|Vietnam Veterans of America|
BY RONALD A. PARSONS
American society is extremely complex and perhaps one of the most diverse on the planet. In the past, mandatory male conscription and social work programs have been successfully employed to further the public good. But national service, of any type, only rarely has been uniformly introduced among all American social classes and economic groups.
Large segments of the population—such as females and the wealthy—have all but completely escaped any type of national service, even during times of war or other national emergencies. This fact alone undermines the doctrine promulgated in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that “all people are created equal, regardless of race, creed, color, ethnicity, gender, or financial status.” It also disregards the 14th Amendment’s Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The resulting inequity undermines the future health and growth of American society. America’s 18-26 age group suffers from widespread alcohol and drug addiction, as well as obesity and lack of education and training. But what is most disturbing is the lack of discipline and patriotism among this group. Universal service would help fix that inequity.
People who do not understand a concept such as universal service have a tendency to plug it into the nearest thing they do understand, such as war and mandatory selective service. That is one of the reasons true universal service has not been introduced as a method to maintain national security and social equilibrium. Instead of uniting, Americans now are being torn apart, separated by gender, race, and economic status.
Today, there is no cohesive national policy to educate or train America’s young people, a situation that is increasingly problematic for the nation. National service would be for one or two years immediately graduating from high school or turning 18 years old. The program would be introduced equally among every social, racial, ethnic, gender, and economic class, thereby eliminating the question of who serves the nation when all do not.
With the advent of national service several government agencies would have to be modified to redevelop their employment under one umbrella to offer a more cohesive domestic and foreign policy structure. That group would include the Selective Service System (for the military), the National Park Service, the Peace Corps, and the Job Corps.
There would be no deferments or exemptions from the Universal Service program, except for those in extreme physical or psychological distress. At first, only 10 percent of the population would be selected by lottery. Then over the years the numbers would grow to include a percentage required by law. Those inducted into national service, when discharged, would earn a preference for government employment and increased educational assistance for college or job training.
THE UNRAVELING SOCIAL FABRIC
America’s traditional social fabric is unraveling because of the failure of the public educational system, opiate and alcohol addiction, destruction of the traditional American family unit, economic instability, erosion of religion, and obesity. Many wealthy residents are exempt from the draft through a medical and political labyrinth only available to those who can afford it. The entire system, as it now stands, is completely inequitable and unjust—especially for lower-income men.
In addition, many families have avoided military service for generations. The last U.S. president to serve on active duty in the military was George H.W. Bush, who fought in World War II. The military is no longer an American male’s rite of passage, and since the Vietnam War the specter of negativity has clouded the respect and honor given to those who embrace one of this country’s foundational tenets, honorable military service.
Mandatory national service, of any type, does not appeal to American voters unless the nation is in peril—an antipathy that could prove fatal. One modern example of universal service is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Depression era. Those conscripted into the CCC and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) designed and built many state and national parks, along with America’s post offices and municipal buildings. Yet the physical construction of property was not the CCC’s most endearing contribution to America.
The CCC and WPA taught people of diverse backgrounds and educational levels that they could work and build a project and a nation together during times of crisis. The CCC instilled a sense of accomplishment, pride, uniformity, and national identity in everyone who served. Their families and the entire nation witnessed their accomplishments. Even artists drew murals on postal lobby walls. Everyone contributed. It was a time in American society when people worked together to build a nation, regardless of their economic or social status.
The ruling elite in America are not royal families of hereditary bloodlines; they are the wealthy and powerful who mostly have not spent a single day in any type of national service. Still, they are allowed to donate huge sums of money to lobby for political changes that suit them.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Americans face an increasingly complex world and an uncertain future. No longer are traditional foes poised for physical invasion of our homeland. Since the 1950s massive nuclear war has threatened our families with thousands of missiles in underground silos, on submarines, and satellites circling the earth. The greatest threat to America is its own ignorance and lack of preparation to combat evolving technologies.
In the wake of 9/11 the perception of national survival has drawn us into seemingly never-ending Third World “brush fire” wars on terrorism across the globe. America is the best at war, but continuous foreign wars are slowly eroding our national purpose and financial stability. We can never force countries such as Afghanistan, North Korea, or Vietnam to be democracies. We can, however, destroy our enemies by being a strong nation internally, and not offer favored-nation status to those who oppose the American model of democracy.
It is impossible to determine the next external threat and the nuclear, biological, or chemical agents that could be infiltrated through sea ports, airlines, trucks, or drones. Rogue states can go nuclear and emerge as a threat to our homeland and allies at any time. America is now and will always be threatened. The only guarantee is that the threat will change over time and we must adapt and change with it.
America’s intelligence agencies were warned time and again that 9/11 was coming, but due to a lack of communication some 3,000 Americans died. Fighting the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq gave the American electorate something concrete to fixate on, but the long-term threat to democracy went unaddressed.
What we have failed to do, as a nation, is to establish a national identity with our young people or give them a sense of purpose. Nation building begins at home. No house can stand without a strong foundation, and we in America are not building this nation for long-term survival.
I remember a note written on a barracks blackboard of a Marine base in Afghanistan. It said, “The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall.” That statement is true. There are two Americas: the America that sacrifices all it has in war and the obese America that is self-absorbed and doesn’t recognize that sacrifice because they’re at the mall. This two-America model erodes the basic concepts of the democracy intended by the Constitution.
The military is not an educational system. It trains people. It is highly dependent on the civilian educational system, a system it has no control over. Recruits must be able to read and write, understand basic mathematics, and have social skills in order to enter military service.
Some American cities have less than a 50 percent high school graduation rate. Americans with few skills are placed in infantry units where high casualties from combat result. They are often minorities from the places where the civilian educational system has collapsed. The military does not discriminate, but it does select the best-qualified personnel for training.
What has gradually evolved through the All-Volunteer Military is that the National Guard is being used to back-door the draft. Guardsmen are being induced to enlist, falsely, under the umbrella of state service.
National Guard soldiers are serving in combat with their neighbors and employers, but they are not as well equipped or trained as the regular Army. The high rates of psychological problems from combat experiences among this group underscores the need for change.
State National Guard units were never intended to bear the burden of multiple long-term military combat deployments. Yet Congress demands that sacrifice from them. A state’s National Guard is intended to deal with state emergencies. Any use in a war is meant to be only on a temporary basis to fill regular military units in times of extreme crisis until regular units can be trained and deployed to replace them.
When the state National Guard units are called into full-time service in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan young working mothers and fathers must interrupt their lives and go into combat situations for long periods. The long-term negative impact on family life, careers, and physical and mental health is irrevocable and leaves a lasting legacy.
What’s more, serving with neighbors in combat zones has limitations and unique problems. When there are high casualties the impact is on one geographical area. Also, not deploying America’s A Team into combat situations sends the wrong message to our enemies.
When America introduces the draft it sends a clear message to our enemies of the nation’s universal support for military service. The truth is that Congress fears re-starting the draft because of widespread social unrest and the lack of support among social classes. Universal service, however, offers a variety of educational opportunities.
The All-Volunteer Force as it stands today is an amalgam of vocational alternatives and patriotic volunteers. What it is not is a cross-section of society and what it has are recruiting problems, especially during a prolonged crisis. But the greatest crisis is in not planning for the future.
Politicians who promulgate the rules are elected for between two and six years. When the next crisis emerges, America may not have time to introduce a new mechanism of forced conscription during a national emergency. Few really know how many people would actually be eligible if large national conscription were instituted.
Universal service, as outlined here, will help place American youth on a path to building a better America together.
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