The way to bring Americans together is fairly obvious


As soon as I saw this headline this morning:

Americans are stuck in bubbles. Here’s a way to pop them.

I thought, “The answer is obvious: National service.”

Y’all have heard my theory before, I’m sure: That American politics starting being nasty, with Democrats and Republicans thinking of each other as “the enemy” rather than as fellow Americans, when men who had not served together in the military started rising to top leadership positions in both parties.

Civil deliberation, a process upon which our republic relies in order to work, went off a cliff about the time Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich rose to lead their respective parties. What did they have in common? Neither had had the melting-pot experience of military service. Before them, political leaders who had not served in uniform were rare. After them, that was the norm.

And from then on, the partisanship got worse and worse. Guys who had served together had had an early formative experienced that forced them to realize that they had something fundamental in common with other Americans, regardless of race, religion, social class, regional origin or political views. As different as they might have been going into the Army, basic training taught them they were all just dogfaces. (Those who went into the Navy, Marines and Air Force had similar leveling experiences.)

But never mind me and my theory. Richard Cohen’s column this morning makes the same point, as you can tell he’s going to do from the first graf:

I once had a very close friend named Charlie. We spent every day together, and much of the night, too. I got to learn about his family and old neighborhood, and he got to learn about mine, and then one day I saw him no more. I went my way, and he went his, and it has been many years, but I remember him still. We had been in the Army together….

I was 23, an erstwhile claims guy for an insurance company who had been plodding through college at night, six credits a semester. At Fort Dix and later Fort Leonard Wood, I got thrown in with country boys who had never had a toothbrush (the Army gave them false teeth) and tough city kids who strutted the barracks by day but cried for their mothers in their sleep at night.

I learned about their lives, even their sex lives (I will spare you), and I got to like them, and some of them liked me as well. We all had the same goal, which was to get through training. We all dressed alike, ate the same food, showered together and, over time, became a single unit. I mostly hated the Army, but I mostly loved those guys.

Now the Army is for volunteers only. Now affluent kids go to schools and colleges with similar people and, afterward, work is usually not much different. They don’t know anyone who never used a toothbrush or cries in the night for his mother or speaks in a Southern accent so thick in molasses it might as well be a foreign language. These folks do not, in short, know America….

OK, I’ll stop there lest I get in trouble with the Post for exceeding Fair Use. But you get the idea.

You should read the whole thing, and when you do you’ll find that Cohen is not advocating a reinstatement of the draft.

Nor am I, at least at this moment in our history. Reinstating the draft would be problematic today. To cite but one problem, it would be politically difficult to institute a draft of males only. I’m not going to get into why I’d oppose drafting women and girls today; I’ll just say that I (and a lot of other people, including many, I suspect, who wouldn’t admit that was why they opposed the draft) don’t hold with it. Besides, the generals don’t really want draftees anyway — they much prefer to command patriotic and motivated volunteers, and it’s hard to blame them.

So it’s hard to make the argument right now that it’s a national security necessity.

Another problem I have is that as great a unifier as the draft was in its time, it was far from perfect. For instance, it left out guys like me. I’ve always sort of resented that — I’m a fairly healthy guy who could have made a contribution. At the same time, I can understand not wanting a soldier who, separated from his medications, could have an asthma attack in the middle of a battle and let the unit down.

But surely I could have been useful. That’s why I join Cohen in calling for a broader sort of national service that includes everybody, as they have in such places as Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Norway.

It would be good for those involved, and good for the country.

And it would send my libertarian friends ’round the bend, so there’s that cherry on top as well… 🙂

26 thoughts on “The way to bring Americans together is fairly obvious

  1. Juan Caruso

    Though still not a bad idea, there were times when National service could certainly have been more unifying than today. Trial lawyers and their Washington counterparts have attempted to persuade, often successfully, our populace to determine their value by a litigatable nuance of identity politics:

    “It’s funny that liberals can differentiate between 85 genders but can’t see the difference between illegal and legal immigrants.” 3:07 PM – 22 Jul 2017 @MikePenceVP (an American politician, lawyer)

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m going to take the lack of comments as complete agreement on the part of my readers, and proceed accordingly. 🙂

    Expect to get a letter soon that starts out, “Greetings…”

  3. Richard

    The problem is 50% of those draft eligible are either morbidly obese, high school dropouts, people with police records, people who have 0 work ethic, or people who have never lived more than 50 feet from their mother.

