The U.S. military found itself at an impasse. American armies were dispersed over Asia (Indonesia, Philippines), the Middle East (Irak, Afghanistan, Syria), Latin America (Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico) with over 400 bases in 70+ countries. Significant American forces remained bogged down trying to pacify these places as part of the “War Against Terror” and the “War Against Drugs.” The essence of these two ‘wars’ – like the ‘War on Communism’ that preceded them – apparently consisted of propping up dictatorships and semi-dictatorships friendly to multinationals, selling them arms, lending them huge sums to pay for them, and sending in US advisors to help repress opposition.
Alternately, dictatorships which no longer pleased the US, e.g. Noriega’s and Saddam’s, could be declared rogue states, invaded and pillaged as in Panama and Iraq. To add to this confusion, some enemy terrorists were originally CIA-sponsored ‘freedom fighters’ like Osama bin Laden. Moreover, the CIA had also been recruiting drug-lords to fight Communism since the Cold War, giving free licence to the Mafia in post-WWII Sicily, to heroin-financed Kuomintang armies in the ‘Golden Triangle’ during the Vietnam War, and to opium-growing Afghani warlords in the war against terror.
In the long term these unwinnable wars had left US troops dispersed, stretched thin, under-equipped, under constant attack, afraid, disoriented, demoralised. The ranks were increasingly filled with unemployed young men and women for whom decades of jobless recovery had left little choice. Many among them were poor people of color forced to fight even poorer people of color. They had no special love for big US corporations or for the Army brass. Living, working, fighting together in the army had rubbed off many of their racial, ethnic, sexual and religious prejudices. Some of them played “BvB”. The Internet kept them informed of what was happening back home and around the world. They all knew they were in deep shit and so did their officers, who dared not admit it because of the effect on morale. Officially, the US was winning the War on Terror, but the GI’s were never sure if they were going to be rotated home on time or suddenly assigned to stay in country for another tour.
Now these pacification troops no longer had a mission. Not that they had ever known precisely what their mission was, unless it was to serve as sitting ducks for terrorist rockets aimed at their heavily-fortified garrisons and to be picked off by hostile guerrillas when they ventured out ‘in-country.’ Small wonder that, confused and afraid, the GI’s had come to see every ‘native’ man, woman and child as a ‘hostile’ to be killed before s/he killed back. ‘Pacification’ had become a synonym for torture, and American atrocities had multiplied as many GI’s had become inured to horror.
On the other hand in Latin America, the revolutionary movements began to engage the sympathies of Hispanophone GI’s, ambivalent about their identity as Latinos and Americans. A common language made fraternisation easy. Instead of engaging in random terror, Latin revolutionaries approached the troops as brothers, making it clear they distinguished between the imperialist government in Washington and ordinary Americans, despite the uniform. Defenses were lowered. Local street kids ‘adopted’ friendly GI’s, there were conversations over beer with their big brothers, flirtations with their sisters, invitations to visit their simple homes. Even hardbitten Puerto Rican and Chicano non-coms and lifers, the backbone of this man’s army, ended up listening to the ideas of these rebel campesinos – who often reminded them of their immigrant grand-parents. Indeed, some Hispanic GI’s had relatives involved in cross-border strikes.
Sent down to fight the Zapatista terrorists in Mexico and the neo-Sandinistas in Nicaragua, GI’s were becoming converted to the rebel cause and many thought of deserting. These were advised to remain in the Army and quietly spread their ideas among the ranks, which they did with some success. Thus the Latin American revolution, far from being repressed began creeping north to California, where Anglo fruit growers and sweat-shop owners were already feeling the rebellious presence of militant farm-labor and service-worker movements. A century or more after Yanqui invaders gobbled up Puerto Rico and the former Mexican Federal States of Texas, California, Colorado and New Mexico, the US Hispanic population remained undigested ‘in the belly of the beast’. Now it stood up proudly and declared its solidarity with the popular uprisings all over Latin America.
