Garblog's Pages

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Former seminary student calls for mandatory public service | Zaq Harrison,

I was in college during four years of the failed and foolish U.S. escapade called the Vietnam War. I opposed that ill-begotten war, and I opposed the draft. Although I believe my opposition to the war was sincere, I've wondered since those times if some war opposition was mostly draft opposition; the government shouldn't be disrupting our lives by drafting people (and going to Vietnam would certainly do that, if not something worse).

I also recall President Kennedy urging people in the early '60s: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." I don't have his inaugural speech in front of me, but I assume he was partially promoting public service by U.S. citizens, perhaps in support of his proposal to launch the Peace Corp.

Many people idolize JFK, and many people still remember and quote that statement with admiration. I know I do. Fortunately, volunteers in the Peace Corps and later U.S. public service agencies like Vista and AmeriCorps continue to do valuable work around our world and our country. And, fortunately, volunteers still enlist in the armed forces to defend our country--too often, though, with leaders and our "representatives" launching deceitful, unnecessary wars that kill many young volunteers needlessly.

But I've wondered at times if too many of us are giving only lip service to patriotism and public service. Do we sincerely believe in not asking what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country? By choice, I worked in local government for more than 30 years, and believe my communications work was a public service--helping people to understand, influence and use their government programs.

But was that enough? As noted above, I still oppose the use of the draft to force young men to fight in that war. And I'm thankful I never had to do it. I did apply for the Peace Corps, though, but I had a medical condition that prevented me from becoming a volunteer.

So, I was able to get started right away on my communications career. And I'm also thankful for that. But I still think at times how valuable service in the Peace Corps would have been to me and to our country and other people on our planet.

Harrison advocated in this column that all post-high school, 18-year-old U.S. citizens should be required to serve a minimum 24 months, with options for longer periods. 

He writes:
Draftees would choose between the military services or from the many other qualified programs such as AmeriCorps, VISTA, Peace Corps, Citizen Corps as well as local and national nonprofits. In turn, the government would provide oversight, help in human resources management and funding. All of these would create a broad enough base of options to offer the draftees.
I know my sons, now in their 30s, would have opposed that requirement--and I also might have opposed it if it were thrown into the mix of their lives without expectations raised and preparation provided during their young and teenage years. But for the long-run, I'm thinking some required public service could be valuable to our future.  
As Harrison writes:
How else will all of our young adults – from the inner cities, the country, the suburbs, the private schools and the public schools – coalesce? Where else will our young adults learn about their commonalities and still celebrate their differences?

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