[Photo from the home page of the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, inspire2serve.gov, accessed March 14, 2018.]
What does this photo say to you? What do you think it is advertising? What is the meaning of its creative internet address, “inspire2serve.gov”? What if I told you it is inextricably linked to convincing young people to serve in the military? Are these fun, go-lucky young people thinking about how to fire automatic rifles at other young people, throw grenades, drop bombs, and make split-second life-and-death decisions in chaotic and unclear circumstances? It does not appear so, yet this is one of three similar photos that the newly formed Congressional National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is using on their web site. To be fair, the Commissions mandate is not just about military service requirements. It is also covers future requirements or incentives to inspire more people to enter public service.
The Mandate: This commission is tasked with gathering information in order to make proposals for updating the regulations and laws in the following areas:
Selective Service—Is it still needed or should it be discontinued, does anything need to be changed?
Draft—The Selective Service is the draft. Currently, all 18-year-old men (and the Commission is considering women) are required to register with the Selective Service, and your local draft board is currently staffed. If, at any point, Congress and the President authorize a draft, everything is already in place for it to be implemented instantaneously.
Military, National, Public Service—Should a service requirement be mandatory for young adults in the United States? If not mandatory, how can public service be encouraged?
Advocating Peace: The initial listening session of this Commission was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on February 23, 2018, and Quaker House was there to comment. Only Quaker House (Kindra Bradley), the Center on Conscience & War (Bill Galvin and Maria Santelli), and a Mennonite long-time peace advocate and counselor for the GI Rights Network (Titus Peachey) spoke on behalf of conscientious objectors. Our collective comments covered eliminating the Selective Service System, restoring the full rights of people who have not registered with the Selective Service, officially allowing registrants to self-designate as conscientious objectors during Selective Service registration if it is maintained, and ensuring that any alternative service program is run by a civil agency and with the same benefits as military service. I was somewhat encouraged that two veterans who commented after we made our statements publicly agreed that the US should allow people to be conscientious objectors without punishment or other negative characterization.
The existence of the Selective Service System and the design of the registration forms are indicators of our nation’s attitude about war. Registering as a potential soldier is the only official option available on the registration form. A young person is simply unable to register officially as claiming conscientious objector status or as requesting to perform alternative humanitarian service in the event of a draft. Similarly, as a nation, we accept war and violence too easily as the only alternative during international conflict.
Make peace an option, both individually and as a nation.
Future Sessions: We are concerned about the lack of communication from the Commission. Publicity about the listening session in Harrisburg was too little, and very late. As of the publication of this newsletter, no other locations or dates are listed on the Commission’s web site. However, because Quaker House was at the Harrisburg meeting, we do have some information. All listening sessions for 2018 will be completed by September of this year. Those locations will be in
- California, September 19, 20, or 21, 2018
- Colorado – April 19 or 20, 2018
- Florida – May 17, 2018
- Illinois – June 28, 2018
- Iowa – June 26, 2018
- Massachusetts – May 9, 2018
- Tennessee – August 16 or 17, and
- Texas, July 19 or 20.
We do not have dates or cities (other than Denver). Quaker House will continue to monitor the Commission’s web site and communications and publish that information on our Facebook page, our emails, and our web site. If you would like to be added to the Quaker House e-newsletter, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Format: The two-hour Harrisburg listening session began with Commission and local speakers, a panel of people who had been involved in some sort of public service (PennSERVE, Navy, and AmeriCorps) speaking for the first hour. The second hour was allotted for public comment. Comments were limited to two minutes, and Commission representatives took contact information from each person who spoke.
Action Item: Your opinion, knowledge, and experiences are important! The Selective Service System, draft, impact on conscientious objectors, and public service as voluntary or mandatory activity will have long-standing and life-changing impacts on young people and on our country as a whole. We hope you will attend one of the public listening sessions, if you are able. If you cannot attend in person (and even if you can), please submit your comments through the Commission’s online portal or through the mail at:
National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service
Attn: RFI COMMENT—Docket 05-2018-01
2530 Crystal Drive, Suite 1000, Box No. 63
Arlington, VA 22202
The Federal Register portal for comment says that the public comment period ends September 30, 2018, well before the last hearing in September. Please make your voice heard, and share this information far and wide. The time is now.
~ Kindra Bradley, Quaker House Executive Director
Interested in resources for helping young people learn to discern their own leadings regarding conscientious objection and possibly building a documentation file to support a claim? We have resources to help!
[This post was updated on June 21, 2018. The following changes were made: 1) Updated the address for public comment, 2) Updated the deadline for public comment (originally it was April 19, 2018, and was extended to September 30, 2018), and 3) Provided tentative dates for the remaining hearings as posted on the Commission’s web site.]