Friday, March 16, 2007


Recently at a book signing for the memoir, Gun Totin' Chaplain, I got a chance to test out the idea of National Service. The small independent bookstore owner hatched the idea that we'd give away a certain number of books to draw in a crowd. If the idea of the book was to get the message out: National Service--what a great chance to do it in what was possibly an unfriendly college environment. It was successful, the sun was out and students were everywhere. We took it outside and I began to buttonhole students.

I talked to at least a couple of dozen about National Service, now these are Berkeley students--so funny in a sense--here I am a Vietnam vet, the book is about Vietnam and during Vietnam, Berkeley or as we use to say, Berzerkerly, was the epicenter of the anti Vietnam war protest. These kids weren't even born during Vietnam.

The conversations went something like: "What is your thought about National Service, meaning where you'd have to give a year or say 18 months to some sort of Service to your country or a nonprofit organization. It could be the military but wouldn't have to be, could be Teach America or Peace Corp or literally anything like that or you could design your own. A couple of the students gave me the "nobody is home look." By in large, in this brief encounter, the vast majority of the students said, "I'd think about it." For Berkeley, believe me, this is ground breaking. One kid cracked me up! "What are college students interested in?" Answer. "Well, I think having a good time." Then, he grew more thoughtful, "I think my fraternity brothers are mostly interested in partying and getting laid." We laughed.

Upon reflection, the idea of National Service came out looking pretty good in an environment that could be construed traditionally as pretty hostile. I am encouraged more than discouraged when I talk to kids about National Service. For those who oppose the idea and yet could help with it, i. e., Congress, I think they don't give American youngsters enough credit. What I've discovered over the last twelve years or so is that kids want to serve and would with a slight nudge.


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