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Saturday, Mar 23 2013 10:00 PM

GERALD HASLAM: Staking out a rare position in America today -- middle ground

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    Gerald Haslam

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A colleague asked the other day if I'd run out of opinions, since he had not seen any recent op-ed pieces by me. In fact, I've been buried writing a new book, but several issue stir me. For instance, the recent CPAC meeting reminded me how important it is to have a vibrant GOP to counter the Democratic Party's current power. Neither group has all the answers, and we need at least two parties to be to healthy and strong in order for our electoral system to work. As someone who is frequently in the middle, I would not be sad to see three strong parties so the extremes don't rule. The system is more important than who wins.

Which leads to a second point. Since some voters (or non-voters) decided they had to "secede" because their candidate didn't win the last presidential election -- many too concerned about race or imagined agendas -- let's buy them all one-way tickets anywhere, pack them lunches and send them on their ways. Please feel free to use my tax dollars for that.

More important to me, and more controversially, I believe we should reinstate the military draft with exemptions only for men and women not physically able to serve. Let every family (and every legislator) have a deep stake in the wars we declare, and I'll bet we'll be more careful. As columnist Mark Shields recently pointed out, American foreign policy when we had a draft tended to have profoundly personal consequences; it was your child in harm's way.

During peaceful interludes, some optional national service could be offered after basic military training: programs based on the Civilian Conservation Corps, Points of Light, AmeriCorps, Volunteers for America, etc., could remind young men and women that freedom really isn't free. Moreover, a new GI Bill might also help curb America's growing economic gap.

I'm an ex-soldier and a gun owner who grew up hunting. For economic reasons, when I returned home from active Army duty in 1960 and returned to college, I had to decide whether I'd continue either hunting or fishing; I chose the latter. I haven't hunted since.

The romance that some folks have with military weapons has baffled me. I liked the M-1 carbine I carried as a soldier, but when I came home, I assume the armed services were full of young men and women pledged, as I had been, to defend this country, so I didn't personally need mortars. Indeed, I believe the founders were referring to what we now call the armed forces when they spoke of a "well-regulated militia," and I'm equally certain that in 1791 they didn't envision citizens toting rocket-propelled grenades or AK-47s.

It seems to me that the weapons and munitions industries are the real beneficiaries of America's gun romance. Of course, I do not fear the federal government whether led by a Bush or an Obama, or anyone else freely elected. I am a little leery of the governments of Iran and North Korea, though, and I'm much concerned over some homegrown nuts.

Then there's a really important controversy. A local physician has refused to attend youth soccer games until goalkeepers are equipped with protective headgear of some kind. Outrage has been immediate: that will ruin the game, he's been told. It is a clear example of the softening of America!

Well, my dad played football (Santa Maria High School and UCLA) at a time when helmets went from being optional to required; that seems not to have ruined the game. I played (Garces and Sacramento State) when face masks were becoming common; the game seems to have survived. I'm the grandfather of a dedicated goalkeeper, and I want him to have access to headgear. I don't want his siblings to one day have to sponge drool off his chin and explain their brother's post-traumatic dementia.

So much for opinions.

Oildale native Gerald Haslam lives in rural Sonoma County. He is a novelist and essayist.

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