Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reinstituting Universal Service

I have lived almost all of my life in the United States and have watched all sorts of unfortunate events take place. Just after I entered the world Kennedy was assassinated. In following years I watched and listened to the misfortunes of the Vietnam War, the Korean War and many other conflicts around the world.

I have been stunned as terror continues to strike so many parts of the world. The events of 9/11 caused me a great deal of alarm as they did most everybody else. Even so, I feel that events right now are more worrisome than anything I have experienced before.

Our sworn enemies are now politically unified – at least to a degree that transcends local fanaticism. They have resources and cross national borders without detection. We like to think that the Islamic State is centered in Syria. Yesterday a prominent politician confidently announced that the “snake’s head” residing in Syria should be cut off. The implication being that the emerging reptilian threat could be contained and controlled in a local and foreign place.

I disagree. Islamic fundamentalism has metastasized to the far reaches of the world. Persons of various (East and West) nationalities are joining their ranks. Some of these recent recruits are just out for adventure. Others are clearly looking for an ideal to fight for. Quite frankly it isn’t hard to see their point – the Western world (and most prominently America) with its immoral materialism is an enemy to be dealt with.

We have an ever-expanding population of disillusioned youth that believes America is some sort of canker, much like Jefferson described the urban sores of his time. These individuals have never experienced or never been taught the many virtues of this nation – nor have they understood the urgent global need for a true American exceptionalism.

Their idealism, backed by well-funded Islamic extremists, is now a threat within our own borders. It is a threat funded by our own petroleum interests. And it is a threat of greater significance than the terrorism of yesterday’s headlines. It is time that we start thinking seriously about defending ourselves against its threats.

Security measures in airports are maybe helpful once in a while. More often they are a waste of time. International posturing against global threats are inevitable but do little to protect us against unknown conspiracies at home. We continue to place far too much faith in the band aid protections of recent legislative opportunism.

It is time that we start preparing ourselves for the many looming threats that continue to accumulate.  One act of preparation that I think we should seriously consider is a reinstitution of universal service – something similar to the program ex-president Theodor Roosevelt tried to promote during the international uncertainties of early 20th Century America.

Roosevelt was quite exacerbated by many pacifist organizations that insisted on disarming America and making our country an example of non-resistance. Of course we dream of peace and Roosevelt acknowledged peace as a primary virtue. But he insisted that peace had to be earned. Peace, he believed, was a product of military preparation. And however uneasy we may feel with an implied belligerence in his arguments, the 20th Century has not proven him wrong.

In his short classic, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, Roosevelt called for military training for all American boys. This training was to happen as part of a young man’s normal high school curriculum during the ages of 16 and 18. It didn’t require active duty. But it was meant to prepare the nation in case a need presented itself. In the end, his pleas were forgotten in the developments leading up to World War I. But we make a mistake by ignoring them today. In modified form, his ideas could save us a great deal of suffering.

In fact a program of universal service would do a lot of things. Imagine a situation where high school students all across the land spent several hours every weekday during summer vacation learning about terrorist threats. Most importantly each student would learn to pay attention to their surroundings. They would listed to hushed conversations in a grocery isle. They would watch an abandoned vehicle. They would notice the contents of suspicious-looking individuals and backpacks at public events.

In short we would have a nation of observers that would know what to do in case they did come across something suspicious. They would know whom to call. They would take mental notes so they could identify suspects. They would pay close attention to license plates and behaviors. They would know how to use their phones to alert officials.

Other benefits would also accrue. In a nation of great diversity, we would regain a unity that has been missing for decades. We would teach minorities of their civic duties. And of many things they (and most of us) take for granted: I mean that America is a blessed place that needs to be defended.

President Obama is about to address the Nation on the existing threat of the Islamic State. Undoubtedly he will tell us what the government is planning to do. He will probably nod at a shared responsibility. But in the end he will most-likely tell us that we are in good hands – his hands and the hands of our trained military. He will assure us that nations around the world will join together in ridding ourselves of this arising threat. But pay attention because all of these assurances will no-doubt depend on the wisdom of others: other governments, other agencies, other citizens.

How nice it would be if, instead, we could all take part in protecting ourselves. Our young people would have something inspiring to do. We would come together as a nation. Our confusion over gun rights and the significance of the Second Amendment in 21st Century America would all but disappear. And we would watch as neighborhood after neighborhood succeeded in watching out for themselves and for their own families.
I think it’s time to dust off an old argument from a former gentleman who loved America. It’s time to train our youth on what it means to defend freedom. It’s time to fear God and take an active part. It’s time to implement a national program of preparation and training instead of sitting back in panic as we watch the enemy scare us according to their own plans. We can do much more.


My copy of Fear God and Take Your Own Part was published by Gryphon Corporation in 2012.

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