The youth of America represent the one opportunity our country has for our defense in the future... but are they up to it?
Susan MacAllen, December 2006
Democratic Representative Charles Rangel's promise to call early in 2007 for a reintroduction of the military draft will likely cause some chuckles in Congress - this comes in a long string of Rangel's using the issue of a new draft to stimulate discussion of racial discrimination in the operation of our military. But his latest public discussion has caused something else mighty interesting: an overwhelmingly negative reaction from America's youth.
Now, when hints are leaking out of Washington that we will be sending more troops to Iraq after the first of the year, resistance amongst high school and college-aged youth is enormous. Sheer hatred for our sitting president and administration is perhaps most pronounced amongst this age group. Surely, some of it comes from the rhetoric spouted in classrooms by the more irresponsible instructors, but what else is at work here? While the waxing and waning of a wartime president's popularity (or non-popularity) is somewhat predictable as evidenced by history, the amount of disrespect toward the very office of the president is perhaps unprecedented in our young people.
Parents and teachers, old enough to remember harder times and wars when we knew exactly what we were fighting to protect, have long lamented the attitude of the youth of especially the past few decades. While their daily lives have been filled with enormous challenges from a commercialism and world media that we could not have imagined twenty years ago, their lives have been sheltered enough that the thought of a true threat on the international scale is well beyond their real understanding. As a result, the maturity of conscience that connects the idea of military service with a duty - something well-understood for example in the youth of the second World War - is rare.
But times they are a-changin': life in the Western world becomes more dangerous by the day. As the internal threat from the Islamic Jihadist movement grows, and if it coincides with increased violence in the Middle East, and increased ideological turmoil in Europe, it will be interesting to see if the youth of America change their tune. For now, scattered across the television airwaves a few weeks ago were numerous reporters out on the streets of American cities, asking various American citizens what they felt about reinstating the draft. Almost to a person, those under about 30 years of age were horrified, defensive, threatening to dodge it any way they could. It doesn't seem to occur to them that a small few of their peers are, as they whine, shedding blood to defend their safety.
And if they run and hide, I wonder who they suppose then will be defending their families? And should they flee "to Canada" as they threaten, or "rot in jail" in the words of one particularly reluctant young man, what do they suppose they will find when they return to their former homes? What has caused our youth to become so confident in their absolute entitlement to our way of life? Is it some attitude passed from parents who wanted to give them a "good life"? Is it too many material possessions, acquired too easily? (We know that this isn't the case for all of them...)
Or is it a multi-faceted combination of elements in their lives - such as the failure of our public schools to teach relevant history, abbreviating it more every year in favor of revisionist, "inclusive", "more humane" and more politically correct versions of the past? I recall that in seventh grade, my history teacher - whose own father had been a war photographer who was present at the Allied discovery of Nazi concentration camps - was able to show us pictures that were sure to haunt a twelve-year-old for the rest of that child's life. This was a good thing - as an adult, the idea that any sane person would question the existence of the Holocaust was to me infinitely ludicrous. But in an educational atmosphere where these events are skimmed over. . . can we be surprised that our children can't understand the concept of a danger on the scale of the Nazi-fascist ideology that swept Europe and threatened the world during their grandparents' youth?
Many are asking if it is a mistake to censor videos and photographs showing victims of Jihadist violence. In our effort to remain civilized, we choose not to expose victims' families to the sight, but also choose to protect our public; the reasoning is that simply knowing the information is enough - to wallow in the sight of it rubs us as supremely disrespectful. But in doing this we shield our public from a dangerous reality. Young people are visually-oriented and may need the sight of these atrocities to comprehend fully the horror of the dark cloud moving upon us. While such pictures are available on the internet, how many seek it out? Keeping these things out of our mainstream media allows even adults to pretend they aren't real.
But real horror is a necessary part of reality in time of war. In the past, amongst people who were called to defend their way of life, fear bred motivation and perhaps brought out the best in individuals. We cannot suppose the young of America and Europe to be somehow exempt from the obligation inherent in every society -those who wish to protect it must be willing to fight to defend it. How do we make our youth today make the connection between the comfort of their daily lives and protecting the country? Terrorism around the world and its long term implications are extremely complicated. But we need to find ways to paint a clearer picture to our citizens, whether through media or through the educational system. Perhaps we fail to make our youth into well-rounded people when we force-feed them sunshine and rainbows; such people are ill-prepared to defend a way of life they take for granted.
Iraq and Afghanistan are very far away in the mind of a music-sex-videogames-computer-obsessed kid. If America begins to go the way of our European friends, things will change slowly. One day there will be a large Muslim population in our cities. Mullahs in the mosques will shout about conquering and killing infidels - as they do in the mosques of London - in a language we didn't bother to learn to understand, protected by the "freedom of speech" stance of the liberal left (never mind that this right has never included the instigation of violence against the nation). Mass rioting may break out in our neighborhoods, as it has in Paris when Muslim youths became angry with their neighbors. Artists and writers who displease Muslims may risk being murdered in broad daylight, as happened to film director Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands. Or Fate forbid, as happened in Indonesia last year, Christian school girls walking home may be attacked and beheaded by Islamic youth gangs protecting their Jihad ideology.
To be fair, our military personnel needs have been adequate thus far because of the thousands of volunteers in our armed forces - sadly these generous, courageous souls are not the rule amongst our youth, but the exception. The biggest evidence that Rep. Rangel's rants are a misguided political ploy that has little to do with the draft is that there is likely no need for a draft; every male in the U.S. is already required by federal law to register with the Selective Service System, from which names would be drawn by lottery if we were ever in national military crisis.
Our many naive, self-involved children would be required to fight for their freedom in the end. And they don't seem to understand that the quality of their lives as Americans is not their birth-right, but a privilege that has been paid for with the blood of generations wiser than they. What a big surprise it might be for them to realize what older generations have well understood: that freedom, indeed, does not come freely.