I have a dream.
Okay, it’s not as good as the Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream. His was a most excellent dream. It’s really difficult for any dream to compete with one in which the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners are all sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. That’s some seriously fine dreaming, right there. It remains only a dream, of course, but nobody can deny the quality of the dreaming involved.
My dream is less ambitious than Dr. King’s, though it’s equally unlikely to come to pass. Almost everybody will say they support Dr. King’s dream — even if they don’t. Very few would support my dream. Still, I think it’s a perfectly fine dream and I like it.
Here’s my dream: reinstate the draft.
No, seriously, that’s my dream. Conscription. Not military conscription, but conscription for national service. I would like for every citizen in the United States to perform two years of mandatory national service.
That’s right, mandatory. All those folks who talk about how great this nation is, I’d like them to actually put some skin in the game. Talk is cheap and all that. And all those folks who talk about how lousy this nation is, I want to give them an opportunity to improve it. It’s easy to complain. Actually fixing stuff is inconvenient.
Two years of service. I don’t care what sort of service they engage in. I don’t care if they spend a couple of years working in the national parks, or helping old folks, or rebuilding roads and bridges and dams, or assisting in archaeological digs, or researching a cure for breast cancer, or documenting historic buildings, or restoring native prairie grasses, or updating and upgrading FBI computer systems, or responding to natural disasters, or painting murals in post offices, or cleaning beaches befouled with pollution, or gathering oral histories of the people who built the Alaskan Highway, or earthquake-proofing old structures, or teaching and promoting traditional rural arts and crafts, or cataloging beetles at the Smithsonian, or yeah — carrying a weapon and walking a post in Afghanistan.
Two years of service, right out of high school. Would it fuck up the career plans of some folks? Yeah, sure it would. But mostly it would fuck up the career plans of the privileged classes — and let’s face it, their privilege would survive and they’d still have lots of advantages over ordinary folks. Giving up a couple of years to improve the nation that gave them their privilege isn’t asking too much.
Two years of service, without exception (aside for extreme physical, psychological, or emotional disability). Two years, no deferments and damned few exemptions. College can wait. Only child of disabled parents? There’s bound to be some sort of national service that can be served locally. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or what your situation is, there’s stuff you can do to improve and support the nation.
The photographs here illustrate projects sponsored by the Work Projects Administration back in the 1930s and 40s. It was essentially an employment project, and over its lifetime it employed millions of people to engage in all manner of public works. Most of the work back then involved unskilled labor — building roads and all that. But they also employed artists and musicians and writers and actors to create and perform and document works of art for public consumption. People did things that were worthwhile.
The people employed by the WPA were just looking for work, of course. They needed a job. My dream would simply shift the motivation behind the work. It would be less about needing to make a buck and put food on the table, and more about providing a national service.
That’s it, that’s my dream. Two years of service. Two years serving other folks, serving something larger than personal interests, serving the nation. It’s not too much to ask; it may be too much to expect.
Which is why it’s a dream.