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Mandatory Universal Community Service: The Best Chance to Unite Our Nation

May 15, 2019

Looking at the news and social media today, it is increasingly evident that we are no longer the UNITED States of America. Indeed, as a result of the libertarian foothold that emerged as a result of Reaganism and Milton Friedman’s economics and the opportunity for bloggers like me to publish ideas without the filter of the news media, we are increasingly individualized, personalized, and, therefore, isolated from each other.

Looking back at how this disintegration and dis-unity occurred over the course of my 72 years, I think the current state of affairs emerged from one misbegotten concept: the abandonment of the universal draft and the creation of the volunteer army. In retrospect, there was a chance to define America as a nation of citizens that cared about each other in the late 1960s. The war in Viet Nam was tearing our country apart as thousands of students idealistic anti-war college students took to the street and thousands of their working class cohorts were drafted to fight the war.

Then President Richard Nixon and Congress rightly perceived that one of the underlying causes of the dissent among college students was the inherent unfairness of the draft. Those who had political connections or wealth found ways to game the system by securing deferments. Those who had the good fortune to reside in areas where draft quotas were readily met never had to worry about being involuntarily drafted and could drift through their college-aged years without the fear of being conscripted to serve in the military. At the same time, those who resided in areas where few volunteered for the armed forces could expect to be drafted upon graduation or if they failed to make progress as undergraduates.

In 1969, Congress gave President Nixon the authority to modify the selection method for the draft. His initial “fix”, implemented by Executive Order, was to replace the existing draft system with a lottery whereby those eligible for the draft would have their birthdates assigned a number from 1 to 366. Those with lower numbers would be vulnerable to the draft and those with higher numbers no longer needed to worry. Any males in my age cohort can recall their draft number and their reaction when that number was revealed.

But the inherent inequities of the system were not addressed by the lottery as Two years later, he abandoned the draft altogether, replacing it with the all-volunteer army. In retrospect, this decision represents a missed opportunity.

WHAT IF instead of replacing the draft with an all volunteer army the President and Congress agreed to replace the draft with two years of voluntary service to be completed by all citizens before the age of 25. Those who wanted to serve in the armed forces could do so at a time that suited them and those who wanted to defer their service obligation until after college and/or graduate school could wait. This would have appealed to the idealism of the anti-war group by engaging them in the War on Poverty while allowing those who wanted to serve in the military to do so without feeling like they were alone in their commitment to making our country a better place.

By the way… we could institute this kind of universal service today and address the infrastructure upgrades we need while providing meaningful full-time jobs with benefits to millions of millennials. In doing so, we might provide a way for people across our country to get to know each other and become the UNITED States of America.

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