Yesterday, General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the lack of civic engagement among Americans.
“the duties of citizenship have fallen from the national agenda. Talk of service is largely confined to buoyant commencement ceremonies. And too often it is just that: talk.”
He reflected on Lincoln’s call durring the Gettysburg Address for citizens to carry forth the work on the country and called for universal national service. A national service that would be at least a year, non-military and though socially but not legally mandatory.
I think his idea is intriguing and I am curious if other countries have tried universal national service and how was it paid for and enforced.
Interesting, the call for universal national service is coming at a time when there are talks of cutting the Corporation for National Service, despite the strong demand for such programs.
“More than most Americans realize, the demand to serve already exists. In 2011, there were nearly 600,000 applications to AmeriCorps—a program with only 80,000 positions, only half of which are full time. The Peace Corps received 150,000 requests for applications but has funding for only 4,000 new positions each year. This gap represents democratic energy wasted and a generation of patriotism needlessly squandered.”
So what would it take for such a program to work? Political will, money, social support, buy-in from the private sector and Universities? Despite the challenges that would inevitably come with trying to institute a universal mandatory program, I am glad to see coverage highlighting the importance of service.
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”