A friend sent me a report on last month’s Aspen Institute Summit on the Franklin Project to establish national service for every American, an idea I have supported in previous posts that seems to be gaining traction. 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. But I worry that the current efforts to attract the broadest constituency will just water down the program. It’s fine to appeal to vague idealism, but we already have the flag, mom and apple pie. Rotarians and legislators love the clichéd language of civic boosterism, but do 18-year-olds? Doesn’t the call to make universal service “socially obligatory” rather than “legally mandatory” mean that those who don’t want to do it don’t have to?
I think we should draft them, 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. 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.