Stanley A. McChrystal, the former U.S. general, just wrote a piece for us calling for “a service year [that] would teach young Americans tolerance and restore civic responsibility.” (Presumably that service would be compulsory, but he doesn’t say so explicitly.) Money quote from McChrystal:
Presidents since Washington have summoned Americans to serve their country in times of crisis—Washington in the Revolution; Lincoln in the Civil War; FDR in the Great Depression; Kennedy in the Cold War; Johnson in the War on Poverty; Clinton to strengthen community and access to college; and Bush after 9/11. National service and civic engagement are old ideas, but they are in need of renewal. It’s entirely feasible for the United States to create 1 million service-year positions each year by the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026. We should do it.
This reader is onboard:
I agree wholeheartedly with McChrystal. As a veteran, I am flummoxed by the level of political vitriol some people hold. I served next to men and women from all kinds of backgrounds—the children of missionaries with a loose grasp of pop culture, farm kids, young people who’d been homeless before the military, children of hippies rebelling against their parents, people from the island territories, children of influential families, people with political ambition, Muslims, Mormons, atheists, socialists, libertarians, you name it.
We had lots of fascinating discussions on guard shifts in the wee hours of the morning. Our differences were no obstacle to the mission. We worked together regardless. Indeed, we benefited from a variety of perspectives. And we had each other’s backs when our lives were on the line in a war zone.
But I came home to find some people with this notion that their political adversaries were their enemy, that someone with a different perspective must be disloyal to the country, and actively working to undermine it. I just don’t get it.
A few other readers, however, dissent over the idea:
The idea that mandatory national service will bring people together is just not supported by the experience of other countries that have it.