Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sylvia Smith and the Draft

In Sunday's Journal Gazette, Sylvia Smith advocated the reinstatement of the draft. She insists that all young Americans should serve two years either in the military, the Peace Corps, or some other national service program. She does not cite any particular emergency for making a draft necessary. She simply writes "But think of the benefits, starting with establishing a national norm the expectation that Americans give something to their country."

She notes that the word "draft" carries baggage with it due to the Vietnam conflict. "Draft" carries baggage because it was a horrendous mistake back then. It will be a mistake if it is tried with the current generation or any future generation.

She hope that mandatory national service will instill the value of voluntarism in young people. But I happen to know a little about young people because I am a young person. When something is mandatory, it is no longer "cool". Most young people only stay in school until they are no longer required to go. Try to fight obesity by making them take phys ed; as soon as they enter college they cease exercising and gain 15 pounds their freshman year.

True, many young people will cheerfully do as is asked of them and pick up a rifle or broom and do their patriotic duty. These people would do it whether they were required to or not. The rest of them will drag their feet and do the sloppiest job possible while picking up trash along the highway. Once their two years are up, they will never do any form of volunteer work again.

I propose that instead of making it mandatory, we should try the carrot approach. Offer college and high school credit in exchange for volunteer work. Hopefully they will take a liking to volunteer work and continue doing it for the rest of their lives. Because if young people are forced to "volunteer" they will lose all desire to labor on behalf of the community once they are no longer forced to work.

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