NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opinion: Universal Service Makes More Sense Than Ever

October 26, 2001

If terrorism is a permanent threat to the United States, the idea of universal service makes more sense than ever, says Philip Meyer, a member of USA Today's board of contributors.

In addition to improving national security, Meyer says, universal service would close the growing social and political differences between servicemen and civilians that began with loopholes in the Vietnam draft, followed by the all-volunteer military.

  • Compared to their civilian counterparts, for example, surveys show military officers are more socially conservative, more Republican and more likely to believe that declining traditional moral values threaten the breakdown of society.
  • In the 1970s, veterans were a large majority in Congress, and their proportion was greater than in the general population -- today they are a minority, and the proportion of male members of Congress who are veterans is less than in the population as a whole.
  • Where the World War II military draft helped level social-class distinctions because nearly everyone served, today, for example, the news media has problems covering the military because there are so few journalists with military experience.

After World War II, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower wanted universal military training in which every qualified man between the ages of 18 and 20 would serve one year in peacetime. Truman conceived of service as including more than military training -- today it would include women and add such specialties as emergency medical service, firefighting, communication and civil defense.

Source: Philip Meyer, "Crisis exposes military, civilian divide," USA Today, October 17, 2001.

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