Two weeks ago, 26-year-old Drew Pritt
, a political science major at the University of Memphis and president of the university College Democrats, was standing in a Q-and-A line at a campus "town meeting" on the subject of campaign-finance reform, which just that little bit of time ago was a prime point of contention among political junkies and poli-sci students. The panelists at the meeting, all of whom had come to Memphis on behalf of the McCain-Feingold bill, were illustrious members of Congress -- Sen. Russ Feingold
of Wisconsin himself, Rep. Marty Mehan
of Massachusetts, Rep. Chris Shays
of Connecticut, Rep. Harold Ford Jr.
of hometown Memphis, et al., et al.
Pritt had lined up in order to balance and, if possible, refute the highly organized claque of College Republicans who had gotten in the Q-and-A line to ask leading, unfriendly questions of the panelists.
That was then, this is now. Pritt will shortly be lining up with other Republicans and Democrats and independents -- not to ask questions at all but to follow orders. As soon as he heard of the atrocities perpetrated in New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11th, Pritt, a member of the inactive Army reserve, began to petition his local Memphis reserve unit to go on active service. He now has his wish, having been shifted to the active reserves and subsequently called up. He'll be leaving within two weeks to be attached to a unit destined for parts unknown.
At some point in the period immediately following the terrorist attacks, Pritt had taken part in a candlelight vigil on campus in honor of the victims of September 11th and on behalf of national unity. There were speakers at the vigil -- from the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths and from the ranks of secularists as well. One of the latter was a woman who espoused a Noam Chomsky-like line of military non-intervention and heatedly condemned in advance any potential warlike response to events on the part of the United States.
Pritt was offended and told the woman that he was trying as hard as he could to take part in just such a response "so that people like you may continue to have the right to say what you just said."
Days later a fellow Democrat routed along on his e-mail network a Salon.com article ("Hell No, They Won't Go -- Yet" by Janelle Brown and King Kauffman) which clearly shared in the skepticism which the article had documented at San Francisco State Unviersity concerning the prevalent patriotic response in America at large. Pritt was offended all over again and responded along the same network with his own e-mail message (appended).
"I come from a family with a military tradition," said Pritt, both of whose brothers are also in military units that will likely see duty in whatever kind of military conflict ultimately develops. (Brother David is a Master Sergeant with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, already deployed; brother Paul is a captain in the Army reserves and is also seeking activation.) Drew Pritt's father, an Episcopal clergyman, is also a military veteran. "Plus," says the bespectacled, buzz-cut Pritt earnestly, "I intend to have a political career, and I can't see voting for anybody to do military service if I'm not willing to do it myself."
So gung-ho was the young Pritt who volunteered for the Army reserve in 1997 that he would end up in a training unit at Fort Knox known as the "Mad Dogs" for its collective zeal and efficiency in inter-unit competitions.
Pritt, a Specialist holding the pay grade of E-4, counts himself a liberal Democrat and is aware that, by various stereotypes and standards, he a statistical freak. By way of accounting for his place in the scheme of things, he likes to quote a mantra which he picked up -- believe it or not -- from his first drill sergeant but which he thinks derives from Socrates: "Democracy is a hungry beast that must constantly be fed.
Interestingly enough, Pritt is just one of two called-up reservists who had been serving on the campaign staff of state rep. Carol Chumney, who seeks the 2002 Democratic nomination for Shelby County Mayor. (The other is Chumney's press secretary, Bert Kelly, an officer in the Naval Reserve who is even now on duty in New York.)
Pritt's written response to the Salon.com article (http://www.salon.com/letters/daily/2001/09/19/won_t_go/index.html) follows:
"While I enjoy the spirit of Freedom of Speech and the ideas of one individual, in fact, I literally fight for them, the reality of this article is the complete opposite is actually true. I can attest that recruiters statewide are reporting a marked increase of 30%-60%, depending where they are, in Tennessee. Nationwide, it's an average jump of 35% from what usually happens. That's an average of 4-5 individuals every two weeks joining.
"Furthermore, I have been activated by the U.S. Army, as I am a reservist. I join my brother Paul, Captain Tennessee Army Reserves, and my brother David, TSgt. 82nd Airborne, who are going off to defend freedom.
"I am also one of four University of Memphis students whose status has changed from inactive to active since Tuesday's atrocities.
"So, no, this article is one individual, who apparently does make an interesting point. That point is that it's unsure if they are fight-worthy. Well, take it from someone who passed Basic Training (Fort Jackson, SC) and ROTC Officer Basic Training (Fort Knox, KY), if these young people, as I suspect, have a desire to join, to give it their all, and to fight for the basic freedoms we all enjoy, then, trust me, we will see the marked increase [in enlistments].
"One other point, Afghanistan is not a contemporary war. The bad news is that Ghengis Khan, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union all had to call the colors and retreat. Secondly, conventional, high-tech weapons that were a mainstay of Desert Storm are not effective here in this rocky, mountainous, dangerous land. There are massive tunnel systems.
"This is not a partisan issue. This is as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said in her speech to the Senate floor, 'This is the time for the world community to say either you are with us or against us. There is no in-between.'"