We Ask Too Much of Our Warriors
Throughout our United States history, every generation has had its war and young people to die in that war.
The wars run together like so many pages in a history book: our war for independence, the French and Indian War, the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, the War for Southern Independence, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, and our current excursions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I’ve probably left out a couple of conflicts, but it has been a long time since U.S. History 101. There is a difference today, however, from our bloody sacrifices of the past. Now, as the No. 1 super power, we have an all-volunteer military — young people who put their lives on the line every day to keep the world free.
The rest of us go about our business. We go to work every morning, come home, watch the evening news and grimace as the news reader tells us of another soldier dying in a far-off land. Then we flip off the tube and venture into the kitchen to see what’s for dinner.
I’m afraid our volunteer forces didn’t sign up for a lot of our responsibilities that they’ve had to take on their shoulders. That thought hit me right between the eyes the other day when I picked up The Pilot and saw that Master Sgt. Jared Van Aalst had been killed in a combat operation in Afghanistan. A professional soldier, he dedicated his life to this country and paid the ultimate price so we could go on with ours.
Perhaps we’re asking these warriors for too much. It’s as if we don’t have a dog in the fight. I’ll bet most of the citizens in this country don’t have a clue where Afghanistan is.
I think it’s time to bring back the draft.
Every young citizen should be required to give at least two years of service to the country — if not in the military, then in some other endeavor that would at least bring young minds and even older ones up to speed as to what’s going on in our republic.
Programs could be started almost like the old WPA initiated by Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Work could be done in the inner cities or in our national parks. Veterans hospitals need all the help they can get from whatever source, and this would be an excellent way to introduce young people to the sacrifices given by veterans of past wars.
In other words, I believe we have to get away from the entitlement mentality of our current generation. Just because you’re born in this country doesn’t mean that you should have a free ride from cradle to the grave. There has to be some payback.
Young people who give two years of service to the country will then have a justifiable right to insist on what direction they think the nation should take. Universal service would give them ownership and help them get involved in everyday political affairs. They would also learn more about the people who are running the country and what they are doing for its betterment or detriment.
In some high schools, community service is a requirement for graduation. It’s a start, but it’s still a feeble attempt to get the attention of young people and show them that there is a way to give back to the nation that has given so much to them. It’s not much, but it’s a start. John Kennedy said it best in his inaugural speech as president: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
In my war, we still had the draft. Vietnam required a lot of bodies to further a cause that we later discovered was futile. When young Johnny was taken out of his easy life of college, cold beer and hot dates, given an M1 rifle and sent off to the jungles to free people he knew nothing about, his mama got involved.
Sgt. Van Aalst made the ultimate sacrifice, not unlike several good friends of mine who paid the price in Vietnam. Looking back now, I wonder what that war was all about.
If I had only one prayer in this regard that could be answered, it would be that Sgt. Van Aalst’s family and friends realize how much we appreciate their sacrifice — and, as time passes, that they will realize the difference his service made to our great country.
Tom Bryant, retired advertising director of The Pilot and a Marine Corps veteran, lives in Southern Pine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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