Other people's children

Posted: Jan 09, 2002 12:00 AM
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Senators. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., are sponsoring a bill to expand the AmeriCorps fivefold, to 250, 000 paid volunteers, with half of the new jobs slotted for homeland defense. Atlanta Constitution columnist Cynthia Tucker has proposed two years of mandatory service for every American young adult. "Not a military draft necessarily, although military service should certainly be one of the options, " she wrote. Foreign terrorists invade American territory to kill 3,000 civilians, and the answer is more reading tutors? Oh, and maybe some more troops. It tells you something when America is attacked and military enlistments do not go up. "We did notice a marked increase in the amount of interest expressed by young people in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks," explained Army Major James Cassella. "But subsequent enlistments did not reflect any increase above what we would normally see." (Normal is 200,000 recruits annually, the number needed to keep the military an all-volunteer force.) Instead of voicing new respect for military service, politicians are telling kids to show their love of country by working in a soup kitchen. They give short shrift to the sine qua non of American life: defense. Without a military to keep aggressors at bay, this country will not remain free. So opinion leaders scold middle-class kids about their duty to help others, but not about their duty to do military service. Hey, let poor folks -- many who enlist largely for the educational opportunities -- do the grunt work in America's defense. Tucker and Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution argue that mandatory national service would be a great equalizer -- as the military used to be, when a sense of duty led the sons of patricians to serve beside the children of coal miners and dock-workers. But there would be no equalizer in mandatory service that allows students to opt out of military service. Indeed, such a plan would continue the ghettoization of the military by allowing the precious children of elite college graduates -- many of whom attend the estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of high schools that bar military recruiters from their campus -- to opt out of boot camp to work for a politically correct cause. I should disclose that I have never served in the military. And yes, it is convenient that at 47 I find reasons why others should do so. But if the Pentagon should find itself facing a volunteer shortage, then the answer might be a mandatory three-month national service for college-age Americans -- of both genders -- followed by a two-year nonactive reserve status. Three months would keep the federal government's costs down, not interfere unduly with college or work and introduce young people to a world of service, duty and obligation -- as well as participating in their own defense. Such a draft would change the dynamics of a world in which the children of professional people grow up expecting other people's children to defend them. Yes, it's a dirty job, and someone else has to do it. Thus, when John Walker Lindh emerged from his Taliban service, many yuppie parents saw their own children in him. They could see, they confessed, how their children might take a wrong turn on the road to self-discovery. They did not see their children in the faces of slain CIA agent Mike Spann or the now- dead Sgt. Nathan Chapman. Their children might join the Taliban, but not the U. S. Army.