National Service: A Perennial Bad Idea

Tuesday, July 5, AD 2016



Well, the Washington Post has run a piece that brings up yet again an idea that is completely against what this country stands for, but is raised again year after year:  National Service:

On a clear summer evening, we squinted into the sun setting over the softball field on our U.S. Army base in Germany. One of my friends, who hailed from a small Pennsylvania town, said: “Look out there, Will, and tell me that isn’t cool. There’s a good ole boy from West Virginia pitching; in center field, we have a black power-lifter from Florida; in right field, there’s a Puerto Rican; at first base, an Irish-American from South Boston. I went to West Point, and you went to Princeton. If we were back home, what would be the chances that all of our paths would ever cross?”

I was reminded of that moment the other night as my wife and I watched the final scene of “Band of Brothers,” in which the soldiers play softball as the narrator explains what became of them after the war. After a few moments sitting in stunned silence as the credits rolled, in awe of the almost unimaginable self-sacrifice of Dick Winters and the men of Easy Company, “Band of Brothers” gave way to a cable news show and its cacophony of pundits shouting party-issued talking points at each other, without a trace of original thought. It was hard to avoid a sense of melancholy at the abrupt transition from Easy Company’s selfless service to today’s toxic political discourse, and to a social fabric that appears to be unraveling along partisan and socioeconomic lines.

How has the country for which our grandparents sacrificed so much come to this?

Yes, we have serious issues, but we are not confronted with an imminent existential threat. We are not experiencing anything as ruinous as the Civil War or either of our world wars. So why this sense that the ties that bind our country together are fraying while we furiously pull in opposite directions?

One powerful step that could begin moving us toward a sense of shared destiny would be a period of national service, either military or civil. The question over whether it should be mandatory, or merely incentivized and encouraged, as the bipartisan Franklin Project is working toward, can be debated. However, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal writes, the “need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation’s future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other” should not require extensive deliberation.

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4 Responses to National Service: A Perennial Bad Idea

  • I’ll go a step further:
    the mandatory “volunteer” hours required for graduating high school need to be stopped.

    Even when I graduated there was more abuse than the supposed good use– it was just AMAZING how giving free labor to certain businesses counted, while I had to fight like a dog to get my time at the library to count. And there weren’t any opportunities at the school itself. You had to be in the Alternative School to be able to apply a work permit instead. (that’s also where you had to be to GET a work permit)

  • Do the people who support National Service also support good old fashioned civics in school, where kids learn about what the Declaration of Independence means?
    If not then they just want an opportunity to brainwash our kids.

  • We heard Gen. Stanley McChrystal speak- seems like a great guy and very thoughtful. The “need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation’s future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other” is not a bad idea- talking about either civil or military service.

    Is your concern that that culture of service would be required and not freely given?
    Education at home or at school is a method of “creating a culture” without applying requirement or duty. But that has already been so co-opted! Parents and catechism teachers are put in the ring with the heavy weight champion gorilla known as Mass Culture and have a very hard time getting through.
    People are educated away from patriotic love or loyalty and encouraged in self seeking and easy gratification. The parents and teachers themselves have divided loyalties between the truth of the Faith and the surrounding culture. How to inspire and encourage a culture of service then..,
    I think this also relates to the terrible question of why we are faced with the choice of Trump or Clinton! This great Country of ours can’t cough of any better leaders than that! Perhaps many good people stay out of politics because of the great sacrifice that is required. Perhaps they stay out because we are so suspicious of good people who want to do public service– We had 16 other candidates on the Republican stage.

  • That’s a bit like trying to encourage generosity by authorizing a group of unknown people to empty someone’s bank account….
    A sense of duty is encouraged by being a part of something; please, tell me how the guys drafted during Vietnam had their sense of duty encouraged, and put into bloom– the only folks I know who aren’t quite pissy decades later started out with an extremely strong sense of duty in the first place. (That would be my dad. Heck, one of my uncles was a volunteer and he’s still pissy, though that may have been a natural personality issue.)
    Besides that, college age is far too late, building a sense of duty requires that the other side of the deal treat it like it is worthwhile, and it will just make it even harder to form families– all the downsides of college, now without even the effort of applying or just not showing up!

Bring Back the Draft? A Look at the American Experience With Conscription.

