A Youth Corps for America?
APRIL 01, 1967 by GEORGE CHARLES ROCHE III
Dr. Roche is a member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education.
Within the past two years there have been several signs pointing toward the resurgence of an idea which the American people traditionally have refused to accept. The warmed-over idea centers on compulsory service for all young Americans. The pressures of the war in Vietnam, the growing protests over the draft, the problem of unemployment, especially among young people, and the tragi-comic results of Great Society experiments in the "War on Poverty" have combined to make compulsory youth service a topic of discussion once again.
President Johnson reopened the subject in a speech at the University of Kentucky in 1965, proposing "to search for new ways [whereby] every young American will have the opportunity — and feel the obligation — to give at least a few years of his or her life to the service of others in this nation and in the world."
As draft protest, unemployment, and the rest of the problems dogging the footsteps of the Great Society continued to mount in intensity, other more specific references to "public service" for young people began to be heard as well. In May, 1966, Secretary of Defense McNamara delivered an address at Montreal in which he admitted that the existing Selective Service System was unfair and largely unworkable: "It seems to me that we could move toward remedying that inequity by asking every young person in the United States to give two years of service to his country — whether in one of the military services, in the Peace Corps, or in some other volunteer developmental work at home or abroad."
Secretary of Labor Wirtz entered the field during November, 1966, with a "policy for youth" along the same lines. The Washington Post reported enthusiastically, "It could become a major weapon in the War on Poverty, is designed to remove inequities in the educational system and is an implicit deterrent to juvenile delinquency." Specifically, Secretary Wirtz outlined a plan in which every eighteen-year-old American boy and girl would be compelled to register in a program which required two years of education, military service, community service, or employment.
Universal Military Training
Meanwhile, others were offering youth proposals of their own. Former President Eisenhower in September, 1966, told the nation that, while Chief of Staff of the Army, he had made every effort to establish a system of Universal Military Training for the United States, and suggested that UMT would not only solve the problems of the draft but would achieve a necessary degree of fitness and discipline among American youth. He stressed the disciplinary features of such a program: "… although I certainly do not contend that UMT would be a cure for juvenile delinquency, I do think it could do much to stem the growing tide of irresponsible behavior and outright crime in the United States. To expose all our young men for a year to discipline in the correct attitude of living, inevitably would straighten out a lot of potential troublemakers."²
While the former President felt that such a program should be made compulsory for virtually all American boys, he made it clear that he would limit this compulsory training to formal military discipline and related matters, since he did not approve of offering an alternative such as the Peace Corps or a conservation corps.
A Draft Without Guns
Though the former Commander in Chief proposed to allow compulsion of all American youth only for purposes of military training, it soon became evident that other social planners had far more in mind for America’s young people. Writing in Saturday Review, a Peace Corps official outlined the great social changes that might result from such a program:
The young men and women coming out of high school are themselves a major undeveloped resource. They represent America’s future. They need to be asked to give some kind of active national service. They need "to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas," wrote [William] James…. They need to cross cultural frontiers, experience the outside world, and become world citizens, says Mary Bunting.³
As the public discussion of such compulsory youth programs progressed, it soon became evident that many of those advocating such programs had far more in mind than the mere solution of such problems as the draft and teen-age unemployment. When questioned concerning his proposal, Secretary Wirtz expressed a doubt that present inequities in the draft were any worse "than the unfairness of the way one boy or girl out of every two gets to college and the other one doesn’t." Clearly, great social changes of a sweeping nature were being contemplated by the advocates of compulsory youth programs.
"Every Area of National Need"
While former President Eisenhower was willing to limit his proposal for a compulsory youth program to military training and such side-benefits in health or discipline as might accrue to American youth, his program was scarcely an opening wedge for more ambitious social planners: "Former President Eisenhower to the contrary notwithstanding, the Pentagon says it opposes Universal Military Training. What, then, are the nation’s needs for nonmilitary service by young volunteers? The President says that volunteers are required in ‘every area of national need,’ especially in teaching, alleviating poverty, and conservation." Thus, Harris Wofford, a Peace Corps administrator, described what he termed an "historic opportunity." He went on to describe enthusiastically the day of compulsory national service which had already dawned in Israel and Ethiopia. "But it remains to be seen whether America — which, through the Peace Corps, has brought the idea of volunteering to world-wide attention — will now respond and turn to the Ethiopian innovation and the example of Israel…. Will Lyndon Johnson now tap it on a much larger scale? Will the administration that established ‘escalate’ as a word of war find ways to escalate volunteering for works of peace to a new level of practically universal participation?"
