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Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.

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Let's have mandatory military service in the U.S.

Our educational system is turning out citizens who don't understand the military well enough to make informed voting decisions, who don't have meaningful job skills, who have no sense of duty or service, and who have never been a part of something larger than themselves in a meaningful way. A required stint of military service could provide an immersion experience that would help to overcome all of those.

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Closing Statement from Erik Richardson

I think this is an interesting debate, as far as it goes, but I also learned a valuable lesson about whether TED discussions have enough diversity of perspectives—both to figure out what ends are worth accomplishing and to map out a way to better accomplish those ends.

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  • May 28 2011: Military training is has a purpose. It's purpose is to train people to abandon their own moral sense, and submit themselves completely to authority. There is a good reason the Founding Fathers saw the elemination of a standing army as one of their primary goals. Training people so that they can kill when ordered before their conscience prevents them from doing it is not beneficial to force on everyone in a democratic society. People who deal poorly with authority, and who will not kowtow to authority, are not bad people. They are absolutely necessary for social progress of any kind. Every single step forward the human race takes is taken by telling someone in authority "You are wrong. And I am not going to listen to you." It has NEVER come from listening to those in authority and following along while throwing your own morality out the window and chanting "I was just following orders."

    The military has a purpose. It does not produce upstanding citizens who will participate honestly in a democracy. It produces killers. That is its primary goal above everything else. Killing causes severe psychological damage to human beings, regardless of their training. This is why the number one killer in the US military is suicide and why the Pentagon has declared it as their 'most important problem'.

    We need people who, when told to establish a facility like Guantanamo, tell their commanding officers to pound sand because it is such a profound disputation of everything the United States was founded upon. No fair trial? If that sounds good to you, then face the fact that you hate America and its basis. Patriotism is a matter of ideology, not a matter of being willing to do anything for unelected leaders.
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    May 10 2011: umm lets not?
  • May 9 2011: Wouldn't it be better to fix the educational system rather than expand the war machine. Many countries have or have had mandatory military service - it would be worth examining their experiences. We have an opportunity, greater than at any other time in history, to focus on the things that unite us, rather than the things that divide us. Globally, we all want the same things for ourselves and our children - security, freedom, dignity, comfort, health, knowledge and so on. Except for the extremes that are 2 or 3 standard deviations away from normal, human beings are not really that different in their needs. Hate and ignorance are great companions. An educational system which is outward-looking and international in scope could be beneficial.
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    May 9 2011: I have thought about this topic quite a bit and I have come up with two things which, are simply my opinions;

    1. Brian, I believe you opinion of Americans is rather insulting to the many hardworking and patriotic ones I know. I am not American however my wife is and I lived there half my life so I believe I am qualified to comment. All of the Americans I know are hard working, educated and patriotic. They would all serve their country at the drop of a hat. Correct, some of them drive SUVs, but they worked many long hours in order to exchange their creativity and input for the privilege of owning one and a nice house and taking a vacation. To generalize in such a way is not a very intelligent way to conduct one's self in a debate with the gravitas that this one has and you may represent yourself more effectively if you tried a different approach.

    2. Erik, I am completely against the idea of Mandatory Service short of a National Emergency and I am sorry but America gas not yet experienced such a situation and I hope it never does. The trade off for service to those who do not want to be there is disproportionate to the benefits one might gain. I can tell you from experience that there are many who have never got over their time in the service. After September 11th there were many saying we should go to war and retaliate and the same people are now wondering what has happened to their children when they return a shell of their former self. They will have seen things which will haunt them for the rest of their lives, shatter their dreams and wreck their bodies and all of this because you my friends have some warped idea that Mandatory Service will 'Make Men' out of them. I do not often say this but you are both wrong. America is a wonderful country with amazing people in it who if given the chance can turn the world on it's end in a positive way. You are the dreamers and torch bearers, not the killers and oppressors.
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      May 9 2011: Part of our disagreement may be insurmountable, and that's what helps a conversation like this broaden my perspective. Part of our disagreement, though, stems from the fact that you continue to equate "being the service" with "being in active combat." It is, in fact, my contention, as discussed below from several different angles, that more informed voters with a more well-rounded perspective will lead to a world with LESS active combat.

