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PENNING: Maybe a mandatory draft would have more than military benefits

• Jul 12, 2018 at 3:00 PM

On a recent trip to Israel, we were reminded that every Jewish Israeli citizen must serve in the military, or Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The length of service is two years and eight months for men, and two years for women.

As it was explained to us, “conscription,” or a mandatory military service, is necessary in a country the size of New Jersey surrounded by hostility. The country’s population is just over 8 million, with most people unable to serve. So, of those who are able, all are needed for a period of service to defend the nation. Some Israeli citizens of Muslim and Christian faiths who are not conscripted nevertheless volunteer for service.

This all comes up now because my wife and I were talking about young people in the U.S. While it’s certainly not true of all young people, we have noticed an increase in disturbing characteristics and attitudes, even criminal behavior.

My wife asked a former Israeli military officer who was one of the leaders of our tour if mandatory military service corrected some of these attitudes. While he said they still have some of that among their youth, the military service does have a corrective result.

So, while I’m not necessarily calling for the return of the draft in the U.S., it is interesting to speculate about what that might mean for our youth culture.

Here are a few potential benefits:

Reduced crime. While there are many reasons for crime and gang behavior, much of it stems from lack of direction and purpose. In an environment where a gang may be the only option for some urban youth to belong to something, it’s no wonder the gangs persist.

Respect for authority. Certainly in the military there is no back-talk or insolence. We have a friend who substitutes at an inner-city elementary school and the stories she tells about the foul language and violent behavior of mere children is chilling. And we hear the schools are not allowed to do more than suspend; no punitive action is allowed. Some enforced structure and a strict code of conduct might do some good.

Patriotism. Our country is not perfect. But we live in a time of disturbing lack of respect for the national anthem, the flag and the country. Civil debate should be welcome, but it should be civil. In this month that we celebrate our independence, it would be good to remember how hard we fought for it, the principles behind it, and the good fortune we have to live in this country, even with its flaws. A little military experience would instill more of that attitude.

Sense of history. It is painful to observe that many young people are bored with national history, significant dates, important people of the past and the reason we have a military. Being part of the military, an institution of significant history, would hopefully get insolent youth to think beyond the memes of the moment.

Expanded sense of world. While patriotism and pride in our own country is important, there is also value in understanding the rest of the world, its cultures, its ideologies — failed and otherwise — and the shifting tensions. Military service exposes people to the tensions and relationships between and among countries, and broadens perspective.

Discipline and work ethic. I was recently talking to a local business owner regarding service on my car. He suggested my car is in good-enough shape to wait to have what I need done in the fall. By then, he said, they would be in a new building, too, with more capacity and faster service. Of course, he added, that depended on being able to hire people who actually want to work. We then talked about the difficulty in finding people with personal responsibility and a work ethic that has them show up on time each day and work hard while on duty. The military doesn’t allow for slackers. Two years of that could set someone up for a lifetime of good work habits.

Again, I’m not necessarily advocating for a return to the draft. I myself never served in the military (although I had the Navy recruiters in my parents’ living room and almost signed up). It’s just interesting to consider the positive personal and social benefits of military service beyond staffing the armed forces.

A collection of columns by Tim Penning, Ph.D., is in the book “Thoughts on Thursdays,” available at The Bookman.

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