Urging that constructive peacetime assignments should be demanded of all, Wofford inquired, "Who is too tall to teach? Whose feet are too flat to be a tutor? Why shouldn’t almost everyone be 1-A for national service?" Mr. Wofford pointed to the desirability of an expanded Head Start project, new educational programs of the Office of Economic Opportunity, new programs stemming from the White House Conference on Civil Rights, and an expansion of public education to four- and five-year olds. Where would the new teachers come from in this vastly expanded program? "With special training and supervision, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, supported by a Peace Corps-like subsistence allowance, could be the answer. To move toward universal early childhood education, we may need to move toward universal service."
Is education the only need which could be filled by a new program for American youth? If some Americans are too immature to fill a teaching position "…there are, however, needs… which younger volunteers could help meet. One of them might even involve washing dishes and clothes. Millions of working mothers, especially in poverty-stricken families, desperately need some system of day-care for their children. Volunteers just out of high school could be trained to provide this on assignments in homes or special day-care centers."
A Program with Teeth in It
It seems that once the exercise of political power is viewed as acceptable, the logic of social planning requires the exercise of that power over a larger and larger area of human affairs. As the Secretary of Labor remarked: "This country is probably more disposed right now to move ahead on the `social welfare’ front with sternness than with sympathy. The fact, whether attractive or not, is that concern about juvenile delinquency looms larger today in a good many people’s minds than their concern about poverty — even though that may well be the cause of the delinquency. There is a cancer here, and the country is ready for surgery."4
Proponents of these youth programs have been referring to the process of "volunteering." Yet, the "voluntary" aspect of the plan always proves difficult to discover in practice. Secretary Wirtz admitted that serious thought was being given to making such a program compulsory: "It would be precisely those who present the most serious problems, both for themselves and for the community, who would fail to take advantage of any or all of the options which were offered them and their continuing derelictions and misdemeanors would make a new system seem not to be working even if it were in fact improving the general situation materially." Yes, America’s young people would be "free to choose" among the options, but would be required to follow one of the alternatives outlined in the plan.
Once such "opportunities" are provided, it is a short step to insisting upon everyone’s benefiting from the plan, whether he wishes to do so or not.
Wirtz told an audience at Catholic University, "If I read the current national mood, and guess at your own reaction, it is that there has been too little done about people’s not using the opportunity they already have." The Washington Post thought those words "presaged a possible shift of emphasis in the Johnson administration’s whole social philosophy, regarded by some critics as overly solicitous and permissive, toward a hard-boiled insistence that the intended beneficiaries of governmental help make good use of it." The exercise of power seems to breed an appetite for the further exercise of power. The potential dimensions of such a youth program are staggering. All young people, girls as well as boys, would be registered on their eighteenth birthday, or earlier if they have left school. Physical, mental, and psychological tests would be administered and used to help decide which of the various channels of "national service" every American youth would be compelled to enter. No one could be exempt; and in all probability many youngsters would find themselves directed on a course other than they might have chosen. What parent wants to see his child compulsorily enrolled in such a program?
What Will It Cost?
One question that must be raised in any discussion of compulsory programs designed to enroll all American youth is the staggering cost of such a plan. Where is the money to come from? In recommending Universal Military Training, former President Eisenhower admitted, "I have no ready-made plan for financing UMT. I wish only to say that a big, powerful country such as ours could surely find a way to pay the bill."
Nor did Mr. Wofford provide direct answers concerning the financing of his nonmilitary compulsory youth program: "How much would such a volunteer service program cost? Not as much in a year as one month of the war in Vietnam. Not as much as doing nothing — as failing to mobilize the talents and labor of the younger generation. Not as much as hiring professional teachers or social workers or construction men — if we could find enough of them — to do what these volunteers could also do."
In other words, however expensive the program, its desirable goals would justify that expense. This is the plea always advanced by the advocates of any new extension of statist authority.