      As you yourself have argued that those who serve have better, more informed judgement regarding these issues, what is your alternative? Do you really think a world where the politicians who have never served, and whose children will never have to serve, can continue sending other people's children into combat is working all that well?
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        May 9 2011: "Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly". I see no reason to trust that an organization based on the idea of killing people would be more peaceful with a fresh new crop of young cannon fodder (sorry for the mixed metaphor). It all comes down to the fact that you trust the powers that be with our kids' lives and I do not. You see what the country might gain and I see what we all might lose.
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        May 9 2011: Erik you are correct. While in service I did many other wonderful things to serve both country and comunity. I was a Physical Education Instructor as well as a combat soldier and yes I did spent time teaching childre to do Gymnastics, Kayak, Rock climb in fact you name it. But the armt is designed for one thing only and they do it well. Once in combat you cannot say, I'm a PTI sorry I don't kill people. I'm not sure of the value of having an army trained to do Gymanstics alone. There may be need for anothet organization which is not designed for that which could deliver all the things you say. That I would get behind.
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          May 9 2011: I might too for I see the benfits of mobilizing a force to help a country with the some of the training and cohesion that could benefit all.
    • May 9 2011: A very quick thought would mandatory Peace Corps service serve the purpose adequately. I know there are problems with the PC but those could be addressed. I don't necessarily believe in mandatory service but the PC would provide a broader learning experience. Might be useful to hear from persons who volunteered.
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    May 8 2011: We had that when my generation came of age in the Vietnam War. Only poor kids went to war. I didn't know a single person who was drafted into service ( I graduated high school in '64). The rest of us carried on with Tennis, sedate parties, midnight swims on our beach and halycon days at college. How could we make sure that never happened again?
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      May 8 2011: Lindsay, again I find myself agreeing with you and the problem is that poor kids (and I know this is a generalization) have not received the same education as many with better means. That said you need to be more than just willing to serve today. War has become very technical in many ways so all these poor kids get is infantry which is nothing more than cannon fodder. I served in the infantry as a Junior NCO and we were the first in last out the ones who were disposable. It comes down to this I believe, if our very survival is threatened as my countries was in WWll then we all go, if not leave it to those who are best designed to do the job. Soldiers I believe will agree with me on this those who have never served will not understand.
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      May 8 2011: Sometimes the personal recollections can really illustrate the issues. Your lived experience is really valuable here, Lindsay.

      The one thing that would probably happen with manditory military service is that politicians might be more careful if there was even the slightest possibility that their kids could see action.
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    May 7 2011: Whaaaaaaaaattttttttttttt?

    I am a mother. I prayed every time I was pregnant that my child would never experience war and never kill anyone else.

    I would rather go than let one of my kids go- and I do not want anyone else's kids to go either. Now if you are proposing a sort of civilian service to country- I might agree- but no one is going to every compel my kids to go if I am still kicking.
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      May 7 2011: I too wish there could be a world without war, and that no one's children would grow up and be sent into harm's way.
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      May 8 2011: Debra, let me say that when I signed up my innocence was gone in a heartbeat and while I have never regretted it there is a part of me I will never again be able to reclaim. So I am with you on this.
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        May 8 2011: Lee, I think that many men came home from war utterly broken (I am NOT refering to you). Some who saw such inhuman traumas never received any help because no one knew anything about PTSD. Even now we can barely handle the fall out in soldier's families in Canada and I think anyone who fights for their country must not be considered disposable. WE did this to them. I think it is our responsiblity to try to make it right.
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    May 7 2011: I beg to differ. I have served in the Military and in conflict, while I am not apposed to having a Military I am apposed to those of you who would make the decision to send my children off to kill or die against their wishes. Serving in the Military neither gives a sense of honour or duty in most cases unless it already existed in the first place and if it were mandatory it would only serve to take away our liberty and freedom. There is also the fact that I would want to serve with those who wanted to be there and not those who did not, the last I needed in combat was someone who would not take care of me with the same conviction as I had for them. So No!
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      May 7 2011: ". . . it would take away our liberty and freedom."
      But if they're not willing to risk and sacrifice for it, why should someone else? I agree with Brian, below, that voting is another example of people wanting something for nothing.

      I think you do a disservice to military men and women to imply that they would not do their job and keep their fellows safe just because they didn't "want" to be there. I am not at liberty to talk about my own background, but I can tell you that neither my dad nor my grandfather "wanted" to be in the military or at war, but they sure as hell did their jobs while they were.
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        May 8 2011: DEFINE WORK??? or JOB... I'm going to keep this short, Thou shalt love thy neighbour. See Some Of My Conversations here on TED and Twitter that has various links. I'm sure that'll add clarity. NOW IF MY VOICE WAS HEARD COMPLETELY, I'd be sitting in Scotland right now.
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        May 8 2011: I think WWll was a different situation people were willing to stand for their country as did my parents and grandparents. The reason for that was to make sure that we did not surrender to tyranny. Making people join the Military as I said does not inherently do anything positive for them that has to be something they want to do. May I ask not in an arrogant way if you have served? It is not a judgment, but it is one of those things that unless one has done it, it's never quite the same as talking about it.
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          May 9 2011: It sounds like you are saying those who have served have a better perspective on the issue. That's one of the points at the heart of my argument as well. I think it is impossible for people to make well-informed decisions about military issues unless they have stood inside a uniform looking out.

