Op-Ed: Require Universal Public Service

At a time when our society is coming unglued by political correctness, I ask myself “What the hell has happened to this country?”  What has happened to the “great melting pot?”

Years ago, immigrants came to this country from Germany, Italy, China, England and many more.  Those people maintained their identities – examples include, Little Italy and Chinatown, but still became Americans.  I remember jokes about virtually every ethnic background.  Yes, we actually laughed at each other, but when it came time to defend this country, we did it together.

In my opinion, what changed the “great melting pot” was the elimination of the draft for mandatory military service.  I joined the Army at age 20 and was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training.  Yes, it was military training, but it was also people training.  For the first time in my life, I had to associate, eat, sleep and work with African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, as well as people from diverse backgrounds of Appalachia and New York City.  I am sure all of those people felt the same about me.  What happened to me was what happened to America.  People from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds served in the military.

Is there anyone out there, over the age of 50, who has never heard or related a joke about the Irish, Germans, Polish, Japanese, Chinese or anyone else who came to this country?  The military draft was the great melting pot.  We were all there.  We were forced to live and work together, and live and work together we did.

The draft in the United States was eliminated in the 1970’s and since then there has been a downward spiral of respect for diversity.  Oh yes, we talk about diversity, but few today have lived with it as we did in the military.  Everything now is based on “me,” “my rights,” and “what I want to do.”  Seldom is anyone willing to sacrifice for the greater good.  We were also taught respect for the position of superiors.  We could dislike the person, but respect the position that the person held and act accordingly.  At that time it meant “civility.”  Today, it is acceptable behavior when we have even the slightest disagreement to personally attack and berate those who serve in public service positions.

We now have generations who have no stake in what it means to be an American.  We cannot generate enthusiasm for our way of life when less than 2% of our population has put forth any effort for our country.  The majority of citizens have “no skin in the game,” and that is a detriment to all of us.  The United States Congress has less than 20% of its members who have served.  Our last two presidents have had no military service.  Less than 10% of the Pennsylvania Senate are veterans.

We need to reinstitute the great melting pot, which was created by the draft.  But how?  Seventy-three countries have some form of mandatory military service, including Israel, Mexico, Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Denmark, Russia and Brazil to name a few.  Several of these countries provide for longer public service if the person chooses civilian or unarmed service, instead of military service. 

What we should require is a two year period of “Universal Public Service.”  Service could be in the military, the Peace Corps, Teach for America, mission work or any other public service.  All can do something, even if it involves working on a computer at home.  Generations before us, including athletes, teachers, doctors, laborers, lawyers, musicians and actors, gave up two years of their lives to serve the country, and we all benefited from their service.  We can and should be willing to do the same.  We need to start the great melting pot once again and gain the benefit we have lost.  We really need to:  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  John F. Kennedy, 1/20/1961

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