    The CCC, WPA, and other government work programs would never work today because of the slack… culture.

          1. Claus2

            Which version? The actual event history or the PC rewritten history?

            Nazi Germany (1933–1945) Censorship in Nazi Germany was extreme and strictly enforced by the governing Nazi Party. It was implemented by the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. All media—literature, music, newspapers, and public events—were censored.

            1. Claus2

              I’m curious, did it take him 24 hours to approve messages too?

              … it took me 8 tries to get the I am not a Robot approval…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      I think folks will get paid some money. Even if they weren’t paid, and it was mandatory, I’m not 100% sure the courts would find it violates the 13A.

      In the 1916 case of Butler v. Perry, the Supreme Court held that the 13A didn’t prohibit mandatory and unpaid work on the roads.

      Hey, you never know. Maybe this is how SC is gonna fix the roads – mandatory labor from all males between 21 and 50 for two days a year.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Are chain gangs gone?

          They don’t wear chains, but I regularly see work crews of prisoners along the roadsides — mostly picking up trash.

          It’s been several years since I saw such a crew watched over by an armed guard, à la Boss Godfrey. And I think that was in North Carolina….

  4. Doug Ross

    Couple points:

    Veterans overwhelmingly voted for Trump.

    Learning to kill people without thinking is a strange way to build community service.

    Forcing people to serve may not have the desired effect you think it has.

    It’s not 1950. Thankfully.

    My theory is the bubble was created in 2001 when the planes hit the towers. That changed the national psyche in a way that will take a generation to recover from. Fighting endless wars and having a media environment that also preys on people’s fears (see the Irma hysteria) only adds to the cocooning factor.

      1. Doug Ross

        Your premise is that national service somehow would get people out of “bubbles” where people wouldn’t think of others as enemies. My premise is that most of the people who are the angriest these days are Fox News watchers who lived through that era of military service. It didn’t make the people over age 65 better human beings…

        The (mostly) men who are ex-military are some of the most strident conservatives in this country.

        What possible “national service” do you envision that wouldn’t end up with a hierarchy like the military and deferments for the rich and well connected? Picking up trash? Digging ditches? Or just many, many government agencies with all sorts of make work, do nothing jobs?

        People have all sorts of opportunities to serve without being forced to do so. Forcing someone to do it isn’t going to make people more community minded….

        1. Claus2

          Maybe Brad can recruit inner-city youths, he can go into the south-side Chicago, Detroit, his old stomping ground Memphis and tell kids he wants to send them to Wyoming and Idaho to plant trees and pay them minimum wage.

  5. Karen Pearson

    I’m inclined to agree with you Brad. It need not be military service, but a year or two’s worth of physical training (and no, it doesn’t have to be serious enough to prepare a person for war) and community service, while separated from the insular communities most of us live in, might do a lot to help both “snow flakes” and neo-nazi wannabes realize that there are other ways of thinking than theirs, and that it’s possible to cooperate with people “not like you.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ah, yes, the snowflakes. This would do them, and everyone who has to interact with them, a world of good.

      No safe spaces. No trigger warnings. Just dealing with other people as they are, and learning to live with it…

      1. Claus2

        What about the time-out cards given out in Boot Camp now? I suppose you want to do away with those as well. What if a recruit just needs a good cry and is feeling stressed?

        Why not just take the Mormon route and send everyone off to a 3rd world country for two years. When they get back they have an arranged marriage if they’re over 25 years old and then give 10% of their income to the church. This sounds a lot like what you’re talking about wanting.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Not what I was thinking of, but hey, why not?

          I think arranged marriages sound great, but I don’t think my kids do.

          I’ve only seen one Broadway show in my life. It was “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Alfred Molina as Tevye. I’ve always thought it was kind of a tragic story — all his daughters going against the Poppa’s wishes, flouting Tradition!

          Yeah, I know that’s not the way the playwright intended it. But what do playwrights know? 🙂

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