Lions for Lambs, or the draft

So I watched Robert Redford’s Lion for Lambs with my brother Joel, who is heading to Iraq with the Pa. National Guard sometime in January.  So the story had strong relevance, but the movie sucked.  Turns out this particular film bombed with critics and at the box office.  Some people think that Americans just don’t want to think about these subjects:

What’s worse is that because the film dares to delve into our foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the corruption of our nation’s media and the plight of our young enlistees, Lions for Lambs‘ poor performance has been cited as yet more proof that American audiences have no interest in political films anymore.  (Adam Howard, “In Defense of Robert Redford’s ‘Lions for Lambs,’” AlterNet.)

Maybe Americans really do want to “change the channel” on Iraq.  But more likely in the case of Lions for Lambs, the movie was just horrible.  Tom Cruise’s war hawk senator was overdone beyond credulity; Meryl Streep was a half-baked idealistic journalist; and Robert Redford was unconvincing.  (Joel says, “This movies is poop… poop, I say!”)

But there was one concept in the movie that really piqued my interest.

The students cum soldiers proposed the institution of a national service year — requiring all high school students to spend their junior years in the Peace Corps or in one of the poorest areas in the country.  I don’t think it will work with high school juniors (too young), but I most definitely agree with the idea of a national service requirement.

And unlike those who wrote the movie, I would take a more nationalistic, militaristic approach to the service requirement.

  • Level the playing field.  The whole purpose of a national service program should be to level the field.  All Americans, of all races, genders, backgrounds, intelligence, career goals, political connections, and family wealth, need to be treated equally and have equal expectations placed upon them to serve their country.
  • Full participation, without exception.  Clearly there needs to be considerations for health issues, and for conscientious objectors, but there are no reaons to exclude anyone other than those who are entirely mentally unfit.  The major failures of the military draft through U.S. history has been the ability of the rich to avoid service. 
  • Paramilitary discipline.  The Peace Corps is nice and all, but what structure is there to handle unwilling participants?  The biggest threat is to be sent home, which is exactly what many would desire.  It can’t be like collegiate study abroad programs, which are basically an opportunity for the rich and/or intelligent to relax (yes, and study) in a foreign culture.  So the national service needs to have the basic structure of a military organization, including the rights of full military discipline.

A program with these features would serve to build national identity and unity, and would produce a more mature citizenry.

Or we could just reinstate the draft.  Whichever.

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