Tuesday, March 11, 2014


"I recently learned that in America one third of the homeless population are military veterans. It is our shame and disgrace that we don't take better care of those who served."
As far as Random Internet Comments go, this one is better than most. At least it has it heart in the right place, which seems rare these days. But I found my self wondering why there was no "shame and disgrace" that we don't take better care of ALL of our citizens. Why are ex-military so much more valuable that they should be above the trials and tribulations that so many others risk?

And that prompted me to think about the nature of service. I'm not a veteran myself. My window for a successful career in the military was shorter than I suspected, and by the time I attempted to enlist, it had closed. (I'm glad the Army told me why, even though it turned out to be very unpleasant for me.) I mention this because if we're going to say that those who serve are due special consideration, perhaps we should expand the definition of what it means to serve one's nation. I've never been a fan of universal military service, despite my own willingness to enlist. I've come to the conclusion that our refusal to volunteer for duties that seem ill-advised is our final check on unwise undertakings, and it may not be smart to give that up. But if we're not going to place the entirely of the populace at the disposal of the government in some military capacity, what other activities should count as "service?"

It has been suggested that some universal civilian service (for everyone who does not join the military) be put in place, but I'm dubious about that, for the same reason that I'm leery of universal military conscription. A large, captive workforce is the Devil's plaything just as much as idle hands, and when refusal to follow instructions can result in penalties, it's likely that people will follow orders, even when their conscience tells them otherwise.

But why must legitimate service to one's nation be a matter of placing oneself at the direct disposal of the government? Surely there must be ways to do a service to the society as a whole, yet not be directly commanded by its representatives? The answer to that question is: Of course there are. We "simply" need to come together and decide what we want them to be. The fragmentation of the country along partisan lines makes that difficult - as people define themselves more and more my who they are not, it becomes harder and harder to bring people together without their suspicions of one another tagging along for the ride. So we have to ask ourselves whether or not a new and more inclusive understanding of what it means to serve one's nation would be worth it.

I, for my part, see any number of small, everyday things as being of service to the country, if not all of humanity. Fighting and possibly dying, or spending a life severely injured, should not be the only ways in which we view others as having done us a service. Or that we should understand that they have done something that earns them a better life than the streets.

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