Draft ‘em all: an appeal for universal service (Part 1)

Will the Commander-in-Chief’s new uniform have gold-braided epaulettes?

Amid plans for an imperial military parade currently being drawn up at the Pentagon (which you would hope had better things to do) and Erik Prince’s lingering proposal to privatize the war in Afghanistan (which Sen. Lindsay Graham called, “something that would come from a bad soldier of fortune novel”), this seems a good time to revisit the idea of universal service for America’s youth. There are many reasons to support it, and I’m in favor of every one of them. But right now, none seems more important than as an antidote to the grandiloquent, strutting imperialism currently being hawked in our country’s capital.

Here are some of the things I’ve written over the years:

  • There is “a troublesome trend in America: the evolution of a separate caste of men and women we send to fight our wars so we won’t have to. We praise their courage and send them again and again into battle while we go about our business. In exchange, we let them board airplanes early and enable politicians to demagogue their gratitude” (2014).
  • Only 5% of America’s young people are engaged in any public service” (2014).
  • There are many examples to build on – military service, Civilian Conservation Corps, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps – and there is so much to do – rebuild our infrastructure, revitalize urban neighborhoods, protect natural areas, educate children, revive a military that reflects the people as well as defends them, create a sense of shared community in a deeply divided nation” (2013).
  • Today, ‘only 5% of Americans have a direct tie to our military.’ For a country built on the ideal of the citizen-soldier – who like Cincinnatus, after serving Rome, returned to his plough – that’s a disgrace, as are the wars we increasingly send them to fight.”
  • The growing separation of our military from the rest of us, along with the increasing use of private armies like Blackwater to pursue off-the-books wars, is an alarming trend. It allows us to pay lip service to sacrifice without thinking much about what sacrifice means. It creates a military separated from the people it serves, forgetting James Madison’s admonition that ‘a standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.’ It equates honor and service with military duty only, which undervalues all who serve in different ways and overlooks the obligation we all owe to the greater community.”
  • I think we should draft them all, all of them. It’s fairer – one of the great injustices of the Vietnam-era draft was that the system was easy to manipulate by those seeking a way out. (NB: I wrote this in 2013.) It’s more democratic – we pay lip service to the soldiers we hire to fight our wars, even as we grow increasingly separated from them. And it would make us pay attention to what is happening to our country, both at home and abroad, and produce young people who might really become the change we have been waiting for.”


James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.