2002-11-02 / Columnists

From the G-Man

By Gary G. Toms

By Gary G. Toms

It's Vietnam All Over Again

While an attack against Iraq by the United States appears imminent, people are divided over what America's policy should be in ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The Bush Administration has received criticism from prominent figures in Washington, and the public, regarding "The Bush Doctrine" and its pre-emptive strike policy. I recently met one of his staunchest critics, Robert Kaye, who hails from Belle Harbor. Kaye may not be recognized as a leading military figure or major politician, but he does have a keen sense of how the military works and how it had a profound impact on the education system during one of America's most turbulent periods, the Vietnam War.

Kaye is a former Draft Board Advisor with the New York City Board of Education. The 30-year veteran of the education system (working as a teacher, a Dean and a Draft Advisor- but not concurrently), served as an advisor back in 1972, which was the focal point of American involvement during the war. Kaye worked at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, and he dealt with conscientious objectors (those who were strongly opposed to fighting in the war for religious or personal reasons).

During the Vietnam period, Kaye became very concerned about the fact that military representatives were actively pursuing recruits in high schools across the country. Back then, a number of protests and riots broke out in high schools and colleges across the country, and it was only then that the government responded by working with the education system by placing draft board advisors in the institutions.

In looking at the potentially explosive situation with Iraq, and now very possibly North Korea, Kaye believes that we are headed for "Vietnam II," and that those who will be in the most danger are high school students across the country. He noted what the consequences would be if draft counselors were not placed in high schools if the draft is enacted during the war with Iraq or other countries.

"The students in the high schools of New York City are 60-75 percent minority. They will be affected to a very large degree. The rich kids won't go into combat detail. They are the ones that will be protected. They will get sent into non-combat units, receive special deferments, or get waivers to attend college. That's exactly what happened in the case of President George Bush, former vice-president Dan Quayle, and a host of other prominent leaders. They were not part of combat units. It will be the same situation as the Vietnam War all over again, and most of the people that will die in the front line will be people of color."

The retired teacher explained that with 200,000 troops needed to fight in Iraq, the government and military would have to reinforce the number of troops in the event of massive casualties.

"Where do you think those reinforcements are going to come from? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. They will focus on the high schools, and those who signed up during selective service registration," he stated. If you can't get these kids to volunteer to go and fight, the draft would be the next logical step, and there will be fierce resistance from young people all across the country."

Kaye is very concerned that if a full-scale war is launched, and military personnel are sent into the high schools, many kids are not going to know what their rights are.

"The Board of Education has to look into this and take it very seriously. It is possible. They have to set up safeguards in case these situations develop. Having draft counselors in the schools would be crucial if the draft is reinstated. If not, I think the outcome could be far worse than it was during the Vietnam period."

Although I am well past the draft age, or at least at an age where a generation of young men and women will get the call before I do, I am very concerned about the potential for abuse by the Bush Administration and the Armed Forces. My fears were validated in a conversation I had with a decorated United States Army veteran (a Green Beret), who took the U.S/Iraq situation to another level.

"What people don't understand is that Congress has been in 'war' mode ever since Bush's war resolution was passed. I firmly believe they were in that mode ever since September 11. All it would take now is a disaster of catastrophic proportions, with massive American casualties, for the draft to be reinstated. The Congress does not have to have the support of the American people to reinstate it. These kids can say they won't go, but the fact is they are going if we become engaged in a full-scale war. Hell, I know I have to go! What makes them think they won't have to?"

I strongly believe that Robert Kaye's assessments call for a national dialogue on this subject, if not to defend the military's position on "recruitment," then at best to quell the fears of America's young people who fear a possible reinstatement of the draft.

The fact that no leading African-American figure or organization (Jesse Jackson, Roy Innis, Rep. Charles Rangel, Rep. Maxine Waters or the NAACP) has ever addressed this matter is unconscionable! Leaders lead, and they have been noticeably absent regarding this issue. With the passing of Bush's resolution, they should have immediately considered the fact that the draft could be reinstated, particularly if America is called to fight in other regions of the world. The Green Beret agrees.

"There is no way you can tell me that the elected officials don't know what's going on. They know! They must be held accountable, and if they choose to remain silent, they should be seen as nothing more than highly paid cowards! For people who claim to care about the youth of America, particularly those of color, they need to start speaking out on what could become a pivotal issue in the 2004 Presidential election."

People reading this column will contend that I am playing the race card in looking at the possible war with Iraq and other countries that harbor terrorists. This is what I would say to them. How can I be accused of playing the race card, when it was Kaye (a blue-eyed, highly educated and well-respected white man from Belle Harbor) that came to ME for help in dealing with this potential time bomb?

I believe, unequivocally, that military personnel will actively pursue high school students because several military reps showed up at The Wave last week. They inquired about taking out half and full-page ads, and they indicated that they had been scouring the area and talking to Rockaway kids, on the streets and in the high schools. That may seem harmless to some people, but I have a problem with it. Why are they doing this without parental consent? Why don't they request that parents be present during their "pitch?" These are still young kids no matter how you look at it. If they need the assistance of an adult in determining which college they should go to, they would certainly need help in making a major decision like joining the military.

The other thing that should be taken into consideration is the fact that the parent may already have plans for their child to attend college. Moreover, parents may want to ship their kids to a specialized school in Ireland or Spain. By excluding them from the conversations, the military is undermining the future goals parents may have set for their children.

In my view, what these recruiters are doing is a violation of one's civil rights. They are probably meeting with these kids, and making them all kinds of false promises, to get them to sign on the dotted line. Why now? It's because they know war looms, and they have to replace the soldiers that are going to come back in body bags! They are trying the simple approach first by talking to kids, and if this doesn't increase enrollment, then they can claim to have a valid reason for wanting to reinstate the draft. Is that deep enough for you?

The last time Rockaway had recruiters, or a recruiting station, in the area was 1987. The recruiting station was located in the Far Rockaway Shopping Center. So, I asked them, "Why the sudden interest in recruiting in Rockaway?" I don't think they appreciated my asking them that. They just smiled, and they never answered the question. For me, that spoke volumes. Furthermore, it confirmed everything Robert Kaye has been trying to tell the public for the last several months.

See you next week!

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