9-11: The New ‘Normal’

Change is the only constant. Last Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center are changing everything for the United States and the world. Things are getting back to normal – but only because normal has moved. This Monday is very different from last Monday.

Trade Center attackedWe’ve been overwhelmed by the images, the analysis, the speeches, the commentary, the unending coverage of the most horrific terrorist act in history. We need to pull ourselves away from the news now and then, reminding ourselves that life goes on. But the attack has made an indelible impression on our minds; we are forever changed.

We’ll be reminded of 9-11 every time we fly and have to pass through the beefed up security in our airports. We may become regular donors at the local blood bank. Every time we see a picture of the old New York skyline, we’ll remember the World Trade Center and the terrorists who tore away the facade of safety.

The American nation needs to respond proactively and build a stronger country without surrendering our cherished freedoms. We need to change the national infrastructure to make America a less inviting target for terrorists. We need to look around the world and see how other nations have become strong.

Our strength has come from our optimism, our freedoms, and our rights. Free speech means we can question our government and our leaders. The right to bear arms makes it that much less likely that anyone will ever invade the United States.

Yet our freedoms are part of what made last Tuesday’s attack possible. We were overly confident in our security – that won’t happen again. We need to go beyond tighter security at airports and border crossings. We need to strengthen the nation.

I write as a Canadian-born U.S. citizen who might have returned to Canada rather than be drafted – but the Vietnam conflict ended before I had to make that decision. I write as someone who fears a too-strong government and appreciates the checks and balances of the American political system.

I write as someone who would have rebelled against what I am about to propose – I guess wisdom comes with age.

Israel lives with the daily threat of terrorism and is geographically surrounded by nations that would just as soon see the Jewish state disappear. Yet they survive and generally thrive. They take a hard line against terrorism (perhaps too hard at times). They have a population trained to defend themselves.

The United States should consider mandatory national service for every citizen who reaches the age of 18. Over time, this would assure that every American knows how to handle a gun, how to work within the system, and how important they are to the nation.

I’ll leave it to others to create the system, but this would provide us the opportunity to make sure every American has basic literacy, understands the Constitution, and knows self-defense. Beyond basic training, the program would probably split into different areas of public service, military, and who knows what else.

Following national service, participants would be in the reserves through the age of 30 or 40. They should also be rewarded for completing national service, perhaps with something like the GI Bill.

National service will result in a stronger nation, and not merely because every American will know how to handle a gun. Knowing they have served their country and are valued by their nation will make them better citizens. Assuring basic literacy and offering help with ongoing education will also improve the nation. On top of that, the service done, military and otherwise, will help build a better America.

I don’t believe national service will be an easy sell, especially to the Baby Boom generation. We grew up questioning government policy, and then we saw the whole thing get mired in Watergate. But in a world with terrorists and with international threats to our safety, I believe national service is an idea whose time has come.

Let the discussion begin.

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