Kamps for Kids (2017Mar04)


Saturday, March 04, 2017                                        7:08 PM

Americans are crazy. We started our country by revolution—and then decided we’d keep our guns, just in case, forever. If you think about it, to this day, if a state threatens to secede everyone takes it very seriously. Imagine—an over-two-century old union of more than fifty sovereignties—and if a single one of those states said, ‘we’re gonna secede’ no one would laugh. Even with the Civil War’s failed secession as an object lesson in how destructive that is—Americans still like to think of our country as a work-in-progress. States still like to think they are stand-alone entities.

It’s a natural mistake—look at Brexit—a union even greater than our own—and one of its strongest members sees no better move on the geopolitical chessboard than petulant isolation. The European Union may outweigh the United States, but they don’t have our experience—guys, you’re only supposed to threaten to do something as stupid as quitting.

I shouldn’t brag, though. With our new ‘alternate reality’ schism, I’m sure the citizens of several states would grab their guns and stand at the barricades, if Bannon told them to. And even without declaring civil war, the gun-related death-toll in America outnumbers the body counts of several military hot-spots around the globe. We love our guns and if you don’t like it, I’ll plug ya.

Which makes it kind of strange that military service is such a rarity in the USA. A very small percentage of our young people go through military service as a rite of passage. Enlistment and training were an assumed stage in any man’s life, in any country, for many centuries—a man who didn’t serve in the military was no man. This tradition stretches back to the coming-of-age rituals of tribal societies. And we have broken that thread.

Don’t get me wrong—I was turning eighteen the same year that draft registration was abolished—I was one of the first people to find out what it was like to live life without any contact with military training. And while the Viet Nam war was winding down, it was not yet over—so being left out was a good thing, as far as I was concerned.

And I’m not advocating military service as part of a healthy upbringing either. But the practical results concern me. With military training confined to the innocent bystanders of drive-by shootings—and that being pretty poor training by any standard—one wonders how well-prepared we are to deal with countries where military service is still the rule.

Not because they have bigger armies or anything—just because their young people have the harder side of life rubbed in their faces as a part of their life—and while that is extremely unpleasant, it is also very eye-opening. I think a lot of young Americans are walking around with droopy eyelids—and they are in danger of becoming caught unawares by others—not just on land or sea, but in science, in business, and in trade. And from what I hear, a few of them could use the exercise, also.

It’s natural for a sixty-one-year-old to go on about how kids today need this or that—and military training may be the worst possible choice. But it seems to me that America doesn’t need a large army—not today, anyway. So, enlisting a bunch of young people in a government program of a less-exclusively-military nature might be a workable idea—it would fit in with a well-planned infrastructure renovation program and have the kids leave with some job skills, too—kind of like FDR’s CCC program.

I don’t know. I do know that coming-of-age rituals are beneficial—they help confront young people with self-discipline and the rigors of adulthood—and prepare them to be serious members of the community. There are too many places for people to gather online—and not enough places where people literally gather—it’s easy for young people to just drift off and get lost. With some sort of civil service program, we could at least reduce those who drift off to those who really want to.

When we make it hard for young people to find jobs, we send a lot of good people down into cellars with bongs, where they wait for the world to come find them. What a waste of all that youthful energy and enthusiasm. This country’s aversion to anything socialist in nature will be its undoing in the end—some things are better achieved through socialist programs—that’s just a fact. But there’s always that handful of people who’ve found a way to make a buck out of the lack of a program—and they shout bloody murder about the reds taking over, as soon as you go for their rice bowls.

Of course, if anyone listened to me, I’d be eternally damned. The reality of such a program would be corrupt, inefficient, possibly even predatory, by the time the ‘serious’ people got hold of it. But if it was done nicely, people would actually benefit from it—and so would the country as a whole. Still, we have the Soviet Union as the ultimate example of a good idea that became a genocidal crime against humanity—so perhaps I should just shut up about camps for kids.

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