Nov 9, 2003
My esteemed colleague, Michael John McCrae, wrote an article entitled: “Got Teens?” I generally agree with everything that Mr. McCrae writes, however, not this time. The subject of the article was mandatory military/government service.
Mandatory military service is practiced in Israel, South Korea, Greece, Algeria, Hungary, Germany, Croatia, Armenia, Switzerland, Turkey, Taiwan, Chile and Nicaragua. A look at the list includes several countries whose very existence is threatened by an unfriendly nation that borders their land. Certainly Israel or Taiwan has compelling reasons to insist that their citizens take up arms to defend their turf. Is there a compelling reason for the United States to follow their example?
Unlike some of the aforementioned nations, we do not now require mandatory military service to defend our national interests. The all- volunteer military is able to recruit the people they need from the ranks of young people right now without the help of Congress. The military has enough potential recruits to set certain standards by which they are able to ensure that prospective soldiers and sailors marines and airmen/women are a good fit for the requirements of the job.
Make no mistake about it, the military is a career choice for many of these young people, and for many others it is a job that will help them prepare for training in the career of their choice after a term of service in the military. Recruits make a decision, a choice, to be willing to bear arms for their country and potentially give their lives.
The men of my family fought or otherwise served in the military during WWI and WWII, during the Korean War and myself during the Vietnam War. One of my sons serves as an MP in the US Army currently. I am not against military service! But I remember the military in the Vietnam era. The Army of the Vietnam era was an amalgam of patriots and criminals and druggies and cowards and drunks. The draft brought in the unwilling and judges of the time often gave criminals the choice of “Army or jail” which brought in those both unwilling and unfit. Morale in the military during that time was not poor simply because we were fighting a war most did not support; it was terrible because of the very makeup of the troops.
Mandatory military service now would eliminate all the filters that the military now uses to keep unsuitable recruits from entering their world. The result is a professional military that can do the job and be proud of the uniform. In “Got Teens?” Michael wrote the following:
“I work with soldiers every day in a classroom setting. Many of these soldiers are fresh out of high school or have already served at least two years. They are mature. They are respectful. They are wise beyond their years. They are disciplined. The same cannot be said for a majority of 18-25 year old "adults" who have never served. ‘
’These young soldiers also care. They have dreams and hopes, but they know that when they wear the uniform, their dreams and hopes must take that back seat to ensuring the security of the country that fosters their dreams. I am so damn proud of every child that took that oath and put on that uniform.”
Michael, I agree with you there. I am very impressed with today’s armed forces. But I believe that it is because they are the volunteers that they impress both me and you. The non-volunteer military I knew was the kind that caused mothers and fathers to bar their daughters from dating troops.
I believe that in large part because of the all- volunteer nature of today’s military, we have the forces with the capability to defend our shores and the security of our nation with honor and efficiency. I fear that a military stocked in large part with the conscripted would be neither honorable nor efficient.
When proponents of mandatory military service begin to extol the virtues of their plans, they fail to see the danger to our economy. The first and obvious problem is to come up with the funds to pay all of these young people! We would be creating huge numbers of new federal jobs, paying novices who must undergo months of training before yielding any worth to the country, and then probably leave just as they have enough experience to be profitable.
Housing is a problem as well, since most of the military bases in this country have been closed and converted into golf courses or shopping malls or housing developments. Having mandatory service means obtaining vast chunks of land and massive building projects.
Sending the troops overseas to participate in Peace Corps-style activities sounds great on paper, but then we still have to feed, clothe and house them all and that is money that is going overseas with them rather than circulating at home. I furthermore shudder to think of the damage to America’s reputation that could occur should we send large numbers of our more rebellious and anti-establishment young people amongst some of the world’s less sophisticated populations.
Another problem is the young people themselves, many of whom plan their entire lives around a linear march to the goal of a college or junior college degree and then a leap into the world of work. The America of 50 years ago had plenty of factory jobs for veterans leaving the service without any non-military training. America’s work environment is very different in the 21st Century. The labor-intensive jobs tend to bleed off overseas where wages are far lower. We keep creating cutting-edge jobs and when they are simplified and automated enough, they slip across the borders. As a nation, then, the jobs available usually require specialized training, the kind you are best able to get right after high school.
Why is the linear education path best? Because of human nature. We grow older, we begin to pair up with the opposite sex, get married, have children and acquire many expenses. Most young people need to get trained early while they are still single and largely responsible for none other than themselves. In addition, most of us do best when we tackle a task and stay at it until finished. Plenty of recruits would not get back on the education path after their mandatory service for that reason. Many young people shed the school harness and would prefer to keep working and making a paycheck even though the paycheck is less than the one potentially earned after career training. Some of our best young people use the military to help them further their education, granted. These are the bulk of the recruits the military obtains today. But those who would be better off going right to college and then right into the work force are best not directed elsewhere lest they go astray.
I have to agree with the premise that the military can help develop the character of young people. In other cases it will precipitate resentment and rebellion that will not be tamed but rather acted upon to the detriment of society in general. Most of those in the military now had the basic character traits both Michael and I value before they entered into service. In almost any case, those who are willing to serve their country are not going to enjoy the company of those who do not. General morale and efficiency will suffer as a result.
In my opinion, the responsibility for the development of the character of young people falls to the parents first, the individual second and society a very distant third. My taxes help educate my children and the offspring of my neighbors. It would arouse my ire to have my tax dollars go to bring about a system that I believe will ruin the military, harm the economy and cause a great deal of grief to those I now admire. Let’s set aside the talk of a mandatory military once, and for all!
About the author: Kimbal Ross Binder is a husband of one wife and parent of six child units of various sizes. He is a tennis bum, karaoke singer, punster and a reformed liberal who now admires Rush Limbaugh and hates to miss Fox News in the evening. You can pass along plaudits and invectives to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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