Sunday, November 19, 2006

Military Draft or Universal Service

Congressman Rangel, I applaud your commitment to reviving the draft and certainly agree with it. However, I don't think it will fly. For the last 12 years or so, I have been promoting the idea that we need Universal Service. We need something unifying and what better to do it than requiring those 18-26 to give 18 months to 2 years in service to this great country. As you can imagine from your own experiences, mostly I have been a voice "crying in the wilderness."

My basic theme has been simply that it is immoral to ask such an infinitesimally small number of Americans to fight our wars. Columnist Ben Stein put the perfect idea on it, "In the old days, the rich, the famous, they all put it aside to fight. Now who fights for us: "Southerners, Hispanics from New Mexico, rural men and women from upstate NY. Small town boys and girls from the Midwest. No children of the powers on Wall Street go off and fight? They 've left the burden of defending an affluent nation to those who enjoy less of its affluence. They don't want to fight for a system that made them rich or a way of life that made them princes of finance."

I would add, and not original with me, "the kids who are in the military today are those whose economic prospects are less than stellar. They are high-school graduates who're not going to college because of costs, many young parents who need a regular paycheck and health care for their families."

According to DOD statistics, soldiers come from households earning between $32,000 and $33,500. " (The median American income is $43,300.)

The difficulty, in my opinion, with selling the draft is simply too much opposition to the military, war, etc. Few can argue with universal service. From various reports, we've got lots of activism: students are getting involved in Teach America and there's been a resurgence in the Peace Corp. And, many students went to help in Katrina.

Without a draft or any sort of Universal Service, kids by in large don't have any incentive to serve. I talk to parents of kids who are draft eligible with great regularity and simply unless there is an unusual circumstances, they don't think about it. Thinking has changed and more and more parents of eligible kids see the advantage of a Universal Service. Having a choice is the selling point. I started a blog called AllServe and constantly get comments about what a great idea this is.

What would a Universal Service do for America's kids? Lots of things, something like a common interest and experience, something that is nonexistent in our culture. Universal service would make a difference in changing our fractured America--a youth culture built around service. What I am discovering is that many Americans will go for Universal Service if youth is given an option. If they didn't want to choose from a list, let them define their own. American kids are smart and creative, we might be surprised at what they come up with and how willing they are to serve.

Universal Service could be phased in over ten years and promoted among our youngsters now. A success story and the way AllServe could work is an organization I've read about: Teach America. I only know what I've read. They are getting top graduates who could be in medical school or Wharton business or wherever--yet choose to do something meaningful before they start their careers. Teach America sends graduates into poor rural and urban schools for two years. For many, it has become a next step after graduation. These kids want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open. At Yale for instance, Teach America, drew applications from 12% of the graduates, 11% at Dartmouth, and 8% at Harvard. All told a record 17,350 applied in one year.

Are our present kids a post 9-11 generation ready to opt more aggressively for public service? I think so. Many of those volunteering for Teach America don't know what they want to do. The thought is that not knowing what to do, why not take some time to do something meaningful for a couple of years and think about the future. The military is only one of the options. Universal Service will work.

Congressman Rangel, I applaud your efforts now as I did when you offered the bill on the draft once before. We missed our greatest opportunity for our kids after 9-11. Now, as I see it, we have another chance. With our "changed" Congress, Universal Service will fly and I hope and pray it will and think you are just the one to make it happen.

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