillman. People such as Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Watersbey, 29, one of the first wave of American casualties in Iraq, are ignored. It seems to me that the people who reap the most benefit from American society should be the ones most eager to defend it. That would be white middle and upper-class men. Instead, they shirk. There shoud be more Pat Tillmans in the military. If it takes reinstating the draft to end the imbalance, then that is what we need to do.

What's the art?

Kenneth Watersbey 10, is the son of an enlisted man killed in Iraq.

8:47 AM