Universal Service

September 3, 2014 § 6 Comments

I have a proposal for consideration.  I know that, at least for today, it has no chance of any consideration.  It may be a permanent “non-starter”, the common euphemism for a fatuous fantasy.  Still, because I have been thinking about it, I have decided to own it by posting it on the internet.

The Program

I propose that the United States Congress enact a law requiring every citizen of the United States, on the day he or she becomes eighteen years of age, be drafted into public service for a period of two years.   No exemptions should be granted for physical impairment (unless the impairment is so severe that the person is unable to perform any useful work).  No exemption should be granted to permit the person to attend an educational institution.

The draftee should be permitted to apply for available types of public service and the applications should be approved or denied by boards of citizens residing in the communities where the draftees live (similar to draft boards during WWII).

Those decisions should be based on a quota system established to insure that enough applicants are approved to perform all the tasks and goals set for  public service during the period for which the draftee is being considered.  One of the categories of public service should be military service.  That category should be large enough to insure that the national security requirements of the nation are satisfied.

The non-military categories would consist of such tasks as public park construction and repair; public school construction and repair; teacher aide and student mentoring; expanding the availability of health care to under served communities with supervised health care trainees; and other public service jobs.  The model would be the CCC program of the 1930’s.

One feature of this program should be the extension of the GI Bill to insure that each draftee is able to enroll in a college,  university, technical school or apprentice program for a period of at least four years.  It should provide for payment of tuition and a stipend sufficient to support the draftees who choose to take advantage of the education benefit.

The Draftees’ Reaction

I assume the young people would complain about this idea, but spending two years between high school and college, some job  or career  wouldn’t damage them as much as they might think.  After all, we all live longer now, so they’d have had plenty of time to make mistakes after they reached  twenty.  Getting a late start wouldn’t be so bad.

When I was eighteen, I had the results of polio and didn’t qualify for the draft.  But I would have been happy to join this kind of program.  I probably would have married my sweetheart,  just like I did.    We would have found some way  to work together and we would have been fine, probably better than the way it actually happened.  Who knows?  One thing sure.  It wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

The Why

This would address five problems.

First, it would moderate the eagerness of our population to goad our government toward military solutions for world problems.  If our military forces consisted of a general cross section of our population, mothers would not be so sanguine about going to war.

Second, it would transfer a sizable amount of money to American young people as well as furnishing them with employment alternatives to gang membership, drug culture and irresponsible idleness.

Third, it would enable generations of Americans to get college educations.

Fourth, the transfer of money the program  would help to solve the inequality problem  presented by Thomas Picketty.

Finally, it would encourage a sense of community and involvement in public service, a counter measure against the current and growing culture that foments division and suspicion, especially based on hatred of democratically elected government.


Well, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably shaking your head and have concluded that Bob has finally lost his last marble.  I know this is a fairy tale today.  I don’t like professional armies.  I don’t like wealth inequality.  I don’t like price tags on higher education that limit it to a dwindling elite class.  I don’t like military cops and center city crime and a criminal justice system that jails generations of mostly black young men.  I think this would address those issues.

What do you think?




§ 6 Responses to Universal Service

  • Well, Bob, surely you must remember when we were young, in high school and college this idea was often a debate and essay topic. So, my question is, why hasn’t it manifested? Possibly because the wealthy oligarchy really don’t want their children to associate in a democratic way with the less privileged?


    • Bob Hall says:

      Skywalker, you stir an old memory. A friend of mine and I were on the very first debate team ever organized at McAllen High School. The first topic was about “universal military service”. Our history teacher ordered books from the interscholastic League and we went to a regional tournament. We were wiped out by experienced teams from larger schools but we enjoyed a small degree of celebrity at our school.

      You share the fear that prompted me to think about this: The threat posed by the domination of our political system by the armies of lobbyists hired by the oligarchs to whom you refer. In previous efforts on this blog I have written about Thomas Picketty and his research that identifies the built-in defect of capitalism: That, unless moderated by systemic redistribution of wealth, it leads to an ever increasing degree of wealth inequality that finally threatens its own sustainability. Thinking about that problem lead me to speculate about the “Universal Service” idea.

      I truly appreciate your response.


  • Christy says:

    I think I like hearing this dreaming side of you, and it inspired me to look up these imagination quotes:

    “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.” ― Carl Sagan

    Gloria Steinem — “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”

    Somebody’s got to do it.


  • Christy says:

    I should add that I appreciate that you are taking the time to flesh out imagined possible solutions here. That is a much more productive use of the internet than most of us make!

    Imagine how much delightful chaos could ensue if the bug catches on to start actively imagining alternative realities for ourselves instead of spending so much time electronically self-entertaining in ways that discourage imagination by leaving so little to it. (Yes, I am proposing as an adjunct solution, in the words of the topless dancer in a John Prine song, to “blow up your TV.”)


  • Bob Hall says:

    Christy, I bask in the warmth of your approval. I will try to find the John Prine song you mention, but I am addicted to TCM, old movies and CNN’s Sunday morning hour with Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program. So, I won’t be blowing up my TV. BTW, a wonderful person whose commercial name is Skywalker also commented on this subject. She and I have a mutual appreciation relationship. She has a web site: sykwakerstoryteller.com


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