Metro Weekly

Maybe It’s Time for Compulsory National Service

A gender-neutral requirement for a year of service in the U.S. military could do wonders for American unity.

Team U.S. and Team Ukraine Welcome Event (April 15, 2022) - U.S. Embassy Photo by George Deswijzen
Team U.S. and Team Ukraine Welcome Event (April 15, 2022) – U.S. Embassy Photo by George Deswijzen

The mid-January headline was blunt: “Army Sees Sharp Decline in White Recruits.” An appropriate, similarly blunt reaction might be, “Who cares?” Not surprisingly, the right wing cares. Histrionically. They’re all in a bunch about it.

Of these bunched-up deplorables, Rep. Paul Gosar may be the most disturbed (by just about any definition). Gosar is the Arizona Republican whose own family warned America their brother’s not right. “Maybe you don’t know how you got to this very dark place, Paul,” three of his siblings wrote as commentary for NBC News. “Unfortunately, we have some ideas. Maybe it’s because you’re in way over your head in Congress and don’t have the intellect, character or maturity to be in that leadership role.” Ouch.

Gosar lives in a world of racism, Holocaust denial, and queerphobia. It’s no wonder he’s so bothered by news that would otherwise seem to mean very little. I’ve not seen the fundraising email he sent, using this news as a cash grab, but Vice News has, reporting its subject line: “dismantling woke marxist ideologies.”

In a nutshell, why would nice white kids want to join a military full of trans soldiers, Queers, commies and other various degenerates? The military is obviously promoting Critical Race Theory over warfare!

I also care about the military. I come from a military family. My father and older brother were both career Army members. My stepfather served on a Navy submarine in the Pacific during World War II. I am not a pacifist. I’m proud of our democratic republic’s military and its oath to protect the Constitution rather than the president. So, thanks, Mr. Gosar, I suppose, for making our military a hot topic. Of course, our perspectives are quite different.

In that little window of when I would have considered joining the military, it would’ve been a dangerous prospect. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the first bit of progress on allowing gays to serve at all, still hadn’t happened. That would be roughly another half decade after I graduated high school. I was unwelcome. So was Allen Schindler Jr. During a college internship, I had to pore over court records regarding his murder.

Schindler and I were born the same year. While I avoided the military, he joined the Navy. For his patriotism, he was murdered by two shipmates while docked in Japan. In a public restroom in Nagasaki, Schindler’s head was bashed so hard it reportedly broke a porcelain urinal. From those court documents, I have vague memories of grainy images of his corpse. Schindler’s horrific story is haunting.

Later in life, I learned more stories of the hatred and discrimination suffered by gay service members. Writing a Metro Weekly story about the 40th anniversary of the DC Eagle bar, I was surprised to learn that the military once wasted resources on hunting for Queer soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen/women.

“They used to hide me,” the bar’s co-owner Angus told me. “[Military police] used to troll the bars looking for license plates. They usually came in the bar in uniform, and [staff] would hide me. They always put me back in the kitchen. It could’ve been career-ending if I’d been caught.”

Add to those stories the inhumanity of napalm in Vietnam, torturing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib, etc., and I have plenty of reason to disdain America’s military. But I don’t. I have gay friends who’ve had wonderful military careers, who have served with professionalism, a sense of justice, and even kindness. My friend and Ugandan asylum seeker, Moses Mworeko, found a home in the Army. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg certainly comes to mind.

Rather than tear down the military, I’d really like to expand it.

During adolescence, asking my father about his career, he lamented the end of the draft. I was confused. Wasn’t that a good thing? His point was that he much preferred the military when it included so many who didn’t want to be there. As hierarchical and authority-dependent as the military might be, conscription was bound to infuse it with plenty of wry cynicism. That’s what he missed. And who better to blow a righteous whistle when comrades are breaking the law than someone who finds the whole enterprise suspect?

America hasn’t had a draft since 1973. For the 21st Century, we’d likely be well served by a similar, yet updated, form of conscription. A gender-neutral requirement for a year of service in the military, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or even some novel, grant-worthy undertaking could do wonders for American unity.

We are a hugely diverse, yet sadly siloed, nation. Adding a foundational ingredient that brings together young Americans from all economic, political, intellectual, and geographic backgrounds must be a good thing. This universal service should also offer tangible benefits, including lifetime healthcare and free higher education at public institutions. Perhaps even a lifetime basic income.

Sounds expensive, right? According to Americans for Tax Fairness, the nation’s 741 billionaires are now worth a collective $5.2 trillion. That’s a 78 percent increase following the Trump/GOP 2017 tax cuts. I’m sure we can find the money. It’s also worth noting that Trump, a disturbingly divisive president, tried to zero out funding for AmeriCorps.

I imagine Barron Trump serving his national service in the Peace Corps, shoulder-to-shoulder with his hypothetical lesbian teammate, helping to build a well in what his father has deemed a “shithole country,” and I smile. I don’t imagine Gosar would.

Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at

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