TED Conversations

Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.

TEDCRED 500+

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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 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.

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