[written January 17, 2002]
This is not a new idea at all, I just wanted to weigh in on the subject.
Maybe the US government should think about starting a program requiring young US citizens to serve some time in the military.
You talk to young people today who voice their opinions on things and they really have no idea how the military, let alone the government work. (not that I've been in the military or worked for the government, but I do understand why they exist and have a decent idea of what role they play in world affairs) I mean, some kids sort of know, through what they've heard through sensationalist headlines or condensed school textbooks and idealistic professors. For people of my generation, we've grown up as children of hippies who feared Vietnam and Big Brother. We have no relation to our government because we've been taught to ignore it. People who aspire to be politicians are evil, and people who serve in the military are warhawks. We've been taught all institutions are untrustworthy, which isn't such a bad thing to be skeptical about, but that distrust comes with no appreciation of what those institutions stand for and how they came about originally. Religion is a crutch, the government is full of murderers, companies are meant to be abused before they abuse you, art and history are useless pursuits that pay no money and aren't even relevant anymore. Maybe I'm exaggerating the perception of the pseudo-intellectuals I'm ranting about.
But if kids had to spend a year or two in the military services, they at the very least would have some sort of contact with their country whether they approve of it or not. I mean, what contact do people have with governments now? Getting your driver's license at the feared DMV? Paying taxes every April 15th? A rabid media exploiting all mistakes by politicians? Not very enticing.
Even those who are strictly pacifist or anti American policy would benefit from learning some discipline and serving the country they are supposedly citizens of. They might also pick up some basic teamwork and discipline skills that would make them more efficient workers. Other countries make people serve time in the military, but I have not studied the results of these practices at all. It seems like a good idea though.
Sure, there are large complications with finding a budget to support this sort of initiative, plus children are pushed harder and harder to graduate from high school with great grades and lots of extracurricular stuff, then go to college and double major before rounding it out with an MBA or PhD. Many would object to interrupting the process for a year or two. And some would argue that the military would try to keep kids in longer than they were supposed to by tricking them. Or that training for war is barbaric.
Those are fair questions to ask. Although honestly, I think with a society being filled with kids who don't believe in anything, only care about money, have no relation with a country they are taught to distrust (yet are still tax-paying citizens of), we could do worse than to try to toughen up our youth, get them in shape, and teach them the most basic life skills. After all, is it too much of a stretch to attribute the neverending thirst for money in American society to the fact that we really don't believe in the companies we work for and we don't believe in any ideas because they might be deemed unfashionable? There's nothing we should believe in, but we need money to get the fun things we want so we put money on a pedestal, the ultimate goal in our brief, vapid lives. I see opportunism in many of the people I meet. Not genuine ideas, or genuine humanity.
You know, many young people might just enjoy the adventure and challenge of something like boot camp.
I know this really doesn't sound like a practical thing to argue for. Things just don't facilitate all of the US's youth going off to service for a year or two. We're probably not going to be strapped for soldiers or servicemen any time soon. And there's always a basic and understandable dislike for things involving war. After all, mankind's wars have defined how brutal he can be when he puts his mind to it.
I guess my main problem with people my age and slightly younger that I argue with is that they really take a coward's way out and believe in nothing. Nihilism. Somehow governments and universities and schools and jobs and whatnot came about just to corrupt man, if you listen to some kids talk. And regarding youth, I'm not talking about goofing off and doing stupid things to have fun -- hell, I love doing that. But I hate arguing with people my age who have no broader perspective of history or art or music or anything. I have to listen to them comment on the news as though they know half the shit they talk about. It does a dishonor to all the people who dedicate their lives to things like diplomacy, peace, charity, philosophy, and so on.
And lest you think I'm berating young people for being young people...that is, being ignorant and stupid, I want to say that you're wrong. I love the goofiness of youth. It's just the kids who act like they know everything, when in truth they have no idea and never, ever admit to that fact. These kids, who feel so unique and independent for not believing in anything, are sadly part of a large clique of pseudo-intellectual kids who all have the same opinions on things, hardly unique, and completely identical to each other. Not original thinkers, but products of post Cold War rhetoric, and perhaps most sadly, ashamed to be the young kids that they actually are, ashamed to be too young to be taken seriously by their elders, and ashamed to admit that they like the same stupid stuff that the other people their age they mock enjoy. A whole generation of children alienated from themselves.
Then again, you might think I'm full of shit. But hey, if you don't believe me, just go and read a handful of weblogs written by our prodigious young people right now, okay? Those bloggers, they're the incarnations of the people I'm bashing. It's so sad it's sickening.
YOU go and read some guy talk about how he refuses to sell out by putting ads on his site, and then offers to sell t-shirts, have his own credit card, and accept donations. YOU go read about a girl who gets up to pee but has no toilet paper and is also pissed because she wants to write about capitalism via e-mail in the middle of the night.
THEN, YOU tell me you don't want these kids shipped off to a fort in the middle of the woods in some southern state for a year or two where they can be taught a little bit about humanity's toil! "Wah wah wah, my life is so hard and no one knows my internal struggle!"
There are many alternatives to mandatory military service. How about mandatory civil service? We all know how far behind all levels of government are. Or how about mandatory charity and relief service? Those might be far more appropriate in today's times, and far more appealing to people than serving in the military. Plus they would accomplish some actual recovery of human lives, and connect spoiled kids with the brutality faced by most of the world. It'd give the kids some feeling that their actions affected things bigger than themselves, and give them more initiative and self-esteem for when they go to college or whatever.
Oh well, they're all just ideas. I know schools are supposed to be where kids learn the skills and character and knowledge needed to live better lives, but some hands-on, physical, mission critical stuff might just help our youth find what it is each of them are good at faster and in a more enjoyable way. Hey, all I want is for people to all do what they're truly good at, and what they like doing. Not wander around aimlessly, hopelessly. Am I being too idealistic? Am I sounding too much like your mean old parents?