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A Call to Service
Posted on Jul 31, 2007
By Scott Ritter
The “impeach now” folks, along with much of the antiwar movement in America today, lack the basics needed to win a game, yet alone dominate a season. But maybe the sports analogy doesn’t resonate with certain members of this movement. I have alluded to a different model in other writings, using the “firefighter benchmark” as a reference for those on the fringes of America’s political left to perhaps make greater inroads, intellectually and practically, into the mainstream of American political life. While some in the “impeach now” crowd have been derisive of such a model, my experience in presenting it to crowds of Americans of all political walks across the nation shows that the “firefighter benchmark” is a sound one which is readily grasped by most, if not all, who hear it.
In short, since American firefighters are perhaps best placed in any given community to understand that community’s overall health (given their responses to a variety of emergency situations that cut across all socioeconomic-political boundaries), they have much more in common with progressive social activist groups than many would acknowledge. Also, because firefighters are positively entrenched in the mainstream of America’s social fabric, anything the antiwar community could do to get a conservative firefighting crowd to embrace their cause would probably be successful in swaying mainstream America, the basic underlying premise of the “firefighter benchmark.”
For those in the antiwar community who still don’t get the connection, perhaps it can be explained by using a war analogy (and thus bringing the analogical motif full circle). We in the modern antiwar movement often speak about the need to be antiwar but pro-troop. This concept often finds itself in conflict with the argument that in order to best support the troops, one must also support their mission. I support the armed forces of the United States, and their mission of protecting America from its enemies. This does not make me pro-war, in the same way that supporting America’s firefighters in their effort to combat fire doesn’t make me pro-fire. However, many Americans fail to understand the difference between supporting a soldier’s mission and supporting war. I support firefighters, but hate fire. I understand that sometimes fires occur, and when they do I want a professional, highly trained, well-led and well-equipped firefighting team to respond to the situation. But I, as a citizen and a firefighter, also recognize that the best way to handle fire is to prevent fires from occurring. As such, I am a huge proponent of fire prevention across the entire spectrum of American life.
I likewise support a professional military, well equipped and highly trained, because I am all too aware that there may be threats to my country that require military action. But I hate war. If we handled fire in America in the same cavalier way we handle war, we would be giving civic awards to arsonists. But we recognize destructive fire as an evil, and we condemn those who set destructive fires deliberately. It is high time we provide the same social stigma to those who promote war. The antiwar movement needs to find a way to convince the American public that supporting the antiwar cause is like supporting fire prevention, advocating a “war prevention” mentality that embraces the military just as our community embraces firefighters, but rejects those who promote war as policy with the same repudiation and disgust we show those who commit acts of arson.
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The Constitution is the key. But how do we instill a sense of ownership of the Constitution into the psyche of the average American? My parents always believed that that which is of most value should be earned, not given. While I’m not in favor of taking citizenship away from Americans, I am in favor of providing every American the opportunity to discover what it really means to be an American citizen. In short, I am espousing a return to the basics, this time in the form of mandatory national service. Without exception or deferment, all able-body Americans, upon reaching the age of 18 (or upon graduation if they are in school when they reach 18), would have to serve their country for two years.
In this model, the first two months of such service would be compulsory military basic training, in which the draftee would be imbued with discipline and the necessity of adhering to a chain of command. At the end of their basic training, the draftees would be given a chance to choose a three-year enlistment in the armed forces or a two-year hitch with nonmilitary service options. These options could include tours with the U.S. Forest Service as wildland firefighters/forest technicians, or with the U.S. Health Service as EMT/paramedics serving rural and/or inner-city communities, or as teaching/education assistants, or as national infrastructure repair crew members, or any other form of service which provides needed labor for our nation while imbuing the draftee with a sense of duty, responsibility and belonging.
A national draft along the lines of that mentioned above would enable America to return to the basics of citizenship. Those drafted who successfully served out their tour of duty would feel a sense of ownership of America, and as such they would be much more likely to participate in the various processes which make this nation work and succeed. Such participation is the foundation of what makes the American democratic experiment work. Without it, our system falls prey to the predatory trends inherent in the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago. Without it, the vacuum of citizenship is filled by special interests that care more about their bottom line than defending the Constitution.
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