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We don’t need a ‘national service’ program

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Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 1:30 am

Isn’t it about time to reinstate the draft?

I would think no one would consider such a policy reversal, but unfortunately, that’s what the former commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, believes we should do.

On Sunday, McChrystal told Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he believed “national service is important for the nation, and that’s having all young people serve a term of national service.”

He’s not exclusively calling for military service, but he believes young Americans should do something to serve their country that does not involve personal gain.

In a column for the Daily Beast, McChrystal argued, “When America needs it, national service is the personal obligation of every American.” He contends that with our inalienable rights, outlined in our founding documents, Americans have “inalienable responsibilities.”

From where do these inalienable responsibilities originate? He doesn’t say. But don’t worry. McChrystal later says, this new national service program would be “voluntary (but expected),” — whatever that means.

He fails to specify how this program, unlike an actual military draft, would be voluntary. Then again, we are told that we “voluntarily” pay our taxes as well. So this could just be Orwellian doublespeak.

Young people should be wary of politicians and public figures who call for reinstituting a draft or national service program. Historically, calls to nationalism and an obligation to one’s country do not turn out well.

Morally, the idea that one owes anything to the nation in which they are born by the mere accident of their birth is repugnant and contrary to the founding principles of the U.S.

When President James Madison tried to institute the draft during the War of 1812, he immediately faced opposition. In a speech delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives, Massachusetts Sen. Daniel Webster rightly asked, “Is [conscription], Sir, consistent with the character of a free government? Is this civil liberty? Is this the real character of our Constitution? No, Sir, indeed it is not.”

In other words, how is requiring national service consistent with the ideas of liberty?

During the Civil War, although most men in Union states signed up voluntarily, the draft first called to arms many men who did not wish to fight. Forcing men to fight and die against their wills while simultaneously condemning slavery defies all logic.

Regardless, the draft became a staple of American military history until the Vietnam War. The needless deaths of young men who did not wish to fight in conflicts that had nothing to do with defending American sovereignty (e.g., World War I and Vietnam) illustrates just how immoral and burdensome conscription can be when taken to its extreme.

How easy it must be for McChrystal to call upon today’s youth and demand they pursue national service.

Yes, McChrystal served throughout the world for the U.S. as a long-time member of the armed services. But just because he chose a path of service does not give him the moral authority to demand everyone else also serve in some capacity.

Will public officials heed McChrystal’s call for national service? Probably not.

However, it is important to reflect on how disastrous such a policy can be.

Young people should stand up to bullies who demand we sacrifice our liberty or even our lives for a government that continues to pile on the debt for us and future generations — or any government for that matter.

Justin Hayes is pursuing a master’s degree in Political Communication. His column appears on Wednesdays. You can contact him via [email protected].

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