          I think only giving that insight and benefit to those who either a) favor militaristic solutions (the gung ho) or b) are stupid and easily duped creates a malfunction in the composition of our military decision makers, and it ensures that those who are generally against the militaristic worldview are handicapped in their future decision-making because they lack the ability to integrate that perspective from inside the uniform into their political discourse.
  • May 7 2011: I think that Americans have become too lazy and too complacent we no longer appreciate our right to vote as much as we should. Not only do I think we should have mandatory military service in this country but I think it should be required in order to earn the right to vote. I would love to see the ability to vote be raised to the level of a revered reward in our society rather then just being a chore you avoid.
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      May 8 2011: Sounds Fascist putting one man above another.
      • May 8 2011: I think it's quite funny that you would value military service higher than a Ph.D for example, let's make that a requirement for voting instead :)
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          May 9 2011: When we start spending billions upon billions of dollars turning out government Ph.D.'s and sending them by the thousands to take over other countries' research programs and universities in the name of national interest, we might take you up on your suggestion. However, that brings up the interesting possiblity that perhaps we should try that (invading with Ph.D's) instead of the things we've been doing instead. :-D
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      May 10 2011: Interesting points. If you are right, then perhaps the position implied below by Lee is wrong, and people who have received military service or served in combat would be LESS qualified to make decisions about military action and policy. I must admit, THAT would be an effective argument against mandatory service accomplishing the primary objective I've been talking about.

      Perhaps I should have used a different term than 'mandatory.' What you are describing is merely a draft (and a rigged one, from the sound of it!). I was suggesting the type of arrangement where everyone is required to serve—children of politicians right alongside everyone else. Otherwise we still end up with the problem of people who have never served and whose children will never have to serve deciding to send other people's children into harm's way.
  • May 10 2011: "Our educational system is turning out citizens who don't understand the military well enough to make informed voting decisions, who don't have meaningful job skills, who have no sense of duty or service, and who have never been a part of something larger than themselves in a meaningful way."

    I think the answer to your discontent lies in reshaping or fine-tuning America's public education system then. Mandatory military service may be one solution, but I hardly think it would be the most optimal. Besides - and you can correct me if I'm wrong - I don't think it would be constitutional let alone affordable.
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    May 9 2011: In fairness, I should say that I am perfectly willing to change my mind on this. I can allow that the military may not create a sense of duty that wasn't there and that there are other ways for people to learn to be a part of the whole besides just military service. Those are probably secondary to the goal of creating a better world by finding a way to make sure that the people voting about military issues and making decisions about military actions have a better, more tangible understanding of what they're voting/deciding.
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      May 9 2011: I Have a plan that will work, and benefit everyone even the world itself... for the greater good and No One will even step up and send me a helicopter, Is Destruction of this world inevitable?
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    May 8 2011: Erik,

    With all due respect, it seems you treat militarism as something apolitical and something exceptional.

    To you, it seems there's a vision of militarism as something apolitical, something everyone should participate in without recourse to preference, cultural norms, and so on.

    Further, you understand it as exceptional in that you see the military as a panacea for a many particular modern problems and at the same time divorce it from its own issues of soldiers' trauma, the violence they are trained to participate in, and so on.

    You are right to say that immersive experiences are behavior modifying, but to focus on militarism as the ideal immersive experience misses the point, I think.

    The reason some people won't develop marketable skills, don't have a sense of duty or service, or who don't have a sense of being part of a whole is because their own lives and identities aren't immersive. Indeed, they are incredibly fragmentary and spliced together - and the only immersive quality is the sense of mixed metaphor present in one's life.

    To say that the solution here is to remove this necessary confusion with the sureness of a military experience is to lash out at a symptom rather than a cause.

    On a more practical level, though, this idea is bankrupt. Our generation has remarkably little nationalism and exceptional patriotism like yours did. And that kind of cultural change didn't happen in a vacuum. To try to renationalize a youth disaffected with the violent projects of older generations and get the sense of meaning you felt in WWII, when the enemy to you was clear, your cultural place was clear, and so on, is missing the point.

    We aren't going to get that back (even if I don't agree 'we' even had it in the first place).

    So, I disagree with the idea that militarism is the solution to these problems. Indeed, they come from many places and to attack this problem with militarism just exacerbates the larger disaffection of youth to these large projects.
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      May 9 2011: Some good thoughts, Sanjay, though I should clarify that I am not as old as you suggest; WWII was well before my time.

      My suggestion that everyone serve is not a stance in favor of militarism. Not everyone who serves comes out the other side favoring military action and intervention as the best or primary solution to problems, nor would I want them to. What I AM arguing, though, is that this is one feasible way (the only one I'm aware of) for them to be able to balance their decision making processes with an ability to understand things from that point of view. I would hardly claim that is the best or most important point of view from which to see major issues.
  • May 8 2011: I don't think that 'beeing a part of something bigger' is a well enough criteria for making military service mandatory. If you whish to be a part of something greater I suggest joining a non-profit organization or something like that. To make military service mandatory is like going back in time instead of beeing progressive. I'm brought up in a country with mandatory military service and it serves no purpose.
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    May 8 2011: How about Stronger Communication skills with our brothers and sisters, become an Adult, Teach your child as an Adult, not as a teacher. -There's more than one meaning to this phrase and only one is correct.
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    May 7 2011: Brave suggestion for TED. I think TED is all about peace.

    I do believe that young people need to learn more about being a "part of something larger than themselves in a meaningful way". I've wondered about soldiers, like those that were first on the beach on D Day. Or the front line in the Revolutionary War. I can't imagine what it is like facing that kind of sacrifice and if one lived through it, how it might enlighten the rest of one's life.

    In answer to your question . . . maybe. If all young people had to participate.
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      May 8 2011: I say Introducing Laissez Faire world wide.