Ok, so I forgot to mention in my original Week 3 re-cap that my ILE group also had a great, multi-day discussion about what the Army's role (or, more generally, the military's role) might be vis-a-vis our democratic society. Some of our readings discussed the two classic theories of the role an army plays in its society: the 'liberal' theory (which focuses on the army's responsibility to protect the democratic ideals in society) or the 'civic republican' theory (which describes the army as having a role to play in sustaining those ideals).
Though our society favors the former view, I think I'm much more an advocate of the latter. I think the Army – and, more broadly, all of our bodies of government – has the potential to develop powerful civic ideals that might more tightly bind our society. It's the same idea behind AmeriCorps and other government initiatives: by giving some period of service to the government, citizens are rewarded with something (loan forgiveness, training, etc.) and at the same time (hopefully) develop a commitment to our form of civil society. The idea is not to form particular loyalty to a given administration or set of leaders, but rather to our system of government, which we believe to be fair, representative, etc. If we focus only on the Army's responsibility to protect our society and do nothing to encourage the many ways it can develop and sustain it, we are simply leaving some of its potential on the curb.
Other countries (many of them our closest allies) require their citizens to provide some period of service to the nation. This service might be done in the military, but it might also be done in other government agencies (such as education, medicine, emergency services, etc.). While conscription – a draft – isn't something we're likely to see on our shores any time soon, I'd personally like to see some sort of service requirement implemented. I'd hope this would equalize the socio-economic representation of Soldiers in our Army, but it might also help to develop some of the cultural traits that help define us (like equality of opportunity and responsibility). There would still be room in my vision for an all-volunteer core (corps?) of professional Soldiers, just as there would be a similar professional backbone in other participating agencies.
So, is this a crazy idea? Would you sign up for such a service obligation? Would you sign up your kids? Would it even be worth it?