Ross Mackenzie

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton wants to create a national academy to train public servants, saying: “I’m going to be asking a new generation to serve. I think just like our military academies, we need to give a totally all-paid education to young men and women who will serve their country in a public service position.” She cites the nation’s military service academies as exemplars, but neglects to address either the military manpower shortage or the chasm between the nation’s civilian and military communities.

The nation does require young men turning 18 to register for the draft; the Selective Service System has 13.5 million on the books right now. Yet over the summer, so vast is the disconnect with the military, Selective Service bagged plans to test its draft machinery for the first time since 1998 — citing lack of money and staff.

Libertarians left and right object to compulsion, but service to one’s country may be a special case. Voluntary programs don’t have a high yield. Isn’t the time at hand for a compulsory service program, one or two years — with a front-end military component followed by enrollment in any on an endless list of civilian service entities — for all men and women 18-23? Why hasn’t a Republican picked up the fumbled ball and run it into the end zone?

Donald Horner, a leadership professor at the Naval Academy, had this to say in a Sept. 28 piece in the Baltimore Sun:

“The war is background noise. . . . We follow this war about as much as we pay attention to the daily operations of the Department of Agriculture.” Though he doubts it will happen, Horner favors a draft — to close the great divide “between Americans and their military.” A draft, he says, “could be designed to equally distribute service requirements among the rich, the middle class, and the poor.” Not only would it spread the burden. It also would heighten awareness “that we really are a nation at war.”

Compulsory universal service as outlined here would accomplish those things — and more — far better than a draft. It would help undo rampant selfishness and meism. And it would institutionalize service, both military and civilian, as central to the wellness of the country’s soul — conforming with Theodore Roosevelt’s admonition: “The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his weight.”

So (because pure volunteerism demonstrably isn’t cutting it) mandatory volunteerism. Compulsory (that is, no exceptions) universal service, with a front-end military component. Required give-back and pulling of one’s weight to keep America the land of the free.

What a concept.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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