Wednesday, May 23, 2007

National service

I am completely opposed to a draft, if a draft means forcing our young people into the military. On the other hand I am frightened of a strictly volunteer army (and especially frightened of private military organizations such as Blackwater). There is a great danger that a volunteer military and a private army will do the bidding of whoever pays them, rather than acting out of patriotic motives. This is especially true when you have a dictatorial lunatic in charge. So how does one avoid this dilemna?

The idea of national service might be one way. I know many people think this is a terrible idea, some even going so far as to equate it with slavery. But that is just nonsense. Let us say, for the sake of the argument, that all of our young people, both male and female, when they reach the age of 18 or graduate from High School, had to serve their country for one year. I don't mean they would be simply put out to dig ditches or perform perfectly menial labor, at least not for the majority of the time. Why could they not specify what it is they would like to do and we would help them to do it as much as possible. That is, if someone wanted to explore engineering, for example, they could be placed in a situation where they could get some experience of that occupation. Or say, someone wanted to become a photographer. Why could they not pursue that interest. There may be some who are, in fact, interested in the military, and they could be placed in situations that would give them that experience. I don't mean to say these young people who spend all their time exclusively on what they want to do. I suggest there would be a curriculum that all would take: modest courses in citizenship, American history, voting rights, the nature of community and good fellowship, and so on.

Such a program would be like a combination of peace corps, civilian conservation corps, education, and on the job training, or something like that. It would have to benefit both the students and the nation. Part of the time they could work on restoring infrastructure, working as student aides for teachers, playing in orchestras or offering other forms of entertainment, helping out in various business enterprises, and so on. It would have to focus on individual needs and interests as well as on national problems. It should be organized in such a way that the students did not feel they were being coerced into doing something they truly did not wish to do. They should be instilled with pride in their country and pride in what they were doing to serve it. This could not be modeled on a military model, nor could it be run as a giant thankless bureacracy. In many cases, depending upon the circumstances, students could continue to live at home. If some could not, or did not wish to live at home, they could be housed in youth hostels. Those interested in culinary career could help to prepare meals. They would have access to libraries as well as movies and tv.

A pipe dream? I don't think so. Other countries already have such systems in place. Many of our young people, perhaps even the majority, have no idea what they want to do when they graduate from High School. There are not always satisfying jobs available to them. Many have far more leisure time than is healthy. Bored, they turn to gangs or drugs, or even crime. What better way to help our young people find themselves, begin to learn things they have interests in, and keep them off the streets. But such a program would not be focused solely on the poorer members of our culture, it would apply to everyone. This would help in spreading understanding between and among different groups and elements of our society.

Such a program would obviously require large sums of money and a cadre of trained and dedicated people to oversee it. This would provide jobs for large numbers of people and would also require lots of supplies and equipment which could be easily provided by companies that now waste their time building tanks and howitzers and nuclear bombs. Such a program would have to be done right and no matter what the cost it would be extremely inexpensive compared to our bloated and unnecessary fake defense budget. If there were not enough young people interested in military careers we could still, by offering enough incentives, recruit military personnel, and we would be recruiting them from a base of informed and dedicated citizens rather from the streets and the slums and poverty.

A program of this kind would, of course, be difficult. But I don't see why it would be impossible. The one thing above all else is that it would have to be designed in such a way as to not result in rebellion and resentment. It would have to be a positive experience and our young people would have to have pride in what they were doing. It would have to be seen as a noble act. Ask both what you can do for your country and what your country can do for you.

Am I a dreamer? I suppose so. The way things are going now it probably doesn't matter one way or the other. What are we going to do to try to recover from the unbelievable mess Bush/Cheney and the neocons have made of our wonderful country? How will we explain to the rest of the world the nightmare years of the beginning of the 21st century? Will we ever be ready to rejoin the world community with pride or will we simply remain a pariah, little more than a third rate country that once was the envy of all? To overcome the disaster Bush/Cheney have created is not going to be an easy task. It will require leadership of a kind that seems to be sorely lacking at the moment. Republicans have been dedicated warmongers for the past six years. Democrats have now joined them. Where is our FDR or Churchill? Do such leaders even exist anymore?

1 comment:

Rob Johnston said...

Mandatory national service would be a challenge, but a rewarding one for the country and the people involved. I enjoyed your posting and think it shows careful consideration of some of the many issues involved.

If you'd like to lend your support to the effort to get the next president to create a service program, sign the petition at Everyone Serves. Thank you.