There's More to Life Than Knitting!

Join Suna as she stops knitting long enough to ponder her life, share her joys and concerns, and comment on the goings on in the world.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Thoughts on "National Service"

Today we have a little lecture on my beliefs. As usual, this represents only MY opinions.

On the way to work, I have been listening to an NPR series on "national service." They have been talking to experts on topics like why the armed forces have been getting fewer volunteers recently, whether there should be a mandatory draft, whether there should be mandatory "national service" like there is in many places, and whether USonians are volunteering as much as they used to.

Yesterday I got a bit upset when some of the "experts" they talked to intimated that, if you don't volunteer to join the armed forces or encourage your (male) children to do so, you are not a good American and should be ashamed of yourself for taking and taking from your wonderful country and not giving anything back.

I thought, hey, where does this leave pacifists like me? I am not declining to participate in our defense industry because I am lazy and don't "love my country." I decline because I am fundamentally opposed to killing other human beings or doing work that supports doing so. I do not believe a human should kill another just because they live in the wrong place, have a government with oil reserves that the multinational companies running the current government want, or are of a different religion/ethnicity from their own. I'm not even comfortable with killing in self defense. Two wrongs don't make a right (helps that I sorta believe in reincarnation, sorta). So, I am not going to join any armed force, nor encourage my children to do so. I believe in working toward peaceful solutions to all disagreements (and in using the resources you have, not taking the resources of others, but that's another story).

They also talked about mandatory national service. I thought, well, that is at least not violent, but would I be comfortable with being forced to spend some part of my life in support of a government whose policies I disagree with? Hmm. Am I being some kind of selfish, unphilanthropic leach on society?

Then, this morning's feature was on volunteering. How important it is, and how 9/11 got folks here all involved in it again. Oh yeah, duh. See photo above. I volunteered to spend at least 5 years of my working life doing unpaid work for an organization that helps people. I even got a couple of awards for doing so (that's me, Sandee and some lovely Japanese mothers, with an award), back when they thought I knew something about them there Internets and was Mistress of the Series of Tubes. And after that I worked for that organization for very low pay because it was a cause I believed in. I still believe in their core philosophy.

And THAT is the kind of voluntary service I believe in and wholeheartedly support. Not mandatory service to your country or some specific government. But voluntary service to humanity/the planet. Everyone will do it in a different way, but it is important to give to your home in some way. Even chimps do it (according to research I just read in Science News, chimps will help each other, or humans, for no reward, just as toddlers will--it's an instinct I guess). I was lucky. When my children were small I had a spouse who could support us fine (not wealthily, but fine enough), and I could stay home with them and work as a volunteer. It was very fulfilling work most of the time, helping mothers have healthier, happier babies. And I helped all mothers, regardless of beliefs or geographic location. I did my years of service to the planet, and I hope I leave it a slightly better place because of the help I gave to millions of families. Sure, we went without some material things. But, we felt good about how we lived our lives.

I can feel good about that. Whew. I really DO live my life according to consistent principles and a reasonable philosophy. I hate it when something gets me all beset with self doubt on a topic so fundamental to my core! Pacifism is not an easy choice, but it's the only one I can make. But the choice does not mean I do not want to contribute to society--only that I don't want to choose killing or war as a solution, or support it, whenever possible.*

So, if asked, what I would support would be making it possible for everyone to take out some amount of time in their life to do something altruistic--to help other people, to heal the earth, to do some peaceful good. That might mean corporations let workers off with some pay to do so, or government support for young people taking time off (like for AmeriCorps, CityYear or Peace Corps--just with more options). There will be sacrifice involved, just not sacrifice of our children's lives or the lives of children of mothers elsewhere. The world would be better if we were all free to give more of ourselves to each other.

*I realize that by living where I live, paying taxes that fund a huge war industry, and other choices, I can't avoid inadvertently supporting institutionalized violence (I live in the US state with the highest death penalty rate, for example). But I vote. I speak up. I make careful choices. None of us is blameless and none of us is perfect. We do the best we can according to our own beliefs. And if you have thought carefully, and believe in your core that wars can be justified, and that there are good reasons for killing other people, that is your right. I am never going to be one of those people who want to impose my beliefs on others. I'd just like the favor returned.


Sam said...

Extremely WELL said!!

Signed, your pacifist friend to the Canadian North!

Lee said...

For some reason, the comment I left last night doesn't appear here. So here it is again: Amen, etc.

Stephanie said...

As I learned in my beloved Soviet Studies courses in college, "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." Can't find a more compelling way to expres my hopes for government, even if that does leave me in the flames on the left. Always nice to read your intelligent thoughts, dear.