Thursday, December 4, 2008

Improve Our Image Abroad, While Working Off That Pesky Student Debt!

During the time of the British Empire, it was quite common for students from Oxford and Cambridge to go abroad for several years to do national service. Across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, it was quite common to find graduates with first class degrees teaching English, digging ditches or training the civil service. "For God and Country," these men and women left the comforts of Britain for the uncertainty.

For the better part of the decade, the United States has maintained an occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately most young Americans are not serving alongside soldiers, contractors and federal employees in South and Central Asia. Despite all the continuing talk of patriotism, and serving ones country, there seem to be few easily accessible options for Americans to help efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I propose the creation of an American equivalent to National Service, one that could probably attract a large number of graduates. In exchange for 2-5 years of service, students would receive some sort of federal relief towards their student debt as well as a living stipend. Not only would the cumbersome burden of student loans be lifted, young men and women would gain to the opportunity to see countries make the transition towards democracy. Furthermore, this would free up soldiers to do, you know, soldier stuff. (Not to say that it isn’t cute to see photos of GIs handing out bubble gum and chocolate to the little boys and girls).

While I’m not the biggest fan of British colonialism, I will admit that the National Service program had its merits. Some of those men and women helped people like my parents learned English. Others imported influential pieces of Western Culture, such as rock and roll and blue jeans. (Karl Bartos of the German electronic group Kraftwerk recently noted that because his sister dated an English serviceman, he came under the spell of British and American pop music). Besides, with the economy being in such a miserable state, something tells me that a lot of poly-sci and international affairs graduates would be happy to leave for Kabul, Baghdad or Mosul.

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