A New Generation Watches War With Mixed Emotions
NEW YORK — Students at New York's Fordham University are more likely these days to notice the 228 names that are etched onto the walls just inside this Jesuit University's imposing, turn-of-the-century chapel.
A memorial to students at the university who died in battle during World War II, the list is a bronze reminder of the possibility — increasingly real since President Bush's September declaration of a worldwide war on terrorism — that young American men will be called upon for service by the United States military in the years ahead.
Not since the Vietnam War have American males faced the real possibility of a military draft. And here at Fordham, just miles from the site where two hijacked planes took down the World Trade Center Oct. 11, student feeling is mixed.
“I think that if we did end up going to war and they needed me I would go,” said freshman journalism major Mike Moriarty, 17.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness in Lavonia, Mich., said that military efforts now don't require a draft.
“We don't know what the future will be,” she said. Before the United States would issue a draft, it would have to be “something on the scale of World War II. More than a one-front war.”
The draft was repealed by the Nixon administration. To reinstate it would need an act of Congress. Young men still register for it, in case it is ever reinstated.
Nonetheless, she said it is by no means unthinkable that the draft would return.
A native of Elizabeth, N.J., Moriarty said he trusts the government's judgment of a just war.
“If the U.S. decided this was the best decision, I'd be behind it because I believe in our ideals,” Moriarty said. As a Catholic, Moriarty noted, the Pope's recent defense of the right of a country to protect itself against aggressors solidified his support for America's military actions in Afghanistan.
“If my Church is behind these acts,” Moriarty said, “then I am because then I know that I'm doing the right thing.”
The Holy Father, however, has not commented specifically on current military actions, but merely on the principles of just war.
A group of freshmen who were headed to the cafeteria for dinner on a recent evening offered differing views on their duties as citizens and Christians in responding to the attacks on American targets by terrorists.
“I would try to do everything in my power not to go,” said 18-year-old Jamie Coppola, whose family lives in Norwalk, Conn. Asked what he'd do if Congress reinstated the draft, Coppola said, “I don't know what I'd do, but I'm definitely not willing to fight.”
“I've thought about it coming up and I'm with Jamie,” said John Merlin, also 18, from Little Silver, N.J.
Coppola and Merlin, similarly dressed in jeans, new sneakers, and baseball caps, laughed and teased each other as they thought about the draft.
But Patrick Wood, 18, of Montgomery Village, Md., saw in the recent events a duty to serve. “I wouldn't enlist at this point,” Wood said, “but if my number came up, I'd go. I would not try to dodge it because I think it's my duty.”
Wood corrected himself. “It is my duty,” he said. “It's just what needs to be done. If you get drafted, it's your civic duty.”
Coppola interjected his distaste for the idea. This time, with added emphasis.
“I don't feel a commitment at all,” he said. “I don't want to die. I'd rather live a nice life helping people out.” He added, “There's so much to live for. I have a big life ahead of me I think. We Catholics are supposed to believe that God is there for us. I don't think that at 18, dying on a battlefield is what God intended for me to do.”
Symbols of patriotism are everywhere at Fordham. American flags hang from windows all over campus. Across Fordham Road, vendors sell pins and posters touting America's new cause. Employees wore lapel pins; even car windows bear patriotic encouragement for America and New York.
Tom Lacey, a veteran of World War II, and a graduate of the Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., described the patriotic mood at his college in the early 1940s as “universal.”
“In those days everybody wanted to get into something right away, sort of the way people feel today I hope,” he said.
Lacey, who was sent to the Harvard Supply School in April, 1944 and then sent to the South Pacific on the destroyer escort USS Swearer, said that of the six ships in his division, every one but his own was struck by a kamikaze pilot.
“The morale was exceptional,” he said. “Everybody was out there doing whatever their part was supposed to be. It seemed universal.
“Everybody was a very loyal American on campus,” he recalled. “To give us a choice, most would probably want to stay, but it seemed we all had to go.”
However, “the attitude during Vietnam was totally different,” Lacey said.
Today's generation is spoiled,” Lacey commented. “They have a lot more than we had when we were young and they seem to want more sooner. That's human nature I suppose. If all of them were spoiled, it might be a little difficult to get the support.”
Wanting to Risk It All
Traditionally in the United States, young men in college are not the first to go in the event of a draft. Even students in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, like freshman Mark Santore, are not expected to serve until after graduation.
Santore, who sat outside his freshman dormitory at Fordham polishing his high black military boots on a recent afternoon, said he's wanted to be in the Army “his whole life.”
When the World Trade Center collapsed, he said he and a friend hopped right on the subway and headed downtown.
“I went down there to see if I could take pictures and then when we realized we could help I put the camera in my bag,” he said.
A native of North Haven, Conn., Santore says he will be willing to go wherever the military wants him to, once he graduates and has his commission.
“If I was not in Officer Training and there was a war with a draft, I'd go,” he said. “I would volunteer. I'd be nervous but I'd go.”
“I'm going because when our grandfathers were called, they went,” Santore said. “When there is a war and our freedom is at stake, it's our civic duty to serve our country during times of crisis. I would go in there shaking, but ever since I was little, I've felt that way. It's just one of those things you have to do.”
Behind Santore, sitting on a hand rail and smoking a cigarette, was an 18-year-old freshman from Long Island who identified herself simply as Kristen. Her boyfriend, Matthew Repp, volunteered for the Marine Corps last year and is likely to be sent overseas soon, she said.
“He told me to think of all the people who don't have parents any more,” Kristen said. “He wants to fight for these people who don't have family members.”
Around Kristen's neck hung a tiny gold heart that she said Matthew gave her for her 15th birthday. Looking at it, she said, “I was upset [when he volunteered] and then he's like, ‘You're being selfish.’ He really wants to fight for our country.”
Stephen Bock, from Columbia, Md. 18. said he didn't know what to think of military service. “I don't believe in killing,” he said. “It's not my place.”
Still, the tall muscular freshman added, “If I had to go, I'd go. I wouldn't dodge the draft. ‘Cause then somebody would go in my place, and I'm not worth any more than them.”
Santore nodded approvingly.
“I like that answer,” he said, still shining his boots.
- October 28 - November 3, 2001