Mom's Demands and the Government's


REMEMBER HOW YOUR MOTHER used to invade the sanctity of your bedroom to tell you that the garbage had to be taken out, the leaves had to be raked, the dog walked and the dishes washed? Sure you remember. You hated it.

Well, Rep. Robert G. Torricelli(D-N.J.) did the same thing on Tuesday night. He was supposed to be accompanied by Senator Gary Hart (D-Co.), but Hart got stuck on Capitol Hill. Torricelli spoke at Harvard, not to politic, but to tell us to get working.

Except Torricelli wants a little more than mom does; he wants one year of our lives devoted to military or civil service. Mom only asked for a few hours and a little effort.

Torricelli and Hart have this idea, you see. They call it a "universal national service." Though they haven't specified the particulars, this national service would conscript men and women of a certain youthful age. Once drafted (they shrewdly avoid using that word), we would choose either military or non-military service. And then we would work for about a year for the government, free of charge.

Hart and Torricelli sound pretty serious about this, so stop laughing. They have sponsored bills before their respective governmental bodies that would create a commission to study the feasibility of a national service. Writing in The New York Times last April, Hart and Torricelli pronounced, "We can do more for our young people by asking more from them."


Now, I used to be one of those kids who feigned temporary hearing ring loss whenever my mom told me to get to work. But the more I think about it, the more excited I get about the whole idea.

I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SAYING. "One year out of my life? I'll be hopelessly behind all those other ladder-climbers of my generation."

No you won't. Not if everyone is drafted.

I know what you're saying. "Of what possible value could I be to the government? All I can do is cram for tests, guzzle beer and play squash."

Well, you can do a little more than that, if you have two arms and two legs. The country has a lot of needs that it can't fill because it doesn't have the money or manpower, regardless of Reagan's budget cuts. What can we do? We can build and repair highways, clean up slums, tutor kids in Appalachia, take care of old people, feed people in Africa, man ice stations in Alaska, all sorts of things. There are a lot of good but dirty tasks out there that need fresh young bodies like ours.

And for those of us who like to shoot guns, wear uniforms and march around in the hot sun, there's always the military. (If I had my way, I'd force all Conservative Club members to take this route.) A draft would give a boost to our conventional military forces and lessen our reliance on nuclear arms, something that is generally believed to be a good thing.

Of course, some might say, a good supply of military bodies would make it easier for a war to start, especially with an adventuristic president like Reagan in office. But that wouldn't be true if the supply of bodies came from all segments of American society. A country would be much less likely to go to war if all of its sons or daughters were at risk, not just the poor ones. The Vietnam War, for example, probably would have ended a lot sooner if privileged kids like us weren't able to get out of it by going to college.

I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE STILL SAYING, you shrewd aspiring Yuppie. "Okay, so I can make America a better place and all that. But what's in it for me? What do I have to gain?"

Good question.

First of all, we would all feel that we had a stake in this country, which is a notion noticably absent in America today. We've all learned from our parents that the only thing we owe our country is a huge sum of money that we eventually send off to the Internal Revenue Service with a lot of bitching each year. That is our only claim. It might be an expensive claim, but it's certainly not a very meaningful one. What American fills out his income tax form each year feeling that he is doing a duty, fulfilling an obligation? I know I don't feel that way. I, like most Americans, look upon that check as lost revenue, nothing more.