Critical responses to mandatory national service

Last week I suggested that mandatory national service in one of many different fields would be a good way to bridge the gap between high school and the real world.

Furthermore, I suggested that FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) be resurrected as a form of national service. My perspective was to provide a work force for national and state parks, the national wildlife refuge system, the U.S. Forest Service and other conservation agencies.

I concluded that column by asking readers to tell me why my proposal was a bad idea. Within hours of the column appearing in print, I began receiving responses.

Most were critical

A few readers thought it was a great idea, but most were critical. One suggested I was insane. I went wrong, these readers pointed out, by suggesting “mandatory” service.

One pointed out that we don’t live in “communist China.” Another wondered if I’d have these “slaves sleep in barns.”

Rarely do initial ideas become final solutions. They need to be discussed, debated, massaged and reformulated. That’s why I asked for reader input. And I thank everyone who pointed out flaws in my thinking.

My big mistake was trying to introduce two ideas that had no business being intertwined. “Mandatory” national service will not fly. I began to wonder if it would even be constitutional.

I asked my son-in-law, Josh Carpenter, if the subject ever came up during his years in law school. In no time he found a 1918 Supreme Court decision (Arver v. United States) that upheld a military draft during World War I.

“The Constitution,” he explained, “grants Congress the power to raise armies and make war, and those powers encompass the power to impose a military draft.”

On the other hand, there’s nothing in the Constitution about requiring national service for conservation, education or any other worthy cause. So let’s forget about making any sort of national service, other than military, “mandatory.”

Focus

Instead, let’s focus on expanding the opportunities for voluntary national service. As I mentioned last week, many such opportunities already exist — Peace Corps, VISTA, AmeriCorps, etc. I should have limited last week’s column to resurrecting the CCC as a form of national public service, open to all.

Imagine a corps of volunteers available to national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges and national forests to address the backlog of routine maintenance that never gets done.

From fixing broken windows to rebuilding washed out trails, roads and bridges, a new CCC could breathe new life into our nation’s natural treasures. It turns out that there are many more avenues for national public service already in place than I ever imagined.

On Oct. 1 of this year, the Serve America Act went into effect. It offers opportunities for everyone from 6th graders to senior citizens. Incentives for the youngest volunteers include monetary education awards. College students can work for tuition credits.

Conservation

Though all forms of voluntary national service are valuable, my concern is for a program that would address the conservation of natural resources. How hard could it be to bring back the CCC and fold into existing volunteer opportunities?

One reader asked why the National Park Service couldn’t function like private industry.

“Perhaps the National Park Service can do what any other private industry would do when faced with similar circumstances — raise fees, cut costs or reduce services.”

In recent years, the National Park Service has raised fees, cut costs and reduced services. But it is not a private business. It is a governmental agency financed by taxes and fees that provides services that are not economically practical for private industry to offer.

Conservation agencies acquire land, and manage and protect natural resources for future generations to enjoy. These agencies promote and protect the public good.

Commercial industries that require large tracts of land, on the other hand, consume natural resources for private gain. Their primary purpose is to make a profit for owners and stockholders.

Shutter to imagine

Without governmental conservation agencies, I shutter to imagine what the American landscape would resemble today.

Voluntary, conservation-based national service would appeal to citizens who share this view.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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