When I became a US citizen, I had to swear I would bear arms on behalf of the country when required by law. That didn’t much worry me. I had aged out, and there’s been no political demand to reinstitute conscription since we moved to an all-volunteer military in 1973. But perhaps now’s the time to rethink our opposition to the draft.
Several first-world countries have a draft. Finland requires half a year’s service. Sweden and Greece have compulsory military service for a year. Israel mandates military service of 32 months for men and 24 months for women. It doesn’t seem to hold back people in those countries. If anything, it gives their young people a leg up in life’s journey.
You can see the abolition of the draft as a great libertarian moment, freeing millions of young Americans from involuntary servitude. But we already mandate involuntary servitude in school up to age 16, and what I’m suggesting is one more year for 17-year-old males, with compulsory military service as the default and some form of public service for conscientious objectors.
What’s the point of public education, in any event? If it’s just about reading and writing and ’rithmatic, our schools are nothing to write home about. On cross-country tests of what our 15-year-olds have learned, we’re an honorary member of the third world.
And it’s supposed to be more than learning basic skills. Horace Mann, the father of American public education, said public schools were supposed to offer a moral as well as an intellectual formation — that is, “such a training of the body as shall build it up with robustness and vigor.” Can anyone say that describes our high-school grads?
By the term education, said Mann, “I mean such a culture of our moral affections and religious susceptibilities, as, in the course of Nature and Providence, shall lead to a subjection or conformity of all our appetites, propensities and sentiments to the will of Heaven.” If that’s the kind of moral formation Mann had in mind, today’s K-12 schools are engaged in moral deformation.
Our public schools preach entitlement, the sense that things are owed to students. They seek to foster self-expression at the expense of imparting useful learning. Their morality is progressive politics without any greater sense of personal responsibility. They do an abysmal job of teaching English, math and science, but make up for it with lectures on gender fluidity, beginning in kindergarten.
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As The Washington Post admiringly notes, “Some city and suburban school boards are shedding their stodgy reputation and staking out ardent positions on political and social issues. Skeptics question the utility or appropriateness of those declarations, but some boards view decrying gender and racial inequity as part of their professional duty.”
That’s how the students graduate, and they need to have all that nonsense knocked out of them. They need to be taught that the world owes them nothing, that they need to take responsibility for their lives, and I can’t think of a better way of doing this than compulsory military service.
What our public schools do teach well is anti-Americanism, probably better even than Russian schools. That’s new. Our schools used to unite us as Americans.
“The free common school system,” said Adlai Stevenson, “is the most American thing about America.” But now they’re almost the most anti-American thing about America, and if the country is riven by ideological differences, if we’re divided into two solitudes, we don’t have to look hard to see whom to blame.
The abolition of the draft was more than a libertarian moment. It was also an aristocratic moment. Thereafter our wars would be fought by the children of the lower classes, and in time that has led to a disconnect between America’s professional upper classes and America the country. Upper-class kids would be cocooned from contact with the lower orders. That’s why they need to meet them in the army.
People might agree the army would provide a good moral education, but not at the cost of killing students. So is there some way to distinguish between simple draftees and warriors? Yes, we could limit armed combat to true volunteers. Mind you, we might be a more pacific nation, with fewer combat deaths, if we did put draftees in harm’s way.
F.H. Buckley is author of “The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why it Was Just What We Needed,” due out soon.
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