Of US troops remaining on the Homeland Territory, few were combat units. The fighting end of the Marines, the Army and the National Guard was dug in over three continents, more or less pinned down in anti-terror pacification operations. The Administration spent lavishly on expensive hi-tech weapons, more or less useless for pacification. But it was cheap in providing ordinary GI’s with basic supplies and equipment, like bullet-proof vests and hot meals. In any case, supply lines were stretched thin and morale was low, what with clerk-typists and forty-plus desk officers now finding themselves being shot at in strange, faraway, hostile places with no air-conditioning and no light visible at the end of the tunnel.
Stateside forces were stripped down to Headquarters Staff, Administrative and Transportation personnel, training-camp instructors, cadets in the military schools. Much of the work formerly performed by uniformed supply clerks, commissary, and maintenance troops had been outsourced to a select group of big private manpower firms owned by White House cronies. Many of their underpaid employees were now on strike.
Aside from the Marines and an overstretched professional army, the bulk of US fighting forces consisted of National Guard regiments from the various states, including Reservists with careers and families who had joined the Guard to pay for their education or make a little extra money by playing soldier on the weekends. Normally dependable for disaster-relief and strike-breaking, the Reserves of the various State National Guards were now having serious second thoughts about being shipped off to some godforsaken hole to get shot at by natives they were sent to save. Neither were they exactly overjoyed at the prospect of being ordered to fire on US student demonstrators and strikers.
The government had put off reviving the draft as long as possible, haunted by memories of Vietnam-era demonstrations and riots. Similarly, memories of conscript soldiers ‘fragging’ their officers during that conflict haunted the Pentagon. But the military had no choice. If you just want to conquer weaker countries, all you need is a lean, mean professional army with an abundance of space-age weapons to be exploded at tax-payer expense (and replaced at astronomical prices). But if you need to pacify these places and make them safe enough for US business to move in and privatise their economic resources, you need big occupation forces, and the only way to get them is to draft them.
Predictably, the revival of the draft caused havoc on American campuses. The horror stories students heard from high school friends and older siblings in the Army made their hair stand on end. All but a minority of ROTC, bigtime jocks and gung-ho Fraternity types had turned more or less pacifist after years of playing “BvB”, going to anti-war demonstrations, staging anti-globalisation protests and participating in fair-wage boycotts against multinationals. Across the country there was a wave of sit-ins and protests at draft boards and Army recruitment offices. A national march on the Pentagon was quickly organised via the Internet. Also via Internet, three hundred and forty thousand students signed a nationwide Pledge to Resist the Draft and declared themselves Conscientious Objectors.
The first day draftees were called up to report to Selective Service for their physicals, they found themselves accompanied by thousands of protesters all responding to the draftees’ names and demanding physicals chanting: “Will the real Private Jones please stand up?” This protest shut down draft centers in cities and towns all over America. The Army was forced to post sentries day and night around Selective Service and recruitment offices with the result that the entrances of these installations were transformed into permanent Hyde Parks with earnest young women proselytising the embarrassed sentries – on orders to refrain from fraternization while on duty (but not off). Short of shooting these gentle agitators, the Army could do nothing. And the Police were more than occupied elsewhere.
US state and local police departments, although beefed up and super-armed after September 2001, were now overtaxed to the limit. To begin with, American police forces were of very uneven quality and poorly coordinated. Departments took their orders variously from city mayors, county sheriffs, and fifty state governors, not to mention the Homeland Security Office, the CIA and the FBI— the latter arrogant, out of touch with local law enforcement and bogged down in its own nightmare of bureaucratic caution.
Police in the suburbs of Middle America were, like most of Middle America, obese and risk-averse. They looked frightening with their bulletproof vests, Darth Vader helmets, electronic gadgets and expensive weaponry, but inside their defensive shells these men were afraid of everyone. They bullied teenagers and harmless protesters but avoided skirmishes with organised street gangs and striker self-defense groups. Big city police forces were generally much more professional, albeit brutal, racist, and corrupt. Hated in black and Latino neighborhoods, their numbers were too limited to quell riots without troop support – from a National Guard stretched thin and low on morale.