Sunday, January 15

Have we short-changed ourselves by removing the draft?

About a month ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about the perceived state of younger workers. The refrain I heard was how the new employees were not prepared and often seemed to want to extend their college days into the work life.

Two weeks later, one of my mentors was discussing how he watches the new crop of entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley and how they tend to be incredibly cutthroat, eschewing concepts of honesty and loyalty and integrity in favor of libertarianism and capitalism.

And then this last Friday, I was having a discussion with Emma Vites, founder of The Apprentice Project, on what were the challenges I faced when hiring new graduates for roles in Engineering and Sales and what would be a solution to any of the perceived shortcomings I might have seen.

In all three of these conversations, something had been bouncing in the back of my head - something about the maturing of a boy to a man. In the past, our civilisation has always had some form of ritual to help understand the transition from boys to men and (I assume since I am not a woman) from girls to women. I remember reading about the original purpose for the Jewish tradition of the bar-mitzvah where a boy demonstrates to his community that he is ready to be responsible for his own actions and will carry on the Commandments under Jewish law. By becoming a man in this fashion, the boy is now party and responsible for keeping the Commandments - which are paramount in the Jewish Community life. Violation of these Commandments could have dire outcomes in terms of being separated from the family and the community at large.

Going back 100 years, this kind of ostracism would be almost tantamount to exile since Jewish communities were disbursed around the globe, so acceptance in the community was incredibly important to have a successful life.
In other cultures, the act of "becoming a man" is often attributed to some physical act - and often with some form of overcoming fear through combat, physical trial or ability to participate in more dangerous "adult" acts - like battle or war. Heck, even in the movie Avatar, the idea of becoming accepted by the Na'vi, one had to overcome the will of the flying Ikran (the flying pterodactls) and make it their own to become one of the Na'vi. The idea of becoming part of the community through learning the norms and through some form of trial is common to all societies.

Should we bring back the draft?
So, what has happened in "Western" societies? We have moved from feudalism where landowners could force their residents to fight on the landowners behalf - all because they were making sure their family was safe to armies on behalf of nation-states where to be part of the nation-state, you had to serve in the military to protect the interests of the nation-state, to today - where money and law and commerce are the "weapons" of the realm and physical trials or military service - which teaches/trains for a secular cultural norm are seen as efforts for others to serve the country, but not often the other channels to success - unless you are very lucky - and quite political.

I think about the lessons/fears/experiences that our military men - who have either chosen to become part of the military for honor and love of country - or have chosen the path to improve their lot in life because of the economic issues that plague their lives.

Years ago, I did not think I could ever be part of the military - simply because, in my high school and college years, I would rail against rules that seemed arbitrary or somewhat prescriptive and would not convince me that doing this act would be "the best way to go". Today, after spending time with other friends that have had military service and hearing the good and the bad of the service, I can float the idea that I believe all people should serve some form of military service - even me.

Israelis and Military Service
Being a Jew and a part-time New Yorker, I am often intrigued to meet Israelis - in many cases, they are brash, gregarious, incredibly driven and often more in control of their personal worlds than others I meet. Theirs is not a world of questioning and faffing about, they tend to have a very strong analytical sense and a strong passion based on the sensibilities they have learned from their two years of military service.

Oh - do not get me wrong. I think some of the things that the Israelis do are absolutely bone-headed. But, I will suggest that the maturity level of the men who have seen battle or some form of conflict tends to recognize the sanctity of human life - and the importance of loyalty, honor and integrity amoungst their comrades. Rarely do I see Israelis screw Israelis (and this is a gross generalisation) because of an almost pathological social agreement with their countrymen.

Do I attribute this social norm, maturity to military service? I might - and I wish I had read Startup Nation to really delve into this. But my experiences in Israel in the 90s and my continued interactions with Israelis (who are insanely difficult to manage, but have an energy that is often hard to match) give me some thought to this.

Do I attribute the lack of this Administrations long-term foreign policy strategy with regard to the rising China, the Arab Spring and the problems of the Eurozone on a generation who had the option of military service and did not feel the pain of possible death of themselves, their friends or their children? Do I attribute the growth of religious fervor in our country to provide a societal norm over the one that our Founding Fathers presented to us to the lack of the draft?

I pose the question - with some thoughtful introspection.

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