Dale Dye is a veteran of the Vietnam war, accomplished actor, author, and entrepreneur, but most of the filmmaking world knows him as Hollywood’s drill sergeant. In a wide-ranging interview with Dye at his home, we spoke on a variety of topics, but one that really caught my interest were his thoughts on the military draft.
Before he became the legendary technical advisor that helped shape everything from “Born on the Fourth of July” to “Saving Private Ryan,” Dye served three tours as a Marine on the ground in Vietnam, and was a three-time recipient of the Purple Heart and recipient of the Bronze Star (with combat “V”) award for heroism. While conventional wisdom maintains the “all-volunteer force” of the modern U.S. military is the best approach, Dye thinks that ending the draft was a “terrible mistake.”
“There is a difference between a wartime draft and a peacetime draft,” Dye told WATM, in an interview at his home north of Hollywood. “Wartime draft, you take whatever shows up. Whatever comes, you know. Peacetime draft you can be more selective because of selective service pools in the neighborhoods and so on, so you get good guys. The reason I like it is this: with the all-volunteer force, and with the advent of social media and a number of other things, what’s happened is that we have become a ‘Me Generation.’ Its me, me, me. Its all about the sun rises and sets on my ass.”
The 70-year-old combat veteran — who volunteered to join the Marine Corps in 1964 and retired in 1984 — uses a colorful expression and doesn’t mince words. In his view, the draft brings people together to appreciate service to something higher than themselves.
“Now enter the military, and that rapidly changes. Our way of looking at it is that yours and mine is the antithesis of that. You worry about me, I worry about you. And then we both worry about the mission. Our personal crap is secondary. Nowadays, personal crap is primary, and it’s because there is no view of a larger mission. There is nothing bigger than me. [Veterans] know there is something bigger than us. And that is the country, our nation, and our Corps, and each other. And that is bigger than either one of us personally and we know that from our military experience.”
In Dye’s view, if people were drafted into the military, if would have a “huge beneficial effect” that would take people away from ‘me first’ into an ‘us first’ viewpoint — something that might close the civilian-military divide.
But he also sees military service as a way of bringing people together working toward a common goal, and building relationships from the shared experience. He continued:
“Point two, which is perhaps even more important, you know we are seeing deteriorating social relationships. Why? Well, I don’t have to talk to you, I can email your ass and never meet you. And furthermore, if I’m a white guy from Southeast Missouri, and you’re a black guy from Trenton, New Jersey, we would never run into each other and wouldn’t want to. Why would we? Nothing in common. So you give the nation a common denominator. That black guy from Trenton, New Jersey and the Hispanic guy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the white guy from Missouri and you shuffle them together in a military experience, and for the first time you find out that black guy is a human being just like I am. And all these prejudices and nonsense are just that, nonsense. And you learn about the Latino guy, and the Latino guy and the black guy learn about you. And what happens is, you lose some of these preconceptions. This nonsense, and I saw it happen when the draft was there. And its wonderful for the country. We are no longer living in little cliques. [Military service members] have been there. We’ve been in the military … we know the black guys are the same as the white guy, and the white guy knows that the Latino guy is the same as he is. And I think that is exceedingly valuable. And that’s point two, and we lost it when we got rid of the draft.”
After serving in Vietnam as an infantryman and a combat correspondent, Dye served for a number of years before he retired from the Marine Corps and moved to Los Angeles with the idea of bringing more realism to Hollywood films. Despite the door being shut in his face plenty of times, his persistence paid off when Oliver Stone took him on as a military technical advisor for “Platoon.”