In 1947, at President Harry Truman’s behest, a commission studying
Universal Military Training unanimously recommended that every young man
serve in our armed forces. But Congress, weary from WWII, said no. They were
into cutting the ranks, not building them up.

The man from Missouri saw UMT as a program that would give our youth “a
background in the disciplinary approach of getting along with one another,
informing them of their physical makeup, and what it means to take care of
this temple which God gave us. If we get that instilled into them, and then
instill into them a responsibility which begins in the township, in the city
ward, the first thing you know we will have sold our Republic to the coming
generations as Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson sold it in the first place.”

The fact that 34 percent of candidates for WWII service had been rejected
because of defects bothered him greatly. He felt that a large number of
these young men could have been made “physically fit and self-supporting
citizens” if they’d had the advantage of a training program.

Imagine Truman’s reaction if he got a look at today’s youngsters. He’d be
heartbroken by the fact that more than 60 percent — almost twice the WWII
rejection level — of young males couldn’t make it into the service in 1999
because of poor condition, past drug use or past trouble at school or with
the law.

As a nation, we march around the world trying to save every village in
sight. Yet on Main Street USA, millions of young Americans aren’t being
imbued with the right stuff that will give them the strength and character
to lead America when Generation X, Y and Z end up in the boss’s chair.

A number of congressmen want to bring the draft back — partially to
address this problem, but mainly to resolve the military’s critical manpower
shortage. The fix here should be to close down redundant headquarters and
bases and merge Army, Navy and Air Force legal, medical, administrative and
logistics departments. The personnel spaces saved by this consolidation
alone would take care of the 10,000-man recruiting gap the lawmakers are
worried about and give the Pentagon enough bodies to activate at least four
combat infantry divisions.

But besides reforming our military, Congress needs to revisit the UMT
study for all the reasons Truman cited. Establishing the UMT would help save
our youth — who are fast becoming an endangered species

Here’s how it would work:

At age 18 every boy and girl, less the disabled, would report for Basic
Training. For six months they’d be put through a demanding and separate-sex
boot camp where they’d encounter what too many young people don’t get at
home, church and school: discipline, patriotism and a footlockerful of
values. There would be no Oxford University deferments for the Bill
Clintons, no plush National Guard hideaways for the George W. Bushes, no
cozy tours in safe headquarters for the Al Gores. In boot camp they’d learn
the basics — drill, discipline, teamwork, leadership, responsibility and
citizenship — while getting physically hard and mentally together.

After basic training, the new citizen-soldiers would spend one additional
year serving America in (pick one): the ghetto, police, hospital, education,
environmental or assisting-the-elderly corps — or sign on for another 18 to
36 months and join the Regulars. Those who opted for the longer tour in the
military would receive a WWII-type GI Bill education package upon discharge.

The rich would rub elbows with the poor, the black and white and brown
would sweat together and become one. Not only would they pay the price of
admission to “this temple” and enrich America, they’d join those vets who
take great pride that they served our country and are better citizens for
their sacrifice.

With vets again filling their ranks, Congress, the media and industry
would be stronger, too — not to mention better informed — just as they
were after WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

The bottom line? The annual cost of military operations in Bosnia, Kuwait
and Kosovo would easily pay for UMT. What’s more important — a
well-rounded, carefully constructed program to save our country’s youth
before they self-destruct, or more self-righteous policing of an ungrateful

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