Mandatory National Service
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Rural Insights or its members.
What does it mean to be an American citizen? Should public service be required of its citizens? A national discussion on this topic would be helpful today in bringing us together as a nation. We have spent the last few years very divided as Americans. A citizen discussion that would make us all think about what is important to our nation and what values we share as American citizens would be beneficial to all of us.
President Lincoln wrote that “Compromise versus conquest is key to American democracy. Make the good outweigh the bad. Every policy has good and evil in it and the job of public policy is to make sure the good outweighs the evil. American democracy is the world’s best hope.” That is still true today.
Having this debate in 2023 should be important to every American citizen.
Here are some options and thoughts to consider in this discussion. There are no correct or wrong answers, only thoughts to consider as we discuss what it means to be an American citizen and what should be the requirements of that citizenship.
Other countries require military service at age 18 or older. The United States had a military selective service draft for all men at age 18. One could seek a deferment but without that deferment, military service was required. The selective service draft was eliminated in June 1973. Today all men at the age of 18, must register with the US Selective Service in case a national draft is needed again. Women are still excluded from registering but legislation is pending in the US Congress to include them. This registration for men and women could be used as the basis for a mandatory national service requirement.
The question still remains today–should we have a national service requirement for all citizens, men and women, that is broader than just military service? Military service is an obvious and very important option that has been part of our nation since its founding. We can do more to make this option more attractive to young people and citizens of other ages. One example might be to fund the GI Bill for higher education after military service at a higher rate than is currently done. Another could be to spend more time and money on educating young people about what military service means as part of citizenship. What it could mean to their future development as leaders and citizens who contribute to American democracy.
Another option would be giving public service credit and enhanced higher education assistance in enrolling in the US Peace Corp, Teach America, and other similar national-type organizations. There are many other organizations that could be added to the list as we discuss the concept with our friends and neighbors–and our fellow citizens. We could spend more time and money educating young people about what public service means to their development as a citizen and to serving their nation.
We might also consider offering up these public service options and benefits beyond our “young people” category. Use the age limit to enlist in the military and Peace Corp as a cut off. Citizenship responsibility does not stop or start with 18 year-olds.
Adding these higher education and technical training program funding options will help not only with military recruiting but with other service entities. We have read recently that the US military and other national service organizations are having recruiting difficulties–this could help with that effort.
“Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you.” US Senator John McCain.
What does it mean to you to be an American? What should be the requirements of your citizenship? How can we best serve our nation and the world? How can we implement what you, your neighbors and fellow citizens decide are key to being a good citizen?
The author is the former President of Northern Michigan University where he also served as a Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy. He holds a Juris Doctorate from Western Michigan University Law School. He is a veteran of the US Air Force. He has served in the local, state and national levels as a volunteer and as a professional.
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Feb 11, 2023
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