How to Protect Your Child from the Coming Draft

"Fighting should be reserved for genuine self-defense in the face of imminent attack, when no other help is available. Preemptive strikes and aggression disguised as self-defense won’t pass muster under the Golden Rule."

Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles That Will Transform Your Family

Draft? What draft?

Yes, there’s a draft going on right now. At the time of this writing it preys only on current members of the military: it’s called the "stop-loss" order, which unilaterally breaks the original agreement – and the trust – between soldiers and the government.

The stop-loss draft is just the first step. As soon as Mr. Bush gets America’s young people fighting two or more wars at once (you may have noticed that Iran is next), there simply won’t be enough volunteer soldiers to go around. The draft is coming.

Parents need to think ahead to protect their children from the armchair warriors in Washington, because avoiding the draft is a lot easier than avoiding combat after entering the military, whether by choice or by force. Consider Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who’s already served in Bush’s War of Terror and was so shaken by what he witnessed that he’s risking seven years in prison to refuse orders to return to Iraq.

Soldiers who seek CO can’t or won’t adopt the common coping skill of callous indifference to human suffering. But they’re punished for having a conscience: military lawyers often use this spurious argument to cast doubt on the soldier’s sincerity: If you didn’t already oppose war when you joined, then you can’t possibly oppose it now.

This is like saying that a toddler who touches the stove and gets burned can’t possibly change his mind and avoid touching stoves in the future. Human beings do learn – and change their minds and their hearts – from experience: That’s what makes us intelligent and moral beings.

When spiritually wounded soldiers apply for conscientious objector (CO) status on moral or religious grounds, military chaplains are often no help; in fact, they can make matters worse with their contemptuous words and attitudes. After all, they’re not paid to help our troops avoid committing atrocities or suffering debilitating nightmares and guilt.

Teach Your Child About the Immorality of Killing and War

As a parent surrounded with constant messages on TV, billboards, radio, and newspapers that the military is the best or only way for your child to be a "hero," it can be difficult to go against the popular grain by teaching that these messages are recruiting tools, not reality. To raise a moral, nonviolent child – and doesn’t the world need more of these? – you must sacrifice the comfort of "fitting in" with today’s violent American culture.

The first thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is talk with your child about the disconnect between what our society teaches through the schools – that physical conflict, bullying, and other forms of violence are wrong and counterproductive – and what our government and its media teach about the "glory," "heroism," and "nobility" of war.

You may wonder how to start – after all, you may not be one for talking about politics or war with anyone, let alone your child. Yet if you think about it, you’ve always taught your child about matters of right versus wrong, safety versus violence. From the day they begin to play with other children, you’ve taught your child how to handle conflict.

Do you encourage your child to hit others when he or she is angry? Do you advise your teenager to buy a gun and blow away classmates who bully or tease? Do you teach your child that might makes right, that it’s okay to kill a few kids in order to "liberate" their siblings from tyrannical parents?

Over the years, you’ve instilled moral values that reflect your love, concern, and wisdom as a parent – values that the U.S. government, its military, and its media spokesmen have no business tinkering with or reversing.

So even if you haven’t talked with your child about war and violence, begin today. Find popular books and movies that teach positive lessons about nonviolence; encourage him or her to consider the superior morality and intelligence required in the story for the main character to avoid using violence, even when provoked.

If you could only see what I’ve seen at Veterans Administration hospitals, you’d be fearful not only of what could happen to your child’s body in war, but of what could happen to the mind and soul. PTSD is the diagnosis (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) assigned to veterans whose thoughts and emotions continue to be affected by traumatic memories of combat, but grief is the fate of parents who can never take away the night terrors, sweats, temper outbursts, or underachievement that linger on for years and years.

Once your child is wounded mentally through exposure to combat, he or she may require a long period, or even a lifetime, of psychological help and medications. A common pattern – and a misleading one – is joy and the appearance of normalcy when returning home from combat zones, followed by the gradual awakening of disturbing memories and a feeling of "unreality." That’s when the trouble starts.

Document, Document, Document: Start a CO File for Your Child

This month’s issue of Mothering (Jan.-Feb. 2005) gives you the information you need to protect your child from the coming draft. Unlike other parenting magazines, Mothering is solidly on the side of parents (notwithstanding its title, it’s great for caring fathers, too), rather than big business advertisers.

If you can possibly get your hands on this issue (buy it or read it at the library), you’ll find detailed instructions for helping your child establish conscientious objector (CO) status. "Help Your Peace-Loving Child Avoid the Draft" is the title of the article by Helen James; it lists the activities and materials you’ll need to help your child legally avoid being forced into the combat.

Whatever your child’s age, taking these steps now could also help protect him or her from the terror of being harassed and prosecuted by the military the way Sgt. Benderman has been since he applied for CO status so that he wouldn’t have to be involved in U.S. aggression resulting in dead civilians, burned children, and the like.

The article notes that as a parent, you can help lay the foundation for future CO status, if and when your child is drafted (or forced back into combat in today’s stop-loss draft) by documenting your child’s opposition to war – all war.

As Ms. James points out, becoming a conscientious objector doesn’t require that your child be a strict pacifist, nor does it require a belief in God: "If the draft is reinstated, under existing regulations a young conscript wanting to claim CO status will need to prove that he has a ‘sincere’ objection to all wars.… His belief … must be religious, moral, or ethical, not political or pragmatic."

What to document? There’s not enough space here to cover all the pointers in the article, but in a nutshell, it suggests that you gather everything, in writing, that supports your child’s opposition to war. Recently, recruiters started calling my daughter at home, having gotten her name and number from school (where kids used to be safe) through Bush’s sneaky No Child Left Behind trick: She let them know that she was against war and that military recruiters were not to call her again. We’ll document her response to that call.

Antiwar efforts by adult family members should also documented. For instance, I keep copies of my letters to the editor describing my religious and moral values that prohibit the killing of innocent people through this war, even the War of Terror that’s advertised as "preventing terrorism," "finding WMD," "instilling liberty," or "spreading democracy." I will also keep a copy of the antiwar article you’re reading right now.

From antiviolence pictures your child has drawn to antiwar protests he or she has attended, a variety of documents can go into your child’s CO file. Ms. James gives an example involving her own son:

"One summer, when I picked Adam up from camp, his counselor reported that he’d happily hiked and participated in all the activities but wouldn’t join in the break-time war games. Wondering why children were even doing that in the first place, I asked her to put what she’d just told me in writing, for his CO file. She wrote, ‘Adam let the other children know that he was against war games and informed them that death was a very real consequence of war. I found him to be very strong in his attitude to promote nonviolence.’"

No matter how profusely politicians praise "our troops," the ugly fact remains that after the funeral with the military salute, your child will be quickly forgotten. The children of pro-war pundits and politicians, on the other hand, will stay safely at home, calling Mom and Dad, coming over for Christmas dinner, getting married, and having babies.

It isn’t fair, and you shouldn’t stand for it. My youngest child is 17, and my oldest daughter and her husband are 29 and 30, respectively, with a baby boy on the way. These individuals were not raised to kill, torture, or maim other human beings. And I wouldn’t trade my living, breathing, beautiful kids for all the praise and popularity in the world. I don’t want a graveside military salute, three-cornered flag, or computer-signed condolence card from Donald Rumsfeld, in exchange for the ones I love – they’re not for sale.