“Pressed into service means pressed out of shape.”
“A young (person) who does not have what it takes to perform military service is not likely to have what it takes to make a living.” John F. Kennedy
A few years ago I forced myself to watch “The Hurt Locker,” the semi-documentary that ended up winning many awards. I have a deep-seated aversion to and fear of violence. Even when I can clearly understand that this is “just a movie” I cringe and suffer emotionally when I watch. My wife, a very peaceful and easygoing sort, can read Stephen King novels for days on end. I limit my reading to history and current news and the rare piece of fiction that promises not to portray violence or abuse.
I saw the movie because I felt that for too long American politicians had shielded the public from the reality that we visited on other countries. Like when President Bush did not allow the Press to film the caskets returning from his ill-fated Iraqi invasion. Or when President Johnson refused to ask Americans for additional taxes that would cover the cost of his disastrous war. I sat down, thinking that I would force-feed myself the grim truth that my leaders refused to grant me.
Once I was done watching I began to think. What had I learned? To my dismay, I saw an opportunity. This movie depicted the difficult situations that a military bomb squad had to encounter. The degree of expertise and camaraderie depicted almost brought tears to my eyes. I figured that a few months before these young men had their lives placed in danger, they were untrained kids, just out of high school, who had volunteered to serve because there were no better options available to them.
Just think about it. In a very short time the military had been able to instill in them an enviable degree of discipline and expertise. I said to myself: Why not do this with all of our children? Why not bring back the draft? Everyone has to sign up at 18. In my ideal world, we would offer two paths to inductees: military and civilian. No deferments; no excuses; everyone has to go. Those who want to go to college or technical school right away will be forced to serve during summer vacation months. Everyone would be under military discipline: have a physical, give a urine specimen, at least an hour of physical training daily, with a demanding sergeant in charge. Military ranks; military pay.
Those who choose the civilian path will be trained to bury cable, or repair bridges and highways, or serve as lab techs. There should be close coordination with corporations that will have the need for these skills once the military service is over. No one gets to serve close to home. Have farmers in the same units as Harvard-bound prep school grads. Ghetto residents to share bunks with prom queens. I remember reading somewhere that serving in the Vietnam war did a lot to change the perceptions about race and social status that many of the draftees had. As torn apart as our nation is, it seems mandatory that we try to make our children aware of how the other side lives, and why they think about politics as they do.
What I hope to accomplish: a zero unemployment rate for our youth. The reality check that today you have to get out of bed to go to work, and as sore and exhausted as you wake up the next day, guess what: you have to show up for work again. The technical expertise to be able to do what it takes to make a living. The opening up of dialogue.
There are powerful and compelling arguments against conscription. Many people think of it as forced slavery. This probably goes back to ancient times when one of the roles of the Army was to subdue weaker nations so that their populations could be used as slaves. There are concerns that the brains of society: the future doctors, computer scientists, and engineers will be diverted into Government work instead of being encouraged to come up with the next facebook. There is the possibility that the military grows into an even more powerful force; that it will get to indoctrinate all of our youth into a culture of violence and submission. All of these objections should give us pause and encourage us to develop restraints and control points.
And yet… It would be nice to be able to look each and every one of our children in the eyes and say to them: “Here’s your chance.” We will be able to go to sleep with some peace of mind, that we tried, and that we opened thousands of doors for kids who would otherwise be left behind.
Work. Country. Discipline. A sense of achievement.
Can we afford not to try?