Thursday, November 10, 2011


Political Mayhem Thursday: National Service!

When I was a senior in high school I got to go to Washington to meet my Congressman, Dennis Hertel. I don't remember why, exactly-- I might have been in an essay contest or something. I loved the trip, and remember our meeting very well.

He actually wanted me to talk to him about an issue, and one I had a vested interest in. At the time, he was considering a plan to require a year of national service of everyone at or around age 18. You could be in the army, work in the parks, build sidewalks-- they would send you to some other part of the country to do it. Of course, since I would be involved the next year, I would have a vested interest.

I thought it was a great idea, and told him that. I still think it would be a great idea. What do you think?

Did't they try doing this during the mid-90's but after 4 yrs of college and it was a way to reduce or eliminate your student loan debt?

It wasn't mandatory but seemed like a pretty darn good idea when I heard about it. It may have focuses mostly on teachers with an emphasis ongetting theminto inner-city and rural schools that had trouble recruiting fresh new talent.
Why stop at 18 and one year? Any able bodied adult ought to be able to join a national work service to find work building schools, renovating our infrastructure, building roads, bridges, etc. We would provide food, housing and education for their families.

Unemployed more than three months? Work service or no more benefits. Graduating high school but no job and no college? Work service.
Compulsory volunteerism. My new favorite oxymoron.
It's not volunteerism, at all. It's like a draft for the army, except there are other options. No one would call the military draft "volunteerism."
If you zoom out enough, it is a great idea. Character formation, social ill mitigation, etc. Zooming in, it is the "required" part that I have a lot of trouble with.

Many of us voluntarily did and do a lot of service. Demanding service sort of takes the awesome out of it, though.

Required service is the most traumatic tax you can pay because it is done in terms of time. Unlike money, and contrary to what some believe, time is what life is made of.

Whatever benefits accrue from required service must not be too beneficial if you have to make somebody do it.
I agree with Anon 9:15. I work in area where at any given time (perhaps less in winter) scores of people hang out playing backgammon, chatting or just plain people watching (occasional catcalls included). That makes for a lively, fun atmosphere if it were not for the fact that if you walk into a supermarket or bodega and wait in line, everybody, I am not exaggerating, everybody pays with a benefits card. I have a hard time trying to understand how this happens because getting something for nothing is a concept I cannot process.
Social Solidarity, community building, wonderful things, but it won't work in the me me me me AmeRICA we live in.
1:20-- That's exactly why we need it.

One thing that plays into my thinking I have is the admiration I have felt for my former students who have spent two years as Mormon missionaries. It clearly is a difficult, formative time, and one during which they learn to place something above themselves.
Oz, I have long felt that everyone should do two years of national service after high school. No exceptions. Military, park service, VISTA, whatever. We are too myopic, to insular.

And I submit that the current state of politics - What's mine is mine; what's yours is negotiable - is a direct result of so many people having no sense of the bigger picture.
Only if I can do it 8 years after I turned 18. I would LOVE a year of working outside, building a park with a bunch of interesting people from other parts of the country. Of course, my husband might not love that idea ... but he could survive on Whataburger for a year.
Jessica, he's done it before, so yeah.

Talltenor (you would know this)-- what other countries have something like this?
I like the idea of service, but I struggle with making it mandatory. Not even Mormon missions are mandatory. All worthy, physically able men from 19-26 are commanded to serve missions, but there are no ecclesiastical sanctions if they don't. Worthy, physically able single women from 21 and older can serve missions too, but they are not commanded to serve. Additionally, Mormon missionaries (or their families) pay to serve missions.

Who would pay for the young adults' living expenses, etc, while they serve? Would there be penalties for not serving?
Good questions, Craig-- and it does make me wonder how it works in other countries that have something like this.
Oz, all the Euro countries I have visited or worked in have eliminated their compulsory military service requirements. Switzerland still has one - every man in the country is a reserivst - but the Italians and Germans no longer do.
It's not something I'd support. At least from a military perspective, I'm not a fan of conscription. I get that it's necessary, its use has been justifiable before (World War II), and there may be a day when we have no choice but to resort back to a draft.

However, being part of an all-volunteer Army, I can tell you that we're a stronger military when everybody wants to be here instead of being told to. It's a more professional, more motivated force. This is a job that requires enormous sacrifices of its members and their families. Between deployments, long duty days, field exercises, etc., it's hard enough for people who voluntarily signed up. Think about the problems that could result with morale, motivation, and professionalism if you require a bunch of people to serve who don't want to.

Plus, doesn't service to others mean more when it's someone's knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decision instead of the government's mandate?
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