Thursday, December 2, 2010

Canada, basically

Forty-one years ago yesterday, the Selective Service System was re-instituted for the purpose of drafting boys for the Vietnam War. I remember it as a beer-y evening. The fate of 19-year-olds was being decided by a lottery and most were unhappy/angry/scared to death about it. My college roommate and I came late to the "party," sat and drank while the capsules were being pulled from the glass jar, and eventually thought as the evening wore on that we had missed our numbers. By the end we were jumping out of our skin, for I had received number 354 and he number 366. We were as safe as possible.

I often think of that time before the draft. My parents were living in Canada (I had lived there also for the last two years of high school) and I seriously considered jumping the border in the event of a low number. Ever since, Canada has been a kind of haven for me, in imagination if not in fact, a place where I knew life to be slower and richer and the people, being mostly recent immigrants, to be friendly and compassionate. In actuality, Maine has become that place for me, my own lucky lottery. Much of Maine might as well be Canada, of course.

I don't go so far as to imagine what life would be like if I had been forced to escape the draft. It would have changed my life (by the way, very few people should be allowed to use that phrase, which I heard bandied about in a Starbucks yesterday, only cancer victims and Megabucks winners), changed it physically, that is, but probably not all that much spiritually. By the age of 19 we are pretty much are who we are. (Besides, that way madness lies.) I would have ended up, I'm sure, in some kind of Maine.

I will imagine, however, that the re-institution of the draft for the purposes of the Iraq war would have made that war much shorter. I will imagine that the Afghan war would not have happened at all. I will imagine that young people would be out on the streets again, and even if they weren't, rich and politically connected parents wouldn't let them go to be killed. Now that would have been a life changer, for thousands.

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