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compulsory civil service?

This is something of a reaction to a Washington Post editorial by some guy who worked under Nixon (though likely, like Kissinger and Haig, not for Nixon). After reading it I have dismissed it as asinine. Evidently the presence of what amounts to a military caste that does all the fighting is making some statists queasy. To quote the author, It is not enough for a few to fight the wars, guard the borders and serve in office while the majority reap the benefits. The fellow obviously thinks little of those who serve on juries, work on public boards, or even vote. These, more than military service, are the core of a republic.

But then why else would the author suggest the creation of compulsory civil service for the young, like they have in some European countries?

  1. That young people would be forced to work for a year after high school with very little compensation and without having been convicted for any crime is nothing more than involuntary servitude. Any law mandating such compulsory civil service will be challenged in court as unconstitutional under the thirteenth amendment.
  2. That the already-existing voluntary civil service organization, AmeriCorps, is not as popular as politicians would like it. (But at least those who serve in AmeriCorps and comparable agencies like the Peace Corps are volunteers!) This makes a compulsory civil service scheme even less popular.
  3. That large numbers of compulsorees serving in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and governments on the cheap would serve to depress wages for teachers, practical nurses, and lower-payed government workers, especially in workplaces with weak or no unions. That, in turn, would discourage the young (esp. the compulsorees themselves) from seeking careers in such places where future compulsorees would work.
  4. That the assumption that compulsory civil service would somehow make the compulsorees better people (or at least better citizens) is false. The youth of today are not those of the post-WWII period; they are even those of the 1960's. They have been raised on popular media more than by their parents. What makes the author think that a year of servitude would reverse a childhood of lassitude induced by television, the commercial Internet and (hopefully benign) parental neglect? Would it not instead make such youth bitter towards the federal government for having stolen a year of what they believe is their time?
  5. Isn't after-school private employment supposed to foster a culture of responsibility? Or do we have in the author a trace of contempt for private activity in contrast to the noble activity of public service?

The nation has always been threatened by anti-democratic forces from without: Nazism, communism, Islam. (That the USA has backed these forces by trade is off-topic.) The author seems to forget that our external enemies are nothing at all compared to the internal forces that have been eating away at America's social and cultural capital for decades. These forces have so shaped America that it is no longer the country for which the author fought in World War II. The America of today is a country that, drugged on popular media and ignorant of its past, has quietly walked the smooth sign-less road to autocracy. The author's call for compulsory service is just another shovel full of asphalt on that road.

Posted on the Dysmey Blog on 4 October 2007.