Robert A. Levine 3-24-15
As citizens, we all have responsibilities that must be fulfilled for the nation to be protected and function optimally. However, the obligations at this point in our history are relatively minimal. All men (both citizens and immigrants) between ages 18 and 26 have to sign up for the Selective Service and if drafted have to serve in the armed forces. But the chances of currently being drafted are virtually nil.
Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), we now have an all voluntary military with no drafting of men and women who do not wish to serve. However, this means that the majority of young people do not serve the nation in any capacity, loosening the connections and feelings of patriotism that citizens of past generations had for America. It also means that Americans of different social and educational classes do not mix, an opportunity wasted to give all citizens an understanding of the great diversity of the nation, and how other Americans live and think. In addition, Americans no longer have an understanding of the physical and emotional hardships military service members undergo, putting their lives on the line for the nation. The Armed Forces were truly democratic when every American had to serve and face similar dangers and hardships. Now instead of everyone being involved, the nation pays a small group of patriotic Americans to protect the rest of us.
Other responsibilities are for Americans to sign up for a state driver’s license if they want to drive a car or a gun license if they want to own a weapon. They must also have auto insurance if they’re going to drive and health insurance if the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is ruled constitutional. Paying taxes, deductions for Social Security and Medicare are also mandatory. But all in all, Americans do not have a host of responsibilities they must meet in exchange for citizenship. And it appears as if succeeding generations of Americans are less patriotic and care less about America than those who fought the Nazis in World War Two and lived through the disturbing days of the Cold War. Perhaps the words of John Kennedy’s inaugural speech have been forgotten- “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country.”
I think it is time and important that America make more demands of its citizens and not allow citizenship to be purely a passive process. First of all, registration for voting should be automatic for every American citizen. As in Oregon, any citizen who gets a driver’s license should be registered to vote. But that also should include citizens who receive any documents from the federal or state governments such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, gun licenses, fishing or hunting licenses, and so forth.
And with virtually every citizen registered, voting should be mandatory. America has the lowest proportion of its citizenry voting of any advanced industrialized nation, generally below 40 percent in mid-term elections and around 60 percent in presidential years. It is certainly not a hardship to demand that citizens participate in the electoral process, by absentee ballot or at the ballot box. Currently, twenty-two nations have compulsory voting, with fines in most countries for those who don’t vote. (The downside of this system is that you have many people voting who are ignorant of the candidates and the issues.)
Vaccinations should also be mandatory for all school children and all citizens. The health of the nation is more important than individual beliefs and there is no reason why polio, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and so forth, should damage or kill any American. Multiple medical studies have shown that the benefits far outweigh possible negative effects (allergic reactions).
There are also citizens who believe (as do I) that all young Americans (between 18 and 24) should serve a period of obligatory national service, either in the military or in some civilian capacity. Every American should contribute a year of his or her life serving the nation, in the military, teaching, working with the elderly, in a conservation corps, medical practice, nursing, and so forth. This would also be a chance for Americans of different social and economic groups to meet and interact.
Citizenship should be a two-way street. As well as the benefits and rights Americans have as citizens, there should also be obligations and responsibilities for everyone.
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