I don't think there is too much on which I would agree with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, but in June he called for the reinstitution of the military draft and I believe I agree with him - at least in principle - on that. Back during the years when my friends were getting drafted and sent to Vietnam, I had a different view on the matter, but seeing the way things have played out with this "volunteer army" has given me a whole new perspective.
Our military forces today are all volunteer and what that means in practice is that the people who end up in the military are either emotionally committed to that career or else they have no other viable choice. They are mostly poor and often don't have the option of going to college. They may join the military in hopes of later getting financial assistance for college or further training for a career. Middle-class kids with options rarely join the military. Rich kids almost never. For example, none of the sons of Mitt and Ann Romney chose to volunteer for the military and they are hardly unique among their peers in that.
And so the burden of defending our country and fighting its wars falls disproportionately on the lower economic groups in society. The very richest members of society, those who reap the greatest profits and benefits, never have to lift a finger or a gun in defense of the country. I actually think this explains a lot about their attitude toward the nation's politics. They believe they are entitled, just by virtue of being who they are. They don't owe the country anything - not their blood, or their sweat, or even their taxes. They are never taught a sense of duty to country and they are scathingly dismissive of those who choose a life of public service. All you have to do is listen to the regular rhetoric of the Republican Tea Party about government employees, who, I can assure you from personal experience, are NOT overpaid and underworked. But to hear the Republicans tell it, you would think that these people who work long hours to ensure that the country functions as well as it does, are merely sitting somewhere with their feet up all day long and if we could just get rid of them all the budget would be balanced and everything would be perfect.
It is important for the young to be taught that no one stands alone, we are all in this together, and we all owe service to one another and to our country. That should include the rich. And that is why the draft should be reinstituted - because it is the only way the sacrifice will be spread evenly across society.
But it shouldn't be a random draft. It should be mandatory national service for everyone. When a child turns 18, he or she should be required to spend at least a year - 18 months would be even better - in service to their country. It wouldn't have to be military service - in fact, military service would almost certainly have to be more than a year because of the training period required - because there is plenty that needs to be done in the civilian sector, from picking up trash from the highways to assisting in schools or daycare centers or hospitals or nursing homes or building roads and bridges or conservation projects; the list is almost literally endless. Such service would have the effect of making the young person more invested in his or her society. They would feel more of a sense of civic responsibility and solidarity with their fellow citizens.
In a country where we don't even have the political will to force the super-rich to pay their fair share of taxes, even though a majority of Americans claims to support the idea, it seems highly unlikely that we will force them to give us their children for a year of service, but we would be a better society if we could summon that will and our country would be stronger for it.