It’s been another year since I graduated basic training, making this the third year since I marched on the parade grounds of Fort Benning with two-hundred and eighty-nine of my brothers-in-arms on graduation day, having seen and done more in ten weeks than some do for their entire lives, and it remains one of the proudest days of my life.
I spent part of the day talking with a handful of the guys I went to basic with, and as conversation turned from recollecting memories of basic and swapping updates about our lives to more mundane topics, one of my buddies tossed out a curve ball of a topic: He felt that military service should be mandatory in the USA, much like it is in Israel. Needless to say, it sparked quite the debate among the group, both for and against, and as interesting topics often do, left me deep in thought, mainly because I couldn’t decide if the idea was madness or brilliance.
Now before I get accused of being a fascist, please have an open mind and hear me out. While the few times the idea has been tossed out in the American public, it has been shouted down by certain groups as a militarist’s wet dream, I’d like to point out that almost all countries that implement this policy are stable, free and democratic societies – Brazil, Denmark, Switzerland, Israel and a dozen other nations that implemented mandatory military service, all without becoming the Fourth Reich. The way it usually works, and would likely work if implemented in the USA, would sometime before the age of 25, every citizen would be required to serve 1-3 years in the military, usually in support jobs while the combat core remains made up of volunteers like the existing military.
Though it would take either a drastic shift in public opinion or a surge in political capital that, at least at the moment, does not exist, there are some intriguing positive effects it might have on American society (the negative ones, short-term at least, is simple enough – picture draft riots that would make the ones back in the Vietnam War Era look like drum circles), certainly enough to warrant further thought, and just see some benefits compulsory service would provide.
Increase Military Preparedness
This one really should go without saying. One constant fear of the Pentagon and military recruiters is not the rather shocking fact that less than one percent of the US population is in the military, but the fact that the percentage of people who could serve in the military is dropping every year. While the cause of this ranges from the rising obesity epidemic to many prospective volunteers having getting turned away due to not being able to qualify for one reason or another, needless to say, ensuring every citizen at least knows the basics of military service would be a great boon to national defense and security.
One of the big flaws of having an all volunteer military is that what soldiers you have are often stretched thin. We’ve all heard the stories of the many soldiers who are currently on their fourth deployment to Afghanistan since the start of the War on Terror. It would allow the military to further its resources and reduce the duty and stress placed onto the volunteer force. Plus, any prospective enemy might think twice about provoking the wrath of nation that can call upon a prospective pool of soldiers that numbers in the tens of millions.
Increase National Unity
As I mentioned in my post on Military Myths from last year, as one of my drill sergeants always used to say, if you want to eliminate bigotry of all sorts in the United States in a single generation, reinstate the draft, and there is a great deal of truth in that. Contrary to the reputation of being a fraternity of violent rednecks, you’ll find no group in America more ethnically, religiously, politically, and yes, sexually diverse than the US military – certainly more than the ivory towers and gated communities that paint the military as the stereotyped bigots.
In my own time in the service, I met people from every state and beyond, of every race and creed of humanity, of countless lifestyles, and people of every political/religious/sexual preference under the sun, and what I took away from it was, that unless that person is a prick or a criminal, none of that should impact what I think of them or what kind of person they are. I learned one of the most important lessons the military teaches, one they hardly ever get credit for: That it doesn’t matter if the man or woman next to you is an Albanian lesbian or a black anime fan or a Texan a little too obsessed with Chuck Norris: what matters is that they bleed the same color blood as you, and that you should do everything you can to get them to see home again, and that they do the same for you.
Think of all the divides of racism, sexism, class divide, regionalism, divides of politics, religion and sexuality that could all be bridged if an entire generation of these many kinds of people could discover the common humanity of each other and take the comradery of the military back with them when they reenter the civilian world. It would do more to bring people of all types and stripes together than any other effort in our nation since the civil rights movement.
Create a more Competitive Workforce and Citizenry
This has always been one of the big draws of the military for prospective volunteers is that it offers a window for a better life. For the hopeless, aimless, or the countless others who enlist, it provides direction, discipline, and a greater sense in purpose that most people out of the military lack, providing a steel resolve, firm foundation and inner purpose that, for most soldiers, will last a lifetime. In addition, it is often used by many enlisted as a doorway later in life to an education, a career elsewhere, or go the full twenty years in and get to retire.
The reason for that military edge in life is mainly for a few simple reasons. The first is that the military forces enlisted personal to undergo more stress in basic training, let alone combat, than many people will have in a lifetime, thus making anything that follows in life (college, job, etc) seem far less stressful, thus allowing an ex-soldier to remain calm and levelheaded. Much as the attitudes are forged, soldiers are forced to mature far more than most of our civilian contemporaries. This combination of discipline and maturity, to say nothing of carried over values and job skills, is part of the reason why veterans have such luck on the job market, even in the midst of the recession.
We as a nation have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ensuring more and more of our citizens know first aid, wilderness survival, computer proficiency and self-defense, become physically fit, mentally strong and knowledgeable in multiple areas, to say nothing of forcing a generation of man-children to grow up. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, American workers and citizens will need every edge they can, certainly since the school systems are failing to give them that edge, and military service might be just the way to give American workers an edge. Because trust me, compared to having a pissed off drill sergeant making you do push ups until you weep, an exam or work deadline is nothing.
A Standard for Public Service and Civic Duty
Voting is on the decline, as is knowledge about the laws and traditions of the country. Standards of what we expect from our civil servants and our government is at an all time low. Little surprise that such once revered rights and responsibilities are on the decline when the group that fights, bleeds and dies for them makes up less than 1% of the total population of our country. It is a trend that looks to get even worse in years to come, which really is a shame.
Needless to say, few citizens appreciate the rights so many take for granted more than a veteran. It’s why at parades you’ll see the old vet stand up in his wheelchair when the kids next to him don’t even watch, why you see the Nam vet next door raise and lower the flag each day and night on the flag pole on his yard, or why yours truly cries every time I hear the national anthem. It goes beyond simple patriotism, as none more than a soldier understand that freedom isn’t free, but a thing to be nurtured, protected, and treasured, and if simple civic duty and responsibility is all people take away from military service, it was time well spent.
Plus, far from spark a rise of militarism, I think it would keep it far more in check than we do now. For one, in a government that has an ever shrinking veteran presence in its ranks, it would do well to reign in the war hawks when their sons and daughters are just as at risk for combat as everyone elses children. Yet, as time goes on, just as it makes us as a nation pause before we charge off to war, a nation made up of former conscripts would no more fear a war than they would seek one. For the first time in decades, likely since the end of WWII, the nation as a whole would know what it’s like to walk in a soldier’s shoes, to carry a soldier’s burdens, to feel a soldier’s fears, and know full well the tasks they are asked to perform, and we would be a stronger, and sterner nation for it.