In a democracy, ideas about how its citizens govern themselves can come from any citizen. When a citizen proposes an idea about governance, as when a school teammate proposes a way to win a game, the citizen commits him or herself not only to the outcome, but also to the path to get there. This is one way to think about the creation of common purpose in a democracy. Before we examine the proposal for National Service itself, let’s examine how the idea of National Service is being proposed and who is proposing it.
The first thing we notice about the “how” is that in less than two weeks a significant part of our Nation’s mainstream print and on-line media have endorsed the idea without reservation.
Do you think that such a blitz of endorsements happened by chance? National Service is a concept that would alter the lives of all young Americans and numerous organizations and institutions. Would the spokespersons of our media endorse such radical change independently and spontaneously? If not, does it concern you where the idea for National Service came from? Even though I am an older American and not likely to be affected by your new obligation to National Service, it concerns me to know who thinks so highly of the idea and is so powerful as to organize the national media to endorse it. It concerns me because their idea for your future will alter the way America works. You can examine the organization of powerful men and women who endorse National Service at the Aspen Institute and Franklin Project Website. National Service for you is their idea.
As you can tell from scanning their biographies, many of our most powerful citizens are endorsers of your National Service. Do you wonder how many of them committed themselves to something resembling national service for a year when they were young Americans? Assuming that some of them did, do you wonder what it is that has changed about America to make their experience a national priority for you?
Mr. Michael Gerson is a revealing messenger for the proponents of National Service in that he acknowledges the military impetus for this civilian initiative. He is columnist for the Washington Post and a former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. As such, he was intimately involved in the justification and policy formation of the Wars in which the generations preceding yours suffered and continue to suffer. If you review the leadership of the Franklin Project and the Aspen Institute, you will notice many others who endorsed and supported the conduct of those Wars. Central to that conduct during the Bush Administration was the public relations policy that denied the American people and the families of soldiers killed in action the opportunity to greet or even remotely view publically the return of Remains to American soil. The denial of the ultimate right of passage for our fallen soldiers is one of the factors that haunts America and will haunt your futures so long as we do not face forth-rightly the plight of those who survived. Could this dereliction of our responsibility to our fallen and wounded be one of the reasons for our diminished common purpose? We should research whether Mr. Gerson has ever addressed the issue.
Lt. General (Ret) Stanley McChrystal has a clouded record as a senior Army commander. He famously disrespected the office of Commander-in-chief, the civilian leader of our Armed Forces. While we may wonder at the judgment of the Aspen choice of this General Officer to formulate and direct the idea of civilian service, Lt. General McChrystal’s record need not concern us. He is representative of our military’s interests. As Mr. Gerson correctly notes, the concerns of the military are at the heart of the concept of National Service.