A Plea to the New Administration for a Program of National Public Service
Our children, wonderful as they are, will never feel about their country as we do about it — and for one specific reason. As young men, we gave years of our lives to military service (the Air Force and the Marines) and to government service (Justice and State). No amount of intellectual-theoretical commitment equals having devoted oneself to one’s country, even if only for a period of time. A form of patriotism evolved that engenders a permanent respect that everyone should have, for their betterment and their country’s respect, not uncritical obeisance.
Why not require every young man and woman, at 18 or after graduating high school, to spend one to two years engaged in public service? That service could be in the military, in public service (programs like those during FDR’s CCC and Clinton’s National Service Corps, like conscientious objector non-prison projects) — anything that is useful, productive and in the public interest. Thereafter, they might stay and make a career in their chosen field of work, or go off to college or do something totally different. But they’d go on, matured as returning veterans were under the GI Bill, and with some savings toward their future. They might complain at the time (we did about going into required military service) but they will become different and better people, and will look back on the experience with pride, as we do.
Patriotism by service beats lapel pins and speeches. Let’s do it. The recent presidential campaign tapped into a reservoir of talent and commitment. The new administration should lead the way.