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The Texas Observer DEC. 11 1964 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c A Proposal: A Year of National Service Roger Shattuck Washington and Austin Following the recent election of President Johnson, too many forces conspire to lull us back to sleep over our peace and prosperity. The tired political volunteers and the national news media yield only too easily to the temptation of thinking the crisis is over. In Washington, however, one receives the opposite impression. Several teams are at work in the White House to provide proposals for the Great Society, and even if one has little sympathy for that particular slogan, there is no denying the energies being expended on turning it into a persuasive ideal and a program. The newly established Office of Economic Opportunity \(incorporating the principal portions of the War on .Poverty, the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America or VISTA Volunteers, and the community action proin the range of its projects and the size of its budget. The Poor Corps is very rich, and not just in money. We have reached the point where congrpssmen seriously consider discontinuing the military draft and the Selective Service System. And right here, speaking as a private citizen professionally concerned with youth and education, I feel moved to speak out. Before we move too rashly in this direction, I believe we must look more carefully at just where we stand, at the responsibilities that confront us, and at solutions that our usual thinking may prevent us from seeing. What we do now is just as important as the vote we cast a short time ago. In 1964 the United States faces a complex of problems that converge on the areas of education and youth. Lingering unemployment dogs us at the very moment we are faced with the need to dismantle a swollen defense establishment and eliminate the military draft. We are plagued by high school drop-outs and juvenile delinquency contributing to national crime rates. Poverty shows a running sore in the midst of our peaceful prosperity. Selective Service keeps telling us that the physical and mental health of the young is far below what is should be in view of our resources. Systematic and semi-legal draft dodging has helped swell our colleges and universities to the verge of paralysis. Myriad forms of corruption and dishonesty riddle our society, from respected corporations to local labor unions, from government officials to basketball stars. We support and constantly enlarge a nuclear striking force without having fully faced the moral problems of credibility and bluff, of what we might do and what we should do. The national conscience is hurting. These national problems are matched by an equal number of urgent needs. Our hospitals lack staff ; cities desperately need social workers of all kinds. On every level of schooling we have failed to find enough qualified and dedicated teachers to provide the rigorous training required by our responsibilities to ourselves and to the world. Enormous tasks, such as economic and technical cooperation with foreign countries, conservation projects, slum -rehabilitation, and maintenance of public facilities, demand our immediate attention. They will not be undertaken by the private sector of the economy, yet these tasks require nothing we do not have in surplus, though separately: manpower, planning facilities, materials, funds, dedication. The question is how to bring them together. Insofar as we neglect it, this domestic crisis is graver than any the country has faced since 1929; it reaches the very heart of our institutions. If I have told the story properly, on the one hand we have a whole generation of young people \(a quarter of them kept off the labor market in colleges and universiresponsibilities; on the other hand a challenging set of problems that await solutions, await the moment when our surpluses can meet our needs. And we tend to forget one circumstance on which I can speak with authority. Many young people are profoundly bored by’ the anonymity and the routine of a society that expects them to wait, to idle in the streets, to kill time, or to attend classes, until the opportunity comes to take a job. The strong surge of idealism that sparked the integration movement and the peace demonstrations of the past few years is evidence of the great desire on the part of many of these young citizens to seize the responsibilities that fall to them. Here lies a partial explanation of the totally different fates of the two undertakings President Kennedy intended as catalysts for our national purpose: the moon shot and the Peace Corps. The former has not succeeded in arousing for long any popular enthusiasm distinguishable from the rivalries of the Cold War. The latter has turned out to be so astonishingly persuasive an idea that it has been seized upon as a precedent for further policy. In his inaugural address Kennedy voiced a principle more revolutionary than he knew when he exhorted us to think not of what the country could do for us but of what we can do for our country. BUT HERE IS THE RUB. Outside of military service in the face of an international threat to freedom, and outside of the payment of taxes in money to maintain the apparatus of government, we have no national tradition of service. Philanthropy and charity , are traditions that came comparatively late to the human race and have remained attached to philosophical or religious convictions separate from’ the nation state. Yet if it is to abstain’ from war and self-aggrandizement, the nation state needs to address itself to these higher goals. The only ideal that has begun to displace free competition as the officially proclaimed motive force of our society is better education, and even education is conceived of in terms of budgets. For the first time now, in the Peace Corps, the Job Corps, and the VISTA Volunteers we have set the precedent for a form of national service. Yet we must go much further. If we are to continue to carry on the struggle against suppression and ignorance, we must have a set of ideals and institutions that will inspire the country as, in the past, only a war could inspire us. Given the present circumstances of urgency and the opportunity to reconstitute our body politic after a bitter election campaign, I believe nothing short of a year of national service for all young people, male and female, can meet our needs and challenge our capacities. If every citizen