Today marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Peace Corps, quite possibly President John F. Kennedy's finest inspiration. According to the Wikipedia description, "The mission of the Peace Corps includes three goals: providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States to understand U.S. culture, and helping Americans to understand the cultures of other countries.
"Generally, the work is related to social and economic development. Each program participant (aka Peace Corps volunteer) is an American citizen, typically with a college degree, who works abroad for 24 months after 3 months of training. Volunteers work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in education, hunger, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment."
I've advocated for many years that one of the responsibilities of citizenship in a free society is (or should be) a mandatory 2-3 years of public service. This could be satisfied by service in the military, or by service in non-military organizations like the Peace Corps, VISTA, or many other humanitarian or conservation groups. For all its faults, a democratic republic like the U.S. relies on participation by all its citizens to keep the ship of state on an even keel, and navigating in a positive direction. There is no excuse for apathy, or for ignorance.
Think of the possibilities. If we had as many people in (and as much financial support for) humanitarian programs as we have staffing and financial support for the military, the world would be a far better and more balanced place. An effective and modern military presence may be necessary as nations evolve into a true world community, but there is no substitute for schools, for food, for helping people abroad and at home to support and inform themselves. I invite all readers to share their public service experiences in the "comments" section at the bottom of this post.
A special thanks to Sheril Kirshenbaum for sharing the graph seen below (click to enlarge), which tracks grad school enrollment and the unemployment rate over time. The correlation is quite dramatic. Any speculation regarding the reason both lines track nearly identical paths?