SERVICE WITHOUT GUNS is an important book to read if you believe that the world is too violent a place. It may be even more important to read if you do NOT believe the world is too violent a place.
This thoughtful and well-researched book by Donald J. Eberly and Reuven Gal (with a guest chapter by Michael Sherraden) presents the case for national youth service as a substitute for military service in certain situations.
Their premise that “young people everywhere in the world would much rather cooperate with other young people in constructive activities than engage them in combat” leads the authors to investigate a 21st century paradigm where service becomes part of the fabric of society.
Donald Eberly was founder and director of the U.S. National Service Secretariat from 1966 to 1994 and the author of several books on national service. Reuven Gal served in the Israeli Defense Services from 1960 to 1963, earned his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, and pursued a career in non-profit and policy-making bodies. In 2002 he became the Deputy National Security Advisor for Domestic Policy at the Israeli National Security Council, where he was in charge of promoting Sherut Leumi, a university youth service. Beyond this partial summary of their backgrounds, both men have vast experience with youth service initiatives at both the policy and practical levels.
They introduce their topic by comparing military service and national youth service. While acknowledging the different purposes of these enterprises, the authors make the point that individuals performing non-military service might benefit from their experience in ways similar to individuals serving in the military. Helping others can help young people mature even as it meets important societal needs. The authors ask the rhetorical question, “Shouldn’t we give them the opportunity to engage their sense of adventure while helping people? The situation is somewhat analogous to that in military service, where young people encounter challenges, do important work, and have support readily available.”
Eberly and Gal describe the 20th century phenomena of declines in conscription-based armies, humanitarian missions performed by military organizations, and other linkages between military and non-military service. Their view is that the time has come for national youth service to gain prominence independent of military organizations. Ascribing the conception framework for national youth service to William James in 1906, a long and impressive list of successful national youth service initiatives is presented, including American versions (Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, Peace Corps in 1960, AmeriCorps in 1993) and comprehensive efforts in Germany, Israel, and Nigeria.
While there is no commonly accepted purpose of national youth service, there are best practices. The following elements are provided as important elements of successful initiatives:
- the service is important and the service providers see it as important
- recruitment of service providers occurs only to the extent necessary
- support exists from the ones who benefit
- proper orientation and training are provided
- service providers have a decision-making role
- service providers serve in teams
- the duration of service is 9 months to 2 years
- appropriate recognition and benefits are available
- positive opportunities exist for service providers after the service.
The authors provide additional insights into service-learning and the impact of national youth service, providing ideas on practical measures to advance non-military service. Another chapter with relevance deals with the role of national youth service in community reconstruction and intercultural understanding.
Service Without Guns is a book with a purpose. It provides information on successful non-military service initiatives and demonstrates the positive effects of these initiatives. Most importantly, perhaps, the book provides a how-to guide for anyone who wants to make the world a better place through peaceful means, enhancing understanding among peoples while providing valuable services to societies around the world. It is a dream worth pursuing.