Does Americorps promote military conscription, or undermine it?

In a comment to my Sept 22 post about the Eli Segal Fellowship announcement, Scott Kohlhass, who runs, writes:

I am worried that these programs could be used by selective service as “alternative service” during a draft.

Scott Kohlhaas

That is indeed a novel and intriguing idea, one that had not occurred to me. I considered responding in the comments section, but then realized that this is an interesting enough topic to deserve it’s own post.

For starters, let me note that I am unequivocally with Scott when it comes to the concept of conscription to military service and the current system of mandatory registration of men when they reach 18. In my opinion, it is morally reprehensible to conscript someone to go out and fight a war they neither believe in enough to sign up for and that may, indeed, be in direct opposition to their personal, moral and spiritual beliefs. This immorality grows even stronger in light of the fact that the folks who lobby for war (corporations like Haliburton, the rich who have massive holdings in oil, metals and technology, etc) rarely have to worry about getting their hands dirty (or their brains blown out) fighting it. I can only that God that, being female, to this point I haven’t had to face the prospect of refusing to register as, being committed to non-violence, I would be morally compelled to do.

Even the government itself acknowledges this to some degree through it’s Conscientious Objector status, although during past drafts such status was ridiculously and notoriously difficult to get and C.O.’s were often socially, if not criminally, persecuted for “lack of patriotism” and “cowardice.” Although to be honest, I think it takes far bigger balls to stick with your spiritual and moral beliefs against the common feeling than to just go along and agree to commit violence for political ends that you don’t even believe in just to avoid going against the flow.

However, I depart from Scott’s concern in that, in the event a draft was actually reinstated, I would much rather have an alternative like Americorps to serve in rather than face the choice of serving in the military or taking criminal action that would involve and potentially endanger my family.

Having served two years in Americorps serving those who need help the most I can say without reservation that, if a draft were reinstated with Americorps as an alternative service, the prospect of the sheer numbers of objectors that would put in a position of public service would be an unequivocal Good Thing.

If a draft was reinstated for the Iraq conflict, just imagine the number people who don’t support the war and who have no intention of getting their head blown off for some ideal they don’t believe in that would willingly flood into public service as a viable alternative. Such a social service tsunami could literally change the nature of our country in so many ways I can’t even begin to imagine the end result.

Also, consider this – the best way to prevent war is to prevent the circumstances that provoke it and one of the key circumstances that create wars is xenophobia – the fear of the other. Fear of other races, other religions, other socio-economic realities, etc, create an insular, nationalistic fervor that easily transfers to dehumanization and hatred of people in other countries who are doing foreign things for foreign reasons that xenophobes neither understand nor feel comfortable with. Stir in violence perpetrated by radical members of these other groups and war is not only probably, it becomes downright easy.

If nothing else, a year or two in Americorps exposes both the member and those the member serves to so many different peoples, cultures, mindsets, and other realities – and forces them to act and live within those realities – that the end result of a national draft that swelled Americorps to that degree would be a new generation of people who would be far less likely to be xenophobic as well as far more likely to understand the dynamics of poverty, oppression and cultural intolerance as the source of anger, violence and fear that underly the actions that lead to war.

Plus, by dint of the quantity of direct services performed and the betterment of those served, our country would become more educated, more economically balanced and less divided than it was before, which in turn would make its constituents less violent, less oppressed and less warlike to begin with. And since the poor are always hit hardest by a draft (and the blandishments of the recruiters’ offices) this rising tide of education, economic status and cross-cultural exposure would also take many of them out of harm’s way in terms of the circumstances that often lead them to be victimized by the military machine.

In short, having public service alternatives like Americorps would actually be subversive to a war-like nation’s militaristic intentions, and to my mind would be one of the best antidotes to future wars I can think of, both in terms of how we perceive others and in terms of internal social realities that the military feeds off of.

So, although I support Scott wholeheartedly in his effort to eradicate conscription and end even the possibility of the draft, I have to say that having Americorps as a possible alternative in the event of a draft seems like a feature, not a bug, one that I would support equally wholeheartedly.


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