Should Military Service Be Mandatory?

John F. Kennedy once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Today, the responsibilities of an American citizen are to pay taxes and vote. The relatively high standard of living in America allows citizens the privilege of living day-to-day ignorant or apathetic about soldiers who are being killed and killing others overseas. There's a huge disconnect between the American civilian population and the brave women and men fighting and dying to protect it. This sense of detachment is pretty understandable; it's always easier to catch up on the latest episode of The Bachelorette than to stay updated with the Iraq war, for which there was less than one percent of media coverage in 2010.

The last institution of the draft was during the Vietnam War, and it was the most unpopular and fiercely resisted conscription in American history. However, the draft did manage at least one positive outcome: The issue of the war was brought to dinner tables all around America. Nearly everyone had a son, brother, husband or father fighting in Vietnam, and all Americans felt the repercussions of engaging in an overseas war. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not consequences that felt as intimate and personal to all citizens, and this can be directly attributed to the all-volunteer force.

Citizenship is not a spectator sport. The rights and privileges that come with being a citizen are not gratuitous and come with certain duties. The United States has been involved in several wars and conflicts since the 1973 termination of the draft. But the majority of Americans continue to live under a shroud of comfortable ignorance, shielded from the sacrifice that should be shared by all citizens during wartime. This ignorance has led to a warped perception of American citizenship in which responsibilities that should be assumed by all are shouldered by the few and the poor. Service is an obligation to protect the country that has protected its citizens' rights, and to me, there is nothing more conceivably undemocratic than tolerating the sacrifices made by a mercenary army in order to enable the privileges enjoyed by the elite.

In a democracy, equal rights imply equal responsibilities. Although forcing every private citizen to serve may seem radical and undemocratic at first blush, something must be done to rectify the average American's misplaced patriotism. Compulsory military service, national service, or even an expansion of AmeriCorps should at least be considered as an option. I mean absolutely no offense to the all-volunteer force, but the decision to send troops overseas is one that should be made with a full understanding of the consequences. The proverbial "rich man's war, poor man's fight" must be changed into every man's fight.