(light music) (brass music) - [Announcer] The United States has existed as a country for just north of 240 years and for about 182 of those years, we've been at war.
- Believe it or not, there's been at least one day of armed conflict in 75% of the years in our nation's history and this trend started early.
As we all know, our nation was born in war and in some ways, this never let up.
As soon as the United States became a nation, it began expanding west and south, fighting against the people who were already living there.
After the US reached from sea to shining sea, presidents from McKinley through Coolidge sent troops to Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Sometimes to protect American citizens abroad but usually to expand America's economic, political, and cultural influence.
Since World War Two, US forces have been sent all over the world in the name of the Cold War and the War on Terror.
Now some of these years were obviously more deadly than others, but to be clear, the 75% we're referencing doesn't even include military operations like expeditions and occupation which didn't experience direct combat which means America has only been at complete peace for 28 years.
Peace in America isn't even old enough to run for president.
Despite this long history of armed conflict, we now know that over time warfare has been directly impacting fewer and fewer Americans.
Since 1980, the percentage of the US population with military experience had shrunk from 18% to seven percent and that percentage is still dropping today.
By 2040, The Department of Veterans Affairs projects that that number could be as low as 3.5%.
Now, let's take this into context.
During the Vietnam War, 3.5 million Americans were on active duty but the total number for any given year since 9/11 has never exceeded 1.5 million.
That's less than half of one percent of our current total population.
- Over the years the military as a whole, the population's declined.
One component of that is we just don't need as many people.
However, there is always competition for recruitment in different times.
When economic times are good, it's difficult to find people but sometimes when economic times decline, some people then look at the military as an option.
- From the military side, we actually do have an issue with the number of qualified candidates that can serve in the military.
Only three in 10 American youths today are actually eligible or qualified to serve, but in the end, the number of people who are actually qualified and willing to serve is a very small population and it continues to decline.
- So here comes the big question.
How does this effect our thinking about war when as we've seen, it's almost constantly taking place but very few of us experience it directly.
- And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
(audience applauding and cheering) - [Toussaint] Today, according to the CIA, there are more than 60 countries on Earth that require citizens to serve in the military.
From Mexico to Russia, Denmark to Israel, Estonia to North Korean and many others and out of these, Israel is probably the best known because it requires both men and women to serve.
- So my name is Shaked Danai and I've served in the IDF, Israeli Defense Force for two years.
So it's like mandatory, so after you finish high school at 18 basically you go.
- Do you think serving in the military makes people respect the country more?
- I mean, I know I was very proud and I'm still proud of my service because you know you've done something good and you help your society and you feel more a part of it.
Thinking about the army, you also have to include the whole situation in Israel 'cause the army wasn't mandatory if Israel wasn't in the conflict that it is right now.
People won't want to join the army unless they would feel it is needed.
No one would like to go and contribute a few years of his of her life knowing that it might not really be helpful and the country doesn't really need them.
- My name is Maya Wind, I'm an Israeli conscientious objector.
I refused my military service and was sentenced to military prison as a result and today I am an activist for the decolonization in Israel and Palestine.
- How does mandatory military service affect people that don't agree with the war their country is fighting?
- Each of us in turn on the date of our draft showed up and refused to become soldiers and then we were all sentenced and sent to military prison, so I think to a large extent, conscientious objection and mandatory military service are, of course, contradiction in terms, right, so the country has a national conscription, it also needs an ethos that this is a national duty which precludes, I think, the possibility for people to just opt out because it undermines the whole premise.
I think that wars and the military industries that generally sustain them are profitable for the elite of most countries at the expense of the vast majority of the population of that country and so really conscription is a way for the government to extract the labor necessary for war from it's citizens under a national ethos that this is necessary.
- A lot of military experts have argued that mandatory service in America just doesn't make sense because one, we don't need that many people in the military.
Wars aren't fought with sheer numbers anymore.
And two, it would cost literally trillions of dollars to train millions of new young people every year.
- Not everyone wants to be in the military.
Like any organization, it's just not a fit.
(laughs) - [Toussaint] It's not for everybody.
- Right, it's not for everybody.
The other piece again is by the time probably you're proficient at your job, you're going to be leaving.
- Maybe it makes more sense if we talked about a hybrid model and you've probably heard of something like the before.
Instead of military service, we would need to commit to some form of domestic service.
Something like cleaning up a national park, programming new software for a humanitarian cause or maybe even caring for a combat veteran in our community.
- On the other side of public service is national service that we talk about.
AmeriCorps, Peace Corps programs like that Teach For America.
In those cases, we actually have a number of young Americans who would like to serve but we don't have enough positions and funding to allow everyone who is interested to serve so we're looking for ideas.
So if your viewers have ideas on how we can increase the service opportunities and increase propensity, that would be great.
- And it raises the question, if we were all required for at least a few years to put our blood and sweat into some form of service, what would it do for our national character?
- I actually think it should become a common expectation more than a mandatory year of service.
Everybody now is expected to go to high school, right, like it's just assumed that you go to middle school or junior high and then you go to high school so really creating the cultural shift that it becomes natural to say to a young person, "Where are you gonna do your service year?"
I think if people were approximate to some of the challenges that are going on in our communities and really felt like they had the ability to do something about those problems, it would create a different culture of how we come together as citizens to solve problems in our communities.
Also if you think about it, less than one percent of our nation's population serves in the US military.
We're not asking anything of the folks at home and I think this is a real opportunity to call on folks to say, "Hey, you know what, "if you're not gonna serve in the military, that's great, "do a year of national service "and make a difference closer to home."
- So we wanna know what you think.
If we were to make America from scratch today, should we have mandatory service and if it's not in the military, what would it look like?
Hey, this is Toussaint Morrison with America From Scratch and I am standing on a C-130 H at MSP ARS and we wanna give a big thank you out to all the Reserve Citizen Airmen here at the nine 34th airlift wing.
Please be sure to check out the America From Scratch podcast and once again, thank you so much for letting us be here.
This program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.