Sunday, July 05, 2009

Bring Back the Draft (But With Some Changes)

Last week, I wrote of similarities between the King of Rock and Roll and the King of Pop. One noticeable difference: The Gloved One never served in the military. Michael Jackson turned 18 about five years after the draft was ended, whereas 23-year-old Elvis was required to enter the army, even during a time of peace. In a larger sense, I wonder to what degree the possibility (or lack thereof) of conscription is a factor in how generational attitudes are formed.

For all of the conventional wisdom that holds the Baby Boomer generation as antithetical to their parents, they shared the common experience of conscription. And both generations saw cultural icons drafted into armed service right along with the hoi polloi: if the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Elvis Presley, and Willie Mayes could either be influenced to enlist, or plucked from the populace and given marching orders, the message was clear: the rights of citizenship came with responsibilities (even if many in the latter generation attempted to redefine what those responsibilities were).

Now, the most drastic time commitment the government is likely to ask from anybody is jury duty (a much reviled request at that). For those who haven't signed up for military duty, the possibility of being asked to give a year or more of life to the government is so far outside the realm of possibility so as to be unfathomable. Meanwhile, we have authors writing books with titles like Generation Me (about those born in the 70s, 80s, or 90s), or The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement. While these books cite a variety of factors as causing the "epidemic," such as an educational emphasis on self-esteem and individualism, the draft is only briefly mentioned. I wonder if it shouldn't be a more central aspect to their exploration.

Of course, even if the reinstatement of conscription would have the positive effect of providing a generational "attitude adjustment," there are certainly some compelling reasons to prevent its resurrection. So the logical next question is whether there is an alternative to mandatory military service that can have the effect of discouraging a sense of entitlement and encouraging a sense of responsibility. The obvious answer is to require some kind of community service. Many school districts and the entire state of Maryland have mandated civic involvement among young people. But the problem with this is that the youngsters look around and notice that adults aren't held to the same standard, much less their generation's pop culture icons.

So the solution seems obvious to me: we need an "entertainer draft." Those who make their living in the entertainment industry would be subject to a civil conscription. For example, Justin Timberlake could be drafted to spend a year helping farmers in South America with sustainable agricultural practices. Ashton Kutcher would spend a year tutoring underprivileged children in math. Nobody would miss Terrell Owens if he took a year off from football to work the phone banks for nonprofit groups. So in addition to whatever tangible benefits the entertainers would contribute, they would also help to make their generation less narcissistic. And one final benefit: we would potentially have periods of freedom from some of our most annoying celebrities. More than a few parents must have been awfully relieved when Elvis became a G.I., and more than a few today would be happy to bid adieu to Miley Cyrus when she becomes draft-eligible in a couple years.


Blogger The Hungary Traveler said...

Some observations:
Taxes are a form of compulsory civic duty. However, not only do they fail to "discourage a sense of entitlement and encourage a sense of responsibility", they may have exactly the opposite effect.

The robust Roman Republic mandated military service from its male citizens. However, the crumbling Roman Empire had earlier removed this requirement and depended on a professional (and increasingly foreign mercenary) army for defense.

I was called for (reserve) jury duty in March and was thrilled! I took three (paid) days off of teaching and sat home waiting for the phone to ring. Unfortunately it never did and I now have to wait at least three years before I can have the chance to experience an insider's view of the American justice system (that is of course unless I decide to take up a life of crime in the meantime).

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