When I get together with people my age, those who are still breathing, the one thing many of us have in common is military service. And the thing most of us vets can agree on is that nothing had a greater positive effect on our lives than our military experience.
That was certainly true in my case. As I’ve written about in the past, it gave me a chance to grow up, experience responsibility, develop some leadership skills, see some of the world, and develop a better picture of self and self-worth. When I was discharged and decided to go to college I was not the half-wild and undisciplined creature I was when walking out the doors of high school.
Being a veteran made me eligible for GI Bill of Rights benefits which made it easier to pay for college and having a college degree ensured I would have a more financially successful life and be able to pay back the country both in the form of increased tax liabilities and public service as a teacher. Again, a win-win.
The other thing about my generation having shared a military experience is we have a bond that may not exist with today’s generation or their parents. Everything a nation shares in common strengthens the social glue that helps hold it together and having shared military service has been a major social adhesive that today’s all-volunteer, professional military, doesn’t provide. Just as we’ve lost touch with those who grow our food because most Americans don’t know a farmer, most of us give little thought to the military because other people fight our wars. The only dog we often have in the fight is the lip service we give to supporting our troops or the bumper stickers and ribbons we adorn our automobiles and oak trees with.
Today’s all-volunteer military was an outgrowth of the controversy and protest originating in the draft policies of the pre-1969 Vietnam era draft. A system that gave those wealthy enough to get into college a means of avoiding their year in Vietnam. Those with the means found it far more difficult to get a deferment and off to the jungles they went.
As a result of major anti-war protest the draft was changed to a lottery system in 1969. Every eligible young man’s birth date was placed in a hopper and a drawing was held. Those whose birth date was drawn first were the first to experience jungle warfare. If you were fortunate enough to be number 300 on the list you could continue with your life, with little fear of receiving that fateful letter in the mail that read, “Uncle Sam wants you.”
After Vietnam it was decided the best way to maintain a military was to up the salary and benefits and ask people to volunteer for service. In many ways this has been a good thing, We have maintained sufficient numbers of highly trained and always ready troops. But with all the ups there have been downs, as I addressed earlier.
Earlier this week I listened to a debate about re-enacting some sort of military draft along with an option of non-military national service. Today I came across an editorial in the New York Times that addresses the topic as well. So, I think it is time for this nation to begin a serious discussion on the subject. Maybe in these ideas there will be a way to both meet the nation’s needs and to sooth some of the hostility that is so prevalent in America today. Maybe we all need to begin thinking more about what John Kennedy suggested we do for our country and not so much about what our country should be doing for us.