The Op-Ed pages of the New York Times never fail to yield something that provokes my thinking in a positive way (and, of course, much of that ends up here in this blog). Here is a very recent example.
I did not turn 18 until 1974, a point at which the American involvement in the Vietnam conflict was winding down. But I vividly remember going with my mother to register for Selective Service (i.e., the draft), and, while signing in, seeing the signatures and information of some of my high-school classmates. I found myself wondering what it would be like to actually be drafted, to serve in uniform, to put myself in harm's way. At the time, I'm forced to admit it was not an appealing concept.
Having read the Times' piece, however and, otherwise in retrospect, I'm forced to agree that the author is 100% correct. Mandatory service, whether in combat or in other forms, is a great leveller of Americans from all backgrounds, and perhaps serves as a way of tempering the political desire to use combat as a way of scoring electoral points. I'm also forced to agree that reinstating mandatory service is probably a political non-starter. A shame. It might provide a number of not-so-obvious benefits, such as reducing the general level of friction among Americans with different viewpoints, and helping young people searching for a personal and professional identity to find one.
At the risk of grinding my professional ax, and that of my wife, I'd also like to point out one other overlooked benefit of mandatory service: the opportunity to travel, to learn about other cultures and to share those cultural experiences domestically. Once upon a time, we were at war with the Vietnamese people; now, many of them are here, working in a variety of roles to claim a share of the American dream.
As the long-term outcome of a war that painfully divided this country, and many of its families in particular, there is a measure of solace in the Vietnamese presence in America today. Our way of life is a lot stronger than we think. This is why, for my wife and me, the current state of the immigration debate in this country is a tragedy and a disaster. If war does nothing else in a positive sense, it does teach us that there is more to humanity than ourselves.
Even if reinstating mandatory service is a non-starter at this point, it would be a worthy goal for an ambitious leader, or perhaps a new generation willing to reinstate in this country a sense of common purpose, of obligation to one another and to the rest of the world. I don't look forward to that happening while Trump is in office. But, maybe, one day ...