Jewish World Review Dec. 2, 2002 / 27 Kislev, 5763
Conscription, like the horse cavalry, is an artifact of a bygone time
On the back of the black tee shirts the instructors wore was emblazoned the
slogan: "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Students at North Hills High
School glanced at it apprehensively as they entered the gym.
"We're the Marines," said Sgt. Peter Irene, 25. "We're not here to make you
into Marines. We're not going to kill anybody. But we're going to give you a
Pittsburgh area Marines had taken over physical education instruction for a
day. The Marines do this roughly twice a week for western Pennsylvania
schools that ask for their help. The Marines put the high school students
through a brisk regimen of calisthenics.
"It was a good workout," said Denny DiPasquale, a senior. "It's a lot more
physically demanding than what we usually do."
"I thought it was really fun," said Liz Quigley, a junior. "We actually did
something in gym class."
The program, now four years old, is unique. Only the Marines in the
Pittsburgh area offer it. I thought about it as I sifted through the raft of
emails I received in response to an article pointing out that resumption of
the draft would harm the military.
My friend Ralph Peters, who was regarded as the Army's leading intellectual
prior to his retirement a few years ago, acknowledges that the military
probably would be hurt by a resumption of conscription. But the draft should
be reinstated, he said, because it's good for society.
"Two things have knitted this nation together: public schools and the
draft," Peters said. "Now the draft is ended, and even the upper middle
class is fleeing the public schools. The people who are worried about the
draft are exactly the people who need to serve."
A draft both Ralph and I would favor is one that would apply only to college
students. But it is hard to see how such a draft could pass constitutional
muster, or be approved by a Congress whose Members rely heavily on the
parents of those students for campaign contributions.
Conscription, like the horse cavalry, is an artifact of a bygone time. A
draft for our historic period of conscription of two years would lower,
dramatically, the quality of recruits entering the Armed Forces. During the
draft era, those entering the military had education levels below those of
the youth population. Today, 91 percent of recruits have high school
diplomas, compared to just 79 percent of civilians aged 18-24.
Most jobs in the Armed Forces today require smart people, and take a long
time to train for. The military needs volunteers who will serve for four or
more years to get a reasonable return on the cost of training them.
If we want to get more of our best and brightest to sign up, we need more
imaginative outreach programs like the Marine physical education program
described above. Many of the students at North Hills high were impressed
with the bright, fit, proud young men and women who put them through their
paces. The Marines should do this nationwide, and the Army would do well to
emulate the program.
The services also could offer shorter enlistments for those few military
jobs, like the infantry, which don't require as much training. Northwestern
University Prof. Charles Moskos, the nation's leading military sociologist,
has found that while hardly any of his students would consider a four year
enlistment - that seems like a lifetime to most college students - many
would be willing to sign up for 18 to 24 months.
The military has a great story to tell. The best deal for a young person who
wants to go to college on the government's nickel is to join the
Pennsylvania National Guard. Guardsmen have tuition waived at most state
colleges and universities, plus receive $250 a month in G.I. Bill education
benefits. And drill pay will keep them in beer money on those weekends they
are not in uniform.
But many public school administrators don't want their students to hear what
the military has to offer. They object to a provision in a law passed last
year requiring schools to give recruiters the names, addresses and phone
numbers of juniors and seniors. This is obscene. Leftists on public payrolls
should not be permitted to harm our military, or to deprive young people of
the benefits they could receive from serving in it.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly