It's a question that occurred to me more than once during the Presidential campaign, and seems even more relevant now, in this economic downturn: why don't we bring back the draft?
Since 1980, the Selective Service System has been registering young men between the ages of 18 and 25, against the day that the U.S. government might reinstate conscription. I don't know how many people work for that agency; I don't know exactly what the agency does.
In 2008, however, it seems like the worst form of anachronism. Even its name is weirdly insulting. "Selective"? Select whom? Select men instead of women, select young instead of old, select high school dropouts instead of college graduates? And in this environment of stop-loss and declining recruitment numbers, what's it going to take to put this system into operation?
Candidate Barack Obama talked about creating a national service program, creating a sort of GI Bill for a broad spectrum of public service jobs. I wish he'd gone one step farther, and proposed compulsory service for all Americans between the ages of 18 and 25.
It wouldn't have to be military; it could be teaching, it could be hospital work, it could be highway construction. But it would be two years of work that would basically be donated to the country, in exchange for room and board and money toward higher education. Most important, it would be a shared experience that would bond us as citizens.
I'm sorry I didn't serve in the military. I wasn't old enough when I graduated from high school, and then the circumstances of my life sent me in a different direction. But I think about this particularly today, on Veterans' Day, when the old men gather to reminisce about what they went through together.
Some day the Iraq War veterans will do that, too, but it won't be the same. They'll always be a minority, and their pride will always be tempered by a certain touchiness, an anger about having to defend their decision to serve. That's not fair. That's not right.
It is good that we have this day to honor the men and women who fought for our nation. It is bad that they are an ever-declining minority of our population. We should all be veterans.