Sounds like a nice idea... right?
A friend of mine posted this today. She is big on public service and people working together for the common goal of making a good community. I happen to agree; in a perfect world, young people would willingly and be expected to do their part for their countries. However, although there are places where young people are expected to volunteer for a time, it's a trend that is declining. In Germany, for instance, young men used to be required to serve in the military or do some kind of public service. In 2011, Germany scrapped conscription, so public service is no longer required.
While I think volunteering for public service and even military service are very good things for young people to do, I don't think anyone should ever be forced to serve. Not everyone has an attitude of service. Not everyone has the benefit of coming into an attitude of service naturally. It's not something that can necessarily be taught, because a lot of it comes from a person's individual perspective and character.
I think one of the main reasons I don't think service should be forced is because for years, I've listened to Bill talk about why he'd never want to have to lead military draftees. The military can be a dangerous vocation. People in the military depend on each other. There has to be camaraderie and morale. Not everyone is suited to wear the uniform. Even if a person is physically and mentally capable of serving, he or she might not have the character to put other people's needs in front of their own. Those people, if forced to serve, can bring everyone else down to disastrous levels.
"Ah," you might say, "but Jon Stewart says young people can do something besides military service. So they don't have to wear a uniform!"
I still think the same concept applies, though. You can't force someone to care. I think service is best when it's delivered by someone who cares and has a stake in the work being done. The sad thing is, there are a lot of people in the world who flat out don't care about anyone or anything but themselves. Selfish people can have a toxic effect on people who do care and are forced to work with them. Aside from that, as history showed us during the draft years, sometimes people will go to ridiculous lengths to get out of public service. Some men would claim to be gay or try to convince the draft board that they were mentally ill. According to the Wikipedia article I shared, in Germany, some young people would consume drugs to get out of serving. Seems to me, it would be a lot simpler to just let people choose and make choosing service worth their while.
When I was a young woman, I did choose to do some public service. I joined the Peace Corps. Although a lot of people might think I was brave to do that, the truth is, I joined mainly for selfish reasons. I was actually lucky they accepted me, too. I happened to join during a time when there were a lot of assignments available. The Peace Corps is very competitive and not everyone who applies gets a spot. I think that's even more true today, since they revamped the application process. When I was a Volunteer, the application was very lengthy, but mainly I had to meet the basic educational requirements, be healthy, legally unencumbered, and over age 18.
I was not one of those people who went my whole life wanting to volunteer. Quite a few people dream of serving. I was not one of them. I was inspired by my older sister, who had joined and launched a great career. I wanted to have a good career, too. At the very least, I didn't want to live with my parents anymore. So I joined and I spent two years in a developing country.
The work was very difficult in ways I didn't expect. I'm glad I was a Volunteer, because I learned a lot and my life did change, mostly for the better. I also made a few great friends. However, just as not everyone escapes military service whole, not everyone comes out of that experience with nothing but memories. There was risk involved. People have died or gotten sick or injured while serving. Some people have ended up being victims of crimes. And again, not everyone is suited for that kind of service.
Finally, the reason I don't think people should be required to serve has to do with economy. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the United States are simply trying to survive. Some people work multiple jobs just to be able to pay their bills. We don't have a government that mandates paying workers a living wage. Minimum wage is not a living wage. We have a large segment of our population not wanting government interference in other people's lives. The right wingers don't want to pay higher taxes. Many of the left wingers tend to be anti military, which would be one way young people could serve.
If we did require young people to serve, there would have to be some agency that would run the program and keep track of those who did their time. Someone would have to be in charge of placement, training, and finance. This would create jobs and that's a good thing. However, those jobs would be paid for by taxes, which some people would resent. Granted, the public service would benefit everyone, but not everyone would see the value in it. Not everyone values community and that's not a concept we can force on people in a free society.
So... while I think the idea expressed in the above meme is noble (and I don't know if Jon Stewart really said that-- I'm too lazy to Google), ultimately it's an idea that would require a lot more than just noble intentions. I think it would be a tough sell to a lot of people. Besides... if you require people to "volunteer", they aren't actually volunteering, are they?