A call for universal civil service

A former Secretary of Defense and Representative, Melvvin R. Laird, is calling for universal civil service for all youths instead of a universal draft. He points out that the military doesn’t need that many soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines, but that the rest of the government could really, REALLY use the influx of manpower.

I personally think that military service should be one of the options, but otherwise agree with Mr. Laird.

13 replies »

  1. Brian,

    Do you think Laird is floating a trial balloon here to see if this call for universal service can be parlayed into a draft? Maybe it’s just my old distrust ’em all nature, but this has the feel of a trojan horse maneuver to me.

  2. We agree with Mr. Laird on this issue. Everyone Serves is working to encourage the next president and congress to initiate a program of mandatory national service. If you agree, sign our petition to show your support.

  3. Jim, it may be a Trojan horse, but it may not be too. Given that he was a SecDef for a while there when there was a draft, I presently choose to trust that he’s right about the Pentagon, and what he’s saying jives with what I understand about the military brass’ opinion on the draft – most hate it, since volunteers give you a military where more people are in it for the long term (Like my cousin, who’s now in Iraq for his 4th tour – this war).

  4. I agree with you, Brian. National service (including military service as the default, I propose) would be a democratizing influence. Our military is now little better than a mercenary force, hired by us to do our dirty work, distinguished from Blackwater mainly by its lower wages and more dangerous working conditions.

    Shockingly, I am not now acquainted personally with anyone who is serving in the military

  5. You can call it “Universal Civil Service” but conscription is conscription … what do you do for “conscientious objectors”. Or what happens if I’d prefer to work in my profession but you don’t have any options for me?

    “Universal Civil Service” linux programmers? electrical engineers?

    Just because the conscription isn’t about supporting the military doesn’t mean it isn’t still a bad idea. “Forcing” people to do things they didn’t volunteer to do is always a bad move.

    Really, really: what happens to the people who plain don’t want to. Are you prepared to punish them or send them to jail over this?

  6. I would only advocate that those people who want to serve their country in ways other than putting on a uniform and killing people be given the opportunity to do so.

    There are many things one can do to make the country a better place that don’t involve being used as cannon fodder.

  7. “Conscientious objectors” to something like being a teaching aide, or a soup-bank worker, or a interstate highway pavement layer? Come on, give me a break. This is why it’s universal national service, not a universal military draft.

    The goal here is to get to young people before they’re old enough to really have a profession. IMO, between secondary school and college is the perfect time.

    And yes, I am prepared to punish people who refuse their service.

    To me, this is about consciously and intentionally changing an entire culture from one of “me me me me me” to one that’s more “we’re all in this together – us” focused. And mandatory national service may be one of the better ways to do it. I’m willing to entertain serious notions about how to do this without mandatory national service, but I haven’t seen anything else that I think has a real chance of doing it.

  8. You know, Gavin, I wonder to what extent the appeal of mandatory service is shaped by our particular context. In principle I’m not much on the idea myself, but in reality I live in a culture that has simply redefined self-indulgence, that has almost zero collective self-awareness, that’s (to use Postman’s term) “amusing itself itself to death.” The emergence of the Millennial Generation is threatening to turbocharge this treacherous dynamic, and I find myself trying to imagine how, in the absence of some fairly massive intervening event, we’re going to survive what we have become.

    So maybe I see civil service as a possible hook for getting people invested in something other than what they’re instinctively interested in. I don’t know. I can’t say that it will work, but I can damn sure say that the alternative isn’t working….

  9. My sentiments exactly, Sam – I think for the sake of our collective futures that we need to somehow engage Millenials – at least in the US – in some kind of outward oriented service that gives them an understanding of what it means to serve somebody instead of being served all the damned time. It would have done both my sons a world of good, I believe….

    While I’m not a great fan of mandatory service plans of any kind, at least this one could be used to help young people mature and enrich their experience. It might get them thinking about their country, too, as something besides the world’s largest ATM…

  10. Jim, I mentioned Laird’s time under Nixon just to place him in time and to bring up Nixon’s mixed legacy on the issue. In fact, Laird could himself be described as a mixed legacy, a Rockefeller Republican who was tarred by Vietnam.

    Also, Jim, I was less than clear about the solution I would prefer. I want a draft, de jure not merely de facto, because I hate militarism. That seems counterintuitive, but there would be two beneficial effects, I think. First, seeding the army with people who are from every social class (and many of whom hate the army) would involve the whole citizenry in how the army is used, and it would make it more difficult for a Bush to instigate another war of choice. Second, a citizenry who has had military experience is likely to be more chary of military solutions, having experienced first-hand the inefficiencies and absurdities of army life (after I served in the army, I reread Catch-22 as nonfiction). We might then be able to introduce the now-radical notion that the 735 imperial bases the US now has around the world, in fact, make the US less safe than it would be with a much smaller, domestic, defensive force.

    And yes, civilian alternatives, for all the good reasons Brian gives. We live in a community which provides us with a legal-economic-security framework within which we can be Linux programmers and college professors and entrepreneurs, so I don’t see anything so terrible about having to give up a couple of years doing something for the community. And using conscription to accomplish that. As you say, Sam, the alternative is not working. Good phrase, Jim: outward oriented service.