- Weekly Meditation Archives
- Weekly Reading Archives
Mandatory National Service?
Whenever the reports of another mass shooting, like the one in
Charleston, South Carolina, begin to emerge, this is almost always
true: the shooter is a young man, early twenties, most often white.
People, our society has a problem -- a problem of lost, alienated
young men. There are way too many young men who are are clueless,
disconnected, angry and alone. A New York Times editorial cited at
last week’s “What’s Tony Thinking?” estimates there are 5.5
young males between the ages 16 - 24 who fit this description. They
aren’t in school. They aren’t employed. Their families are often
fractured. They have few connections, except possibly the internet.
Five and half million is a lot of people, a lot of young men who are
lost and confused, angry and alone. And they are ready fodder for
gangs, extremist groups of all types, white supremacist
organizations, as well as various forms of addiction.
Can anything be done? Of course, there’s no single fix for something
as large and complex as this. But a movement toward requiring two
years of mandatory community/ national service of all young people
at age 18 could help. The service could be military, but it could
also be programs like Jobs Corp, Peace Corps, VISTA or any one of
the many youth volunteer corp programs associated with religious
bodies, e.g. Mennonite Volunteer Corps.
The country needs the work and so do the young people. Such a
program might save some potential Dylann Roofs from turning their
alienation into homicidal rage.
Of course, at this point the word “mandatory” is a sticking point.
It sounds un-American. We’re all about freedom. Nobody tells us what
to do. Nothing is required of us. But that’s just foolishness. Many
civilized democracies require service of their young people.
For some participants in such mandatory service, the fruits of
participation could include high school diplomas, self-discipline,
job skills, and a structure to life. Yes, such a program would be a
massive organizational undertaking, but our current system of mass
incarceration -- no civilized country has a higher percentage of its
citizens in prison -- is also a massive, and costly, undertaking.
The difference between building a national service program and the
largest penal system in the world is the difference between hope and
fear. Our recourse to more and more prisons is fear driven. A
national service program that is for everyone would be driven by
hope -- the hope that everyone can contribute, that there is good
work to do, and that the current millions of lost boys can be mature
and contributing men.