There were a couple of similar threads back in November, but I was a little surprised that we didn’t actually broach the subject full-on. Specifically:
Should the United States institute a compulsory government service period on all high school graduates, with military service being the first preference? Having narrowly avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, I was greatly relieved to to see the draft discontinued. I later enlisted and greatly benefitted from my peacetime service.
But in the decades since then, it has occurred to me that young people could benefit tremendously from two years of compulsory civic service. There is just something about being forced to endure a certain amount of hardship, privation and discipline that makes most people better. My wife argued against this position for many years, until our youngest son – an industrious but directionless and high-spirited lad – joined the Navy. She cannot believe the change in him. Two of our nephews also have chosen military service, and both were positively transformed by the experience. I see several upsides to this kind of service, most of the accruing directly to the people who serve, and indirectly to the rest of us in a lower crime rate, greater tolerance and more national unity.
Of course, the Armed Forces would get first pick, but there would be service components for people who can’t serve in the military, for whatever reason. Only those utterly unable to work would be excused from this government service.
I have considered basic training for everyone. At least one time in their life they will be in good shape. An abbreviated experience might be in order. We have a generation which could use a little exercise.
I think the benefits to some that enforced servitude would provide would be overbalanced by the negative effects that some people would feel, even if they didn’t end up in combat units: a great many people oppose the idea of joining the military, and they would certainly rebel against the idea of being forced to.
Also, there are people who manage to be motivated without having been forced to serve, and taking off two years when they could be going to college would likely not be a positive effect on their careers or lives, and viewed as a harsh and arbitrary punishment, particularly in time of war, when their own personal death is a possibility.
And, posters who are in the military and other experts in the field have been maintaining a solid line that the military does not want a draft, that they would rather have 500,000 troops who volunteered for the job than 500,000 volunteers and 100,000 draftees.
Um, there’s another way to achieve that that’s much cheaper and more acceptable. It’s called physical education and we need to improve it in our K-12 rather then sending everyone through basic training.
I hear this discussed a lot, both for the military and for national service in general. It’s always advocated by older people who wouldn’t be drafted, but we’ll call that a coincidence. Drafts are immoral and undemocratic, in my opinion. I’m a little confused by what you’re proposing - is it that the service branches get to choose who serves where?
I don’t see how the draft reduces the crime rate or promotes tolerance. I have no doubt that military service is a benefit to some people - I think especially people who need some direction or discipline. That doesn’t make it a good idea for everybody. And oh yes, there’s the issue of going to war.
Would people be able to choose civilian service over military? Non-military service components would consist of things like Habitat for Humanity, working in a soup kitchen, and other stuff now done by volunteers, right? Would people in civilian service be able to work near their homes or would they be sent all over the country? Would they be payed the same as military? Would they have to serve longer then soldiers? What happens to people who do their jobs poorly? What do we do with people who refuse to serve in any capacity? Our jails are already full. Sure, we could for instance deny them financial aid for college, but what about students’ who’s families can pay their way without aid?
Thing is, today’s military has an effective method of dealing with discipline problems. They threaten to kick you out if you don’t shape up.
You can be kicked out for not meeting physical standards. You can be kicked out for failing drug tests. You can be kicked for homsexual conduct (yeah, I know). You can be kicked out for committing crimes.
How effective would a draft be if all you had to do to be kicked out of the military was to smoke a joint? Or disrespect your commanding officer? Or commit some petty crime?
And Ethilrist, those positions you talk about? Non-combat, with a job you chose, with pay equal to civilian pay? Those are called civil service jobs. What’s the point of defining such jobs as “military”? Why put those people through boot camp and give them ranks and all that other stuff? Why not just hire civilians for jobs that don’t need soldiers, since you’re paying them market wages?
And there’s no such thing as a guaranteed non-combat job in the military, unless you serve your entire enlistment in the continental US, and not even then. You can’t send a clerk to Iraq and guarantee they won’t come under fire.
Excellent question, and not one I’m qualified to answer. Of the three young men I mentioned in the OP, all were pretty much “up against a wall” when they joined – they had tried numerous other avenues to get their adult lives started, but nothing worked for them. In all three cases, by the way, their parents have grown so much wiser since these guys have been in the Navy & Marine Corps. Funny how that happened. And by the way, that pretty much describes my own military service – I was directionless, uneducated, unmotivated and deeply in debt. The Army changed everything for the better for me. But I don’t know if people in the same situations who choose to not enlist would be similarly changed by being drafted. I want to believe they would.
