I started a blog to express my feelings about living with a chronic disease. I did not intend to write about politics but as our nation grows farther apart and more divisive, it’s clear that this divisiveness is making life with a chronic disease more difficult. Coming to an agreement on sound policy that would benefit chronically ill and disabled Americans requires a degree of unity, bipartisanship, and political will that seems to have disappeared in DC. How did Americans grow so far apart? I often frame issues in context with culture. In my career in the Department of Defense, I spent much of my time using cultural context to solve problems and influence populations. So, what is it about American culture that makes us unique? I’ve traveled the world and lived many different places and have found the most unique aspect of our culture is our exceptionalism and aversion to following rules. I once had a German friend tell me that Americans would see a 30-minute queue, spend 1 hour trying to get around that queue, then feel like we won something. Touché. Honestly, the U.S. is complete and utter chaos on a daily basis, just drive on any highway or go to a grocery store. We feel no obligation to make life easier for our fellow citizens and just do whatever we want while taking up the most possible space. Cars driving in the left lane? My right. Driving slow in the middle lanes and obstructing traffic? My right. Parking your shopping cart in the grocery store? In the middle of the aisle. We are also so exceptional that we are better and above everything and can do no wrong. We view ourselves as rustic and hard working. We’re hustlers and exceptionally gifted in every way. It fuels our need to do what is best for ourselves. We are great and we will do whatever is best for our own personal American dream, the society and our fellow citizen be damned. I know there are many people who will say they do what is best for others but more often than not, even that is done with a selfish motive. Just look at what happened during the pandemic. I’m still wiping the boot prints off my back from all the liberals who rushed out to be first to get a vaccine and take a selfie at the gym. #vaccinated #forgotaboutthevulnerable
The only American institution I’ve encountered that is all about the whole rather than the individual is the U.S. military. In the Army, we were a team, a cohesive unit. Everything we did was for the whole, not the individual. As a matter of fact, I’ve been out of the Army and out of the defense business for many years, but veterans are still the group I can count on most to help me with pretty much any issue I may have. Veterans never ask me how I voted, where I went to school, or where I live. No matter how much we disagree on other matters, when you come for one of us, you come for all of us. How do we get Americans to embrace this kind of unity and social cohesion? My specialty wasn’t changing culture, it was exploiting culture to influence populations and predict enemy behavior. We have enough people who excel in this task in the U.S. and they all seem to work in politics and media. How do we really change culture? How do we make the U.S. population more aware of their societal obligations to one another? In my opinion, General Stanley McCrystal has made the best argument for how to do this, require every citizen to serve their country for at least 1 year. I honestly believe everyone should serve in the military because if we all have stake in the game, we all make more honest and thoughtful decisions regarding our military and its use. I also understand why every U.S. citizen serving in the military can be problematic. I believe, at the least, we should all be required to serve in some capacity. The military may be a great fit for some but maybe the Peace Corps is a better fit for others. What if we had an infrastructure corps that focused on making the U.S. a better place to live? Imagine being able to serve your country by building bridges and roads. Did you know that the U.S. has a Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service? Did you know there is a Uniformed Services University where you can go to medical school or nursing school completely paid for by the U.S. government? You just need to serve your country as a medical professional, serving public health, and underserved populations in the U.S. What a great way to get to know your fellow citizen face to face. We have to get out from behind our computers, out of the comments section, and into a situation where we must work together towards a common goal. That is exactly how we grew into a cohesive unit in the Army. When I went to my summer officer training, there were students from different universities all over the U.S. and training command purposefully did not put you in the same unit as another cadet from your own university. Why? Because you need to learn how to work with the cadet from Auburn University the same as the cadet from Harvard. This is how we build cohesion. If we all serve, the young adult who spent his whole life in elite private schools will work side by side with the young adult who went to public school in a rural area. It’s easy to hate someone when they share little in common with you and only reside in a comments section or twitter X. If you have to get to know that person, face to face, and find a way to work together, you are forced to find common ground. That is exactly why a veteran who lives in a rural area, works a blue-collar job, and votes conservative will stop to have a friendly conversation with me, a veteran who lives in a liberal suburb and spends her free time writing a blog. These are important connections to make, and service would go a long way to bring a level of equality to all Americans. Currently, if you want a job at Amazon or an elite consulting firm, you not only need to have gone to college, but you also need to have graduated from a big name school. MBA from Harvard? You’re hired. MBA from a state university? Hmmm, no thank you. (before everyone from my alma mater starts sending hate mail, yes, Virginia Tech has plenty of alumni at Amazon. Admit you probably knew someone though) Do you know where else Amazon finds many of their new hires though? It’s not just from Harvard. They also recruit heavily from the U.S. military. Required service means you have at least a year to learn from career bureaucrats and other young Americans from all over the country. These are valuable skills to Amazon and you don’t even have to pay the $50k+ a year for a private school that feeds into Harvard, where the current tuition is almost $55,0000 a year.
The bottom line is the United States needs a real moment of self-reflection. We need to become a cohesive society and the best way to get there is mandated service. It’s time to find a higher purpose and that purpose needs to be the betterment of the U.S. and a moral obligation to each other.