Sunday, January 30, 2011

McChrystal calls for "expected" national service

The January 31, 2011 issue of Newsweek, p. 36 in print, has an important op-ed by former US commander if Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal arguing for “expected” (although legally “voluntary”) national service.  It’s titled “Step Up for your Country”, with this (website url) link. A sidebar, detailing some opportunities like Americorps, City Year, Habitat for Humanity, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America, is called "A Call to Pens, Shovels and Hammers".  

At one point, McChrystal says that everyone should have a “service number”.  Maybe that means at all ages, not just young adults.  I still remember my service number when I “enlisted for two years” two weeks before my draft induction date in 1968. It was “RA1937556”.  In those says, there was a saying, “RA all the way”.

McChrystal speaks of “the sense of responsibility essential for us to care for our nation – and for each other.”  Shortly down the pike, he writes “All of us bear an obligation to serve—an obligation that goes beyond paying taxes, voting, or adhering to the law.” (Where does jury duty fit in to this?)   And later, “service is typically doing things that you would not choose to do, but that must be done.”  Emphasis is mine, or perhaps my late father's: It's passive voice, but well said. “It can be rewarding; it can also be difficult, onerous, even dangerous. It cannot rely on short-term volunteers any more than our independence could be won by people Tom Paine termed ‘summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”.   Some gender-related functions come to mind, like volunteer fire departments.


McChrystal speaks of “the sense of responsibility essential for us to care for our nation – and for each other.”  Shortly down the pike, he writes “All of us bear an obligation to serve—an obligation that goes beyond paying taxes, voting, or adhering to the law.” (Where does jury duty fit in to this?)   And later, “service is typically doing things that you would not choose to do, but that must be done.”  Emphasis is mine, or perhaps my late father's: It's passive voice, but well said. “It can be rewarding; it can also be difficult, onerous, even dangerous. It cannot rely on short-term volunteers any more than our independence could be won by people Tom Paine termed ‘summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”.   Some gender-related functions come to mind, like volunteer fire departments.

I used to call this concept “pay your bills, pay your dues”, but that doesn’t quite say it all.  It does link in to our system or moral thinking in a few areas: the idea that many people see “meaning” in obligation and need to see others follow it; the reality that many of us live off the sacrifices of others and don’t see it; the new concerns about sustainability and “generativity”.  But it goes deeper, into fundamental questions about the divide between seeing oneself as an individual and as a “member of the group”, something that public school systems marked pupils on back in the staid 1950s.  It gets into the area of openness to affection where it is needed, and goes beyond the concept of service as we knew it during previous wars (especially Vietnam, during my coming of age).

Indirectly, McChrystal has stated an important reason why overturning “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was so vital.





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