The more I noodle on this, the more I think that Americans would benefit as much or more from compulsory civilian service. As for those who have to interrupt high school-to-college transition, they wouldn’t be at a disadvantage if everyone were under the same obligation.
Of course, there are two opposing philosophies at war in my mind here. The first is that being an American means others have fought and died to free us from compulsory government service, except in times of extreme national crisis. The second is that being an American means appreciating our nation’s wealth and freedom, and what better way to appreciate it than two years of public service? Maybe it’s the answer to the second question that’s bothering me most.
The OP asked about a method of drafting every 18-year-old in the country and finding them all jobs for two years. That seems to me to be the only practical way it could be done. That it is not a particularly practical solution suggests to me that this mandatory service is not likely to happen.
The first is that being an American means others have fought and died to free us from compulsory government service, except in times of extreme national crisis. The second is that being an American means appreciating our nation’s wealth and freedom, and what better way to appreciate it than two years of public service? Maybe it’s the answer to the second question that’s bothering me most.
(a) When did U.S. soldiers fight so that people couldn’t get drafted any more? Who did they fight?
(b) I can think of lots of better ways to appreciate my freedom than getting drafted, and lose it…
It wouldn’t. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would go out the window with a draft (otherwise gay/bisexual men would suddenly outnumber straights ). You don’t even need to actually commit homosexual conduct, it’s enough to want too.
Get real. The American people will never stand for any kind of compulsory-service plan just to provide an instrument for socialization. That’s one of the things compulsory universal primary-secondary education is supposed to provide. (Supposed to.) The only way we’ll ever have a draft again – for military service or civilian service – is if there’s a widespread perception that added manpower is desperately needed in the areas concerned.
I served with the last of the draftees in the mid-1970s, and the military had ways of making us shape up then, too. Being kicked out was a last resort, and it wasn’t a fun process. Plus, we were reminded daily that dishonorable discharge was a lifelong penalty. There were, of course, utterly worthless losers who simply didn’t care that they had failed to stay sober and straight long enough to get an honorable discharge from the military. By knowing and having to work with some of those guys, I learned the true meaning of the phrase “dregs of society.”
For the most part, severe penalties (imprisonment, especially) almost always resulted in longer enlistments, not shorter ones. For multiple minor infractions, though, the military is hellishly inventive. If you’ve never had your commanding officer place you at the tender mercy of an angry First Sergeant or Chief Petty Officer, you’ve never suffered real punishment. (That’s an exaggeration, of course, but not much.)
It was undoubtedly an overstatement on my part to suggest that this would happen, and probably should have been better posed as a question, as in, “Would something like this promote tolerance and reduce crime?” The idea comes up because of the way people who serve in the military are put into close contact with people they otherwise wouldn’t be. If you have served in the military, you understand how you can come to trust someone with your safety when you ordinarily wouldn’t. Before I went into the Army, I understood intellectually the humanity of people who were different from me – not just racially or ethnically, but in other ways, too. But working closely with them, suffereing boredom and cold and heat and exhaustion with them, getting drunk with them and playing poker with them, I learned to feel their humanity viscerally. It changed me, gave me a compassion I didn’t have before. I’m not saying every single person would get that, but my brothers, my son, my nephews – everybody I know (and that’s an admitedly small section of Americans) has had similar experiences.
This is a failure for a human being. Succeeding in the military is easy – just don’t fuck up. I’m not saying randomly pick some losers off the street and throw 'em into uniform. The model I’m asking about – asking, mind you, not necessarily endorsing – is universal. Everybody goes. And everybody (in the U.S.) grows up knowing their turn will come. So the question society will ask you is, “Can you endure two years of minimal effort, a modicum of discipline and a small degree of privation and discomfort without totally fucking up?” I would say that someone who cannot do that isn’t just “not successful” but truly is a failure. Hell, I did it for three years and got an Army Commendation Medal for it. It truly wasn’t much of an achievement!
No, you’re talking about taking all the 18-year-old losers off the street and throwing them into uniform.
So the question society will ask you is, “Can you endure two years of minimal effort, a modicum of discipline and a small degree of privation and discomfort without totally fucking up?” I would say that someone who cannot do that isn’t just “not successful” but truly is a failure.
Have you heard of emos? Cutting? Drug abuse? Hell, just slackers? We have tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of kids in their late teens for whom this would be absolute torture.