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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Again, "National Service", forced volunteering, raises its ugly head

I served 23 years in the Army and Army Reserve and more than once I've discussed if we need to bring back the draft. Personally, barring World War III, I would never bring back a draft. I would rather have five men who volunteered for whatever reason (wanted to serve their country, needed to figure out what they wanted to do, wanted the college tuition assistance, etc) than ten who were counting down the days from the time they were forced in.

Now comes another liberal columnist, David Ignatius, saying what American needs is a form of involuntary servitude for it's young just as they are starting their lives.
The case for national service

At Thanksgiving, Americans think about the spirit of community that animates the country at its best. But in a year characterized by so much political and racial discord, you have to wonder whether the communal quilt is fraying at the edges.

Here’s an idea for reweaving our country’s fabric through a program of national service. This proposal was outlined by two Americans with very different backgrounds: Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchor, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. They’re joined by dozens of other advocates in an initiative called the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute.

Brokaw, who was awarded the Medal of Freedom on Monday by President Obama, explored in his book “The Greatest Generation” the shared ideals that kept the country together during the Great Depression and World War II. He wrote recently, in promoting the national service idea: “For an emerging generation of Americans, now is an opportunity to renew and strengthen [our] tradition of rising to meet the challenges an unpredictable world places in its path.”

McChrystal has led U.S. men and women in the most demanding form of service — on the battlefield. In an article this summer for the journal Democracy, he argued: “What we need is to create a culture of service in America, one in which a year of service is culturally expected, if not quite mandatory by law.” He contended that making civic participation a rite of passage for young Americans could “mend an increasingly shorn society.”

The Franklin Project envisions a network that by 2023 would allow 1 million Americans between 18 and 28 to serve the country each year through the military or civilian programs such as Teach for America or the Peace Corps and eligible nonprofit organizations. Unlike a wartime draft, this program would rely on a cultural norm that service is expected.

McChrystal argues that a belief in service is already embedded in U.S. culture but that it isn’t mobilized. He refers to a 2010 Pew Research Center poll that reported that 57 percent of the millennial generation (those born after 1980) had done volunteer work in the previous 12 months.

Data from existing programs show a striking imbalance between the desire to serve and the opportunities to do so. McChrystal cites AmeriCorps, a program to encourage service in schools, nonprofits and other civic organizations. In 2011, it had 580,000 applications for about 80,000 slots, he writes. Similarly, Teach for America, a program to recruit teachers for schools in disadvantaged areas, had 48,000 applications for 5,200 openings in 2011.

To match demand and supply, the Franklin Project is creating a “service year exchange.” This online platform would match young people seeking service positions with qualified organizations. Opportunities would include nonprofits, schools and colleges, and state, local and national governments. The driving force for young people, McChrystal says, would be the expectation that spending a year helping others is part of American citizenship.

No, service should be voluntary. If you want to volunteer at a charity or other nonprofit, there are plenty of opportunities. Churches, homeless shelters, alcohol and drug abuse centers, reading assistance at low income area schools, libraries, hospitals. But the three agencies specifically mentioned, the military, the Peace Corps, Teach for American all have some sort of pay involved. It is simply nature, "I can volunteer to be a good guy or I can 'volunteer' for money? Let me think!"

More than that, I think trying to make a cultural norm of indentured servitude is just wrong. If you want to "serve" by volunteering, fine. You want to go into the military for a tour or two, great. If you want to get into college or work and start your life, excellent. But it is what you want to do. If you want to bring back another cultural norm, how about not having kids out of wedlock, delaying children till after school, raising your own kids,

Also, I find this curious, if not typical. Except for General McCrystal, I don't see anyone "serving" out of the group pushing this. I checked the Wikipedia biographies of Brokaw and David Ignatius and I don't see any "service" in their young days. Brokaw and Ignatius went to college and then started their careers. If that's good enough for them, I think it's good enough for me and my children.

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