Tuesday, July 5, AD 2016



 I have misused the king’s press damnably. I have got, in exchange of a hundred and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds. I press me none but good house-holders, yeoman’s sons; inquire me out contracted bachelors, such as had been asked twice on the banns; such a commodity of warm slaves, as had as lieve hear the devil as a drum; such as fear the report of a caliver worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild-duck.

Falstaff, Henry IV, Part I

(This post originally ran in 2012.  The idea of National Service is being mooted again, so I am running this again.  Some bad ideas never seem to go away.)

Former Washington Post Reporter Thomas Ricks, who now works for the liberal Center for a New American Security, a think tank focusing on defense issues and which has provided several top personnel in Defense slots for the Obama administration, thinks that it is now time to bring back the Draft.  He proposes it not because he believes that the Draft would improve the military, but because he believes that it would make the nation less likely to go to war.

The drawbacks of the all-volunteer force are not military, but political and ethical. One percent of the nation has carried almost all the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of us essentially went shopping. When the wars turned sour, we could turn our backs.

A nation that disregards the consequences of its gravest decisions is operating in morally hazardous territory. We invaded Iraq recklessly. If we had a draft, a retired general said to me recently, we probably would not have invaded at all.

If there had been a draft in 2001, I think we still would have gone to war in Afghanistan, which was the right thing to do. But I don’t think we would have stayed there much past the middle of 2002 or handled the war so negligently for years after that.

We had a draft in the 1960s, of course, and it did not stop President Lyndon Johnson from getting into a ground war in Vietnam. But the draft sure did encourage people to pay attention to the war and decide whether they were willing to support it.

I believe that Mr. Ricks is completely wrong-headed, and to understand why it is necessary to review the Draft and American history. 

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7 Responses to Bring Back the Draft? A Look at the American Experience With Conscription.

  • Not a few political thinkers have seen universal conscription as the logical counterpart to universal suffrage.

    Under the ancien régime, war had been seen as the task of the First Estate and the sword was everywhere the badge of the gentleman, so much so that the Scottish Convention of 1689 in requiring “all papists within the Kingdom, of whatsoever rank and condition, to deliver up their arms” added, “excepting gentlemen, their ordinary wearing swords.”

    The Revolution replaced this with the doctrine that no citizen should be denied the right, nor relieved of the responsibility of defending the nation under arms.

    The dangers to liberty of a mercenary army, inevitably drawn from the lumpen proletariat, was succinctly addressed by Rousseau: “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall. When it is necessary to march out to war, they pay troops and stay at home: when it is necessary to meet in council, they name deputies and stay at home. By reason of idleness and money, they end by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it.
    It is through the hustle of commerce and the arts, through the greedy self-interest of profit, and through softness and love of amenities that personal services are replaced by money payments.”

  • “The Revolution replaced this with the doctrine that no citizen should be denied the right, nor relieved of the responsibility of defending the nation under arms.”

    We see how well that worked out for liberty MPS.

  • I am wondering how much longer our voluntary army is going to work out with all of the social experiments being introduced. This will effect everything about the military negatively including moral & the willingness to serve–not to mention the ability to fight & win.

  • The Christian Teacher wrote, “I am wondering how much longer our voluntary army is going to work out…”
    The pool of recruits for a mercenary army is inexhaustible. There will always be enough beggars, discharged convicts, swindlers down on their luck, petty criminals, tramps, chronic unemployed or unemployables, people who have been cast out by industry, and all sorts of declassé, degraded or degenerated elements that make up the lumpenproletariat. Then, in bad economic times, there are any number of young people, who cannot find an opportunity to enter into the social organism as producers. Add to that migrants hoping to obtain citizenship « par la sang versée »

  • Actually our volunteer military draws, by and large, from the cream of our youth.

  • Not that it’s every stopped the stupid “only losers join the military” theme, especially from countries or subcultures where they love to hate on their military.

  • Mac, You’re far better read in the Civil War than I. “. . . the Union troops being overwhelmingly volunteers with only 2% being draftees and 6% paid substitutes.” Additionally, many Union war veterans, having served their enlistments, re-enlisted and were formed in “veteran volunteer” regiments. I think this was the case for the soldier in the book, “Mother May You Never See . . “, which I read uncounted years ago.
    The point is this. Everything that liberals know; and everything that liberals believe; and everything that liberals want to do to us is complete and total BS. It’s why this country, in general, and black America, in particular, are suffering under such horrid conditions.