Recognizing Service

Retired General Stanley McChrystal has penned a piece in Newsweek that my daughter, who is serving in the National Civilian Community Corps cited by McChrystal, sent me. He isn’t speaking of military service but that of people, I’m proud to say like our younger daughter, who is so committed to service. Some excerpts:

We have let the concept of service become dangerously narrow, often associated only with the military. This allows most Americans to avoid the sense of responsibility essential for us to care for our nation—and for each other. We expect and demand less of ourselves than we should.

And now it is time to fix it.

“Service member” should not apply only to those in uniform, but to us all.


…We live in a nation of rights, and jealously defend them.

Thomas Jefferson drew upon the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment’s finest minds to articulate the concept of “inalienable rights” in defining the essential freedoms guaranteed to Americans in the new republic.

Those rights are sacred. We fought a war to make the Declaration’s statement of rights a reality, and have sacrificed since to defend them.

But as important as those inalienable rights are, there are also inalienable responsibilities that we must accept and fulfill. Those responsibilities are wider than are often perceived or accepted. Just as we have allowed the term “service member” to apply solely to the military, we have allowed the obligations of citizenship to narrow.

Even the most basic responsibilities of being an American are considered optional by many. In the seeming anonymity of modern life, the concept of community responsibility has weakened, yet is needed more than ever.


…Critics sometimes point to the costs associated with service programs and argue that national service is an inefficient disruption of capitalist markets, producing a Soviet-style mismatch of talent to task and undermotivated workers. They argue that for young people, the program would represent a time-wasting delay of entry into our society and economy.

But perhaps those critics have never read accounts of workers who built the Hoover Dam or Panama Canal, or listened to service members of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” describe their feeling of contribution—and the effect it has had on their lives.