America has a long and storied history with the military draft – known by its far more technical nom de guerre, "conscription" – which is typically characterized in one of two ways: a) heroic Americans going off to kill evil people, like Nazis or b) bastards going off to kill people who haven't done anything wrong apart from being poor, like the Vietnamese. When there's nobody to actively kill, we drop the draft and let everyone get back to whatever it is they do.
Since Vietnam, the idea of compulsory service has been anathema; were a president to suggest it, he'd be committing political suicide. It'd never pass the House, much less the Senate. Strictly speaking, without a well-armed enemy actually on our beaches, it's pretty certain that military conscription will never be a part of American life again. And that's fine!
Despite the fact that we might actually benefit from a military draft, as our military, especially the infantry, is stretched mightily thin these days, it's not going to happen. How about a civil draft, then?
Think about it: you graduate high school and put in two years of mandatory service, building roads and green power plants and all the other wonderful things that President Barack Obama mentioned in his most recent State of the Union address. For two years, you're employed, learning skills that you can put to use in the private sector and accruing references and experience. Going to college? That's fine, put off your service until afterward, and we'll put your degree to use. The same goes with graduate school degrees, or doctoral theses. You will serve and your skills will be utilized.
Even better, the usual arguments against conscription are sort of null and void here. Historically, the main argument against has been that people should not be forced against their will to kill other people. It's all well and good if you enlist and make a personal judgment that you're fine with the idea of killing or being killed, but objections are raised when the government makes the decision for you. There'll be none of that in the civil conscription corps, because you are expected only to build things.
However, there is a defense angle to this idea. In nations that currently have mandatory peacetime conscription, the idea isn't that they're going to go to war soon and need a huge military. Rather, countries like Switzerland and Israel recognize the value of a national force that's trained and knows how to work in an environment of military discipline in the event of an attack or disaster or some other calamity (perhaps an alien invasion?).
It would be no different with a civil draft; everyone would spend two years learning military discipline. Imagine how much better the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or 9/11 could have been handled had our citizenry benefited from an identical framework of military discipline in which to work. How quickly could we mobilize to respond? Instantly, because everyone would be trained to respond.
So why not? Our generation is currently facing a lack of jobs and nothing to do with our youth. Why not work with the federal government to build the future? Pick up a shovel and join me in calling for a civil draft.