I hated every minute in the army, but I am in favor of national conscription. Occupy War Street makes me think of one reason why.
There is a growing gap both in wealth and political power. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand. The interests of the super-rich are nicely served by the political system that is dependent upon their largesse. So we have an upward spiral in the wealth of 1 percent at the top (it is even greater for the .1 percent), while the interests of the rest are served with crumbs, if anything at all.
What does this have to do with national conscription? Millions took to protesting the war in Vietnam because every American knew someone who was directly touched by the war. The war’s effects were palpable in every American household. You simply couldn’t be neutral about the war. While the war divided Americans, it also brought people together by engaging them in the political process. Everyone had a stake in what happened.
Since the end of the Vietnam era, political involvement has been on a long downward slide. The tea party movement and OWS are flickers in an otherwise recumbent politic. But the two groups are still at the fringes. They also don’t talk with one another.
If there were a universal national draft, we would necessarily be engaged in the civic body in an ongoing (not once a year income tax time) way. I’m not proposing that everyone serve in the military. But everyone should serve in some program that is socially beneficial.
Furthermore, everyone should serve in a geographically heterogeneous group, where ideas, values and perspectives have a chance of cross-fertilizing. An OWS protester and a tea party person may share a room together, eat together and share personal stories.
This isn’t to idealize national service. As I said, I hated the army and I wished that there were alternative services available where I wouldn’t have been taught how to kill. Many will be unhappy with giving up a year or two from personal pursuits. But if civic engagement is increased, which I think it would as every family would be touched, then everyone comes out ahead.