At this time of Thanksgiving, I’m
grateful for the U.S. military — not just for the usual reason that it
protects us from our foes but also because it has the potential to save
us from ourselves.
As I make my rounds each day in the capital, chronicling our
leaders’ plentiful foibles, failings, screw-ups, inanities, outrages and
overall dysfunction, I’m often asked if there’s anything that could
clean up the mess.
My usual answer is a shrug and an admission that there’s no
silver bullet. There are many possibilities — campaign spending limits,
term limits, nonpartisan primaries, nonpartisan redistricting, a third
party — but most aren’t politically or legally feasible, might not make
much of a difference or, as with Harry Reid’s rewriting of Senate rules
, have the potential to make things even worse.
one change, over time, could reverse the problems that have built up
over the past few decades: We should mandate military service for all
Americans, men and women alike, when they turn 18. The idea is radical,
unlikely and impractical — but it just might work.
There is no
better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years
than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of
Congress served in the military.
A Congressional Quarterly count
of the current Congress finds that just 86 of the 435 members of the
House are veterans, as are only 17 of 100 senators, which puts the
overall rate at 19 percent. This is the lowest percentage of veterans in
Congress since World War II, down from a high of 77 percent in 1977-78,
according to the American Legion. For the past 21 years, the presidency
has been occupied by men who didn’t serve or, in the case of George W.
Bush, served in a capacity designed to avoid combat.
coincidence that this same period has seen the gradual collapse of our
ability to govern ourselves: a loss of control over the nation’s debt,
legislative stalemate and a disabling partisanship. It’s no coincidence,
either, that Americans’ approval of Congress
has dropped to just 9 percent, the lowest since Gallup began asking the question 39 years ago.
so few serving in politics have worn their country’s uniform, they have
collectively forgotten how to put country before party and
self-interest. They have forgotten a “cause greater than self,” and they
have lost the knowledge of how to make compromises for the good of the
country. Without a history of sacrifice and service, they’ve turned
politics into war.
Compulsory military service, as old as
Athenian democracy and common in countries such as Israel that live
under threat, has been in decline in Western Europe since the end of the
Cold War. But an exception, Switzerland, is instructive: On Sept. 22,
the Swiss voted 73 percent to 27 percent
to keep their conscription army. It has less to do with security than
with national identity in a land of 26 cantons and four official
languages. The government argued that military service
teaches people “how to live and work with compatriots from all regions,
all linguistic groups and all social strata,” which “contributes
enormously to the national cohesion.”
In Switzerland, the sons of
bankers and farmers alike do basic training for several months and then
are recalled to service for brief periods. But the structure is less
important than the service itself. My former colleague Tom Ricks
proposes bringing back the draft in the United States but allowing for a
civilian national service option — teaching, providing day care and the
like — for those who don’t want to join the military.
mass movement for mandatory service, but the idea has gained a diverse
group of supporters, including retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Rep. Charlie Rangel
(D-N.Y). Gun-rights groups would cheer an armed citizenry, and an article published by the libertarian Cato Institute argued
that compulsory service “can be a pillar of freedom.”
costs would be huge. But so would the benefits: overcoming growing
social inequality without redistributing wealth; making future leaders,
unlike today’s “chicken hawks,” disinclined to send troops into combat
without good reason; putting young Americans to work and giving them job
and technology skills; and, above all, giving these young Americans a
shared sense of patriotism and service to the country.
take some time, but this new generation of Americans, once again asking
what they can do for their country, would undo much of the damage
today’s crop of self-interested leaders is doing to our politics. (end of article)
Z: Imagine those PUNKS pushing the elderly over and how they might benefit from the military? They should be the first ones in; Let's get our kids back to unlearning what they learn at home and school; that we owe them a living. Bravo, Mr. Milbank
What do you think?