Verklempt About Mandatory National Service

I am generally skeptical of really, really great ideas about what other people should do. If the idea is really, really great, why shouldn’t it apply to the person who came up with it?

Thanks to a column by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post on December 1, 2013 entitled How to save America, however, I am in a state of advanced cognitive dissonance. Verklempt even.

Milbank wants to reinstate the draft.

On one side of my verklemptitude are:

  • Milbank is 45 so he is unlikely to enjoy the benefits of the formative military experience. He was born on April 27, 1968 – less than five months before I began my formative military experience in Pensacola, FL.
  • He was too young by far to have had a draft number or to have shared my verklemptness at having number 25. With a number that low, they might as well have shot me right there in Cambridge.
  • He went to Yale.
  • His column began, “At this time of Thanksgiving….”

Despite these compelling arguments in favor of forgetting about it, Milbank’s column has sat on my desk for almost two months creating cognitive dissonance and making me verklept because:

  • He quickly jumps to one of my faves – “what’s wrong with Congress.” Less than one in five Senators and Congressmen has served in the military.
  • As a result, they have forgotten the correct order of country, party, self. Hint for those Members whose staffers are on a potty break and unavailable to provide reminders: try alphabetical.

If I read Milbank’s column correctly, it sounds like we can listen to the Yalie whippersnapper and maybe have a better Congress in 30 to 50 years. Splendid.

Leave aside the tiny problem of our being so crappy at educating people that most are incapable of doing what the military needs.

Milbank does contemplate other forms of national service, and those would be fine as long as they included especially psychotic drill instructors to provide suitably formative experiences.

While mandatory national service might be good for the country, it is a pretty inefficient way to move from 100 or so veterans in Congress to four or five times that number. And it takes forever.

How about this? Mandatory national service – say one weekend per month and a month in the summer – for current members of Congress. They have plenty of time.

I’ll round up the drill instructors. And you can come too, Dana. You earned it. Your idea is good. It just needed a little help.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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