How would such a program be staffed? President Eisenhower’s solution: "We could call in reserve officers for a time if needed, and I am confident that we could find the other necessary people if we had to — just as we did during World War II." Just as we did during World War II! A more total involvement of the national government in the private affairs of its citizens could hardly be imagined.
Before America embarks on such a gigantic raid on the treasury — and even more important, such a major intervention into the private lives of its citizens — the nation might ask itself how the present "youth programs," already under political direction, have prospered. For example, what of the Job Corps? One camp in the Midwest had 450 men as enrollees and more than 450 employees. Seventy employees worked directly with the Job Corpsmen, meaning that over 380 governmental employees were devoting their time to the "administration" of the work actually performed by the other 70.5 This same camp treated the American taxpayer who was footing the bills for the entire affair to the spectacle of seven young Job Corpsmen committing sodomy against a fellow enrollee. Apparently, this is a simple misdemeanor in the Job Corps, since five of the boys were allowed to return to their homes and the others to re-enter the program at the Job Corps camp. The statement of one of the hired counselors at the camp makes clear that thievery was common and discipline virtually nonexistent. Many of the young men ran away from the camp rather than participate further in what one of them described as a "man-made hell."
Meanwhile, the Neighborhood Youth Corps in the nation’s capital reported that 75 per cent of the teen-age girls who had been members of the program became pregnant while enrolled. Officials of the program swung into action almost immediately after this item became public knowledge. One of the administrators announced that girls in the future would be urged to visit District Health Department Family Planning Clinics. He speculated, "Maybe we can’t cut the physiological action, but we can cut the pregnancies."6
How much money does it take to produce such results? In the Job Corps, more than $7,300 has been spent to date for each man enrolled in the program! As many parents well know, that would go a long way toward putting a young man or woman through college.
Seeming Lack of Concern
How does it happen that such proposals can be publicized in our society, proposals with such disastrous results in the pilot projects, proposals of such fantastic cost, proposals with such totalitarian implications for our young people, and yet cause little if any public outcry?
The answer is a painful one for believers in limited government. An erosion of faith in constitutional limitations and personal freedom has so long continued that all proposed governmental actions are considered, not in terms of principle, but in terms of the solution of some "problem" or another. There are protests against the inequities of the draft? Then make the draft equitable by imposing service on all boys! There are "social problems" to be solved? Then extend the system to impress all of our young girls into service as well! Some parents and private organizations are "mis-directing" the accomplishments and training of our youth? Then remove that responsibility from parents and private organizations! Such is the prevailing thinking of our age.
The universal conscription of our young people for "social" goals may be so raw and blunt a foray into the private sector that it will not reach fruition at this time. But the trial balloons are up and such "social planning" surely lies ahead unless the direction of our thinking, not as a group, but as individual citizens and parents, is reversed.
The disastrous record of coercion when it has been tried is well known. The productive and ennobling capacities of a society pervaded by freedom are equally well known. But there are none so blind as those who will not see. We must first train ourselves to think the problem through and apply the evidence already before us if any lasting changes are to be produced. The point is simple: Freedom works, if we will but allow it. Is teen-age unemployment a problem? Then remove the coercion of the minimum wage law and afford businessmen a chance to profit by hiring and training younger people. Protest against the draft is a problem? Then stimulate enlistment by hiking military pay and benefits enough to be competitive with the private sector.
Yet, such solutions seem beyond the planner’s comprehension. When coercive legislation creates problems within a society, as eventually it must, the coercionist answer is always the same: apply more coercion. This is exactly what is proposed in the compulsory "social service" impressment of America’s young people.
After urging a universal service program for youth, Secretary of Defense McNamara concluded his Montreal address with words far more appropriate to the freedom alternative than to the position he was advocating: "I, for one, would not count a global free society out. Coercion, after all, merely captures man. Freedom captivates him."
1 Frank C. Porter, "Wirtz Broadens Youth Service Plan," Washington Post, Nov. 20, 1966.
2 Dwight Eisenhower, "This Country Needs Universal Military Training," Reader’s Digest, Sept., 1966.
³ harris Wofford, "Toward a Draft Without Guns," Saturday Review, Oct. 15, 1966.
4 Porter, op cit.
5 Don E. Cope, "It’s What’s Happening, Baby," National Review, Oct. 19, 1965.
6 America’s Future, Dec. 12, 1966.