To Hell In A Hand Basket, Or Are We Already There

This is the Fourth of July weekend and it does make me think about our country; why and how it was founded; its dreams and aspirations; its hopes, not only for us, but for the world; all the people who have given their lives to accomplish these things.
I look around, read and hear the news, and am sickened when I read things like:

“…the unexpectedly grim unemployment numbers released yesterday. While the rate only increased slightly to a 26-year high of 9.5 percent, from 9.4 percent, the raw numbers led many to warn that economic recovery isn’t on the horizon. The U.S. economy lost 467,000 jobs in June, marking the first time the monthly losses increased after they had been steadily shrinking from the January peak of 741,000. ‘There’s nothing in here to show that the economy and the market are pulling out of the grip of recession,’ an economist tells the NYT. Stock markets around the world decreased, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 2.6 percent.
The Los Angeles Times off-leads the unemployment numbers and leads with news that California’s controller began printing IOUs. It marked the second time since the Great Depression that the state had to resort to such an unusual action to meet its obligations. The controller decided to state the obvious and said the IOUs ‘are a sign that the state is being fiscally mismanaged.’ Most of the IOUs are going to go taxpayers who are still owed income tax refunds, but many others, including businesses and pensioners, will also be getting the check-like pieces of paper that have the words ‘registered warrant’ emblazoned on them. Some banks say they will accept the IOUs, at least for the next few days. The NYT off-leads the move and says it ‘was seen as a warning flag to other states.’”

There are numerous reasons why we are in this condition. A TV commercial recently coined the phrase, “blame-storming” as corporate executives try to understand why their business is left behind while others soar ahead. Blame-storming is an easy way to point the fault at others without accepting any.

How did we get here?

What I’m about to say will make a number of people angry; generate a lot of negative vibes coming in my direction; and might even get me some serious hate mail. But…

Our downward spiral started when we abolished the draft. I know. It sounds crazy but it is in fact a major contributing factor in our economic decline.

I recently posted an article, Marine Veterans Train For New Careers In Construction, that stimulated memory cells which took me back a half a century.

There was a time when our construction jobsites were filled with skilled workers, many were excellent craftsmen; there was no shortage of carpenters, plumbers, welders, mechanics, masons or any other tradesmen. Then the pool started to dry up, and we became short of people in all these and other trades. It didn’t take long before immigrants, both legal and illegal, filled these jobs.
Why did this happen?
Years back we had a draft that pulled young men into military service. In addition to basic training and learning how to handle weapons, we also learned how to respect authority; respond to orders; organize our possessions and care for them; how to get along with others; how to value free time; how to pay attention when spoken to; how take care of ourselves; how to help and take care of others; how to survive; how to be safe and cautious; how to keep order; and dozens of other things that I call “living skills.”
We were also given aptitude tests to determine what natural skills and talents we had. In many cases, guys going into the service discovered that they had potential they never knew existed. People were actually trained in fields, professions or skills for which they had the ability to excel.
Back then, military personnel did more than “soldier,” they built barracks, bases, airfields, marine terminals. They fixed tanks, trucks, air conditioners, sewer systems, engines and everything else that was needed to keep the military effort going. The military was pretty much self-sufficient. It had carpenters, plumbers, electricians, diesel and gasoline mechanics, nurses, paramedics, clerks, supply managers, motor pool supervisors, project managers and all other personnel necessary to independent existence.

A couple of unfortunate wars soured citizens and before long there were mass demonstrations against the military and draft. Suddenly we were a country that no longer supported either. It wasn’t until the horror of 9-11 permeated our lives that we once again consciously became aware of the fact that our military was indeed important.

For more than 50 years, Selective Service and the registration requirement for America’s young men have served as a backup system to provide manpower to the U.S. Armed Forces.
President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which created the country’s first peacetime, draft and formally established the Selective Service System as an independent Federal agency.
From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces, which could not be filled through voluntary means.

A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1, 1969, at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This event determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970 that is, for registrants born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950. Reinstitution of the lottery was a change from the oldest first method, which had been the determining method for deciding order of call.

366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates were placed in a large glass jar and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range specified in Selective Service law.

With radio, film and TV coverage, the capsules were drawn from the jar, opened, and the dates inside posted in order. The first capsule – drawn by Congressman Alexander Pirine (R-NY) of the House Armed Services Committee – contained the date September 14; so all men born on September 14 in any year between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number 1. The drawing continued until all days of the year had been matched to lottery numbers.

In 1973, the draft ended and the U.S. converted to an All-Volunteer military.

Since then a number of things happened to our country. Our skilled and unskilled labor force diminished radically and rapidly. When our willing work force dissipated so did the jobs.

We became a less disciplined and respectful society and became less likely to follow rules. We went from being proud of our independence to demanding that someone take care of us and expecting that someone to be the government.

Many of the jobs that military personnel performed were turned over to civilian contractors and are costing the country a lot more and perpetuate the need to use a non-U.S. labor forc
e, especially on military installations outside the country.

This seemingly insignificant change has in effect contributed to a vast majority of the changes that are negatively affecting us today.

How often to you hear people say, “yes sir, no sir” or “yes ma’am, no ma’am?” This is only a single, simple example. Do you hear high school students talk about becoming welders, carpenters, masons, diesel mechanics? Not likely.

A critical aspect of having been in the service is that the training, the acquired skills didn’t evaporate when we mustered out. Everything we learned, our people skills, respect for authority, the importance of following a chain of command, learning to evaluate a situation and make a decision and then accept the responsibility for having made that decision, had been forged into the people we became as a result of our military training.

Many of the old “captains of industry” learned their management techniques on a battle field, a field office, a post, a base; dealing with real situations and real people, in many instances, making life and death decisions based on hard choices.

I think we were a better country that functioned with a greater sense of national harmony. It was a much less cutthroat world. We were more concerned about others than about ourselves. Ideals and principles were based on real beliefs not on corporate mission statements or lists of “Our Core Values” all of which were manufactured in a marketing agency’s office.

Discharge papers were more like a diploma that indicated that an individual had the skills, knowledge and experience to enter society as a valuable contributing citizen. The pride you had in wearing a uniform translated into hard-earned self-respect. It’s too bad we’ve lost all this and more.

We need to ask ourselves some tough questions and refuse to stop asking until we have answers, real answers and not empty promises.

How long will it take the 9.5 percent unemployed to find jobs? Maybe the tougher questions are: what kinds of jobs are available or will become available? What percentage of this 9.5 percent has the necessary skills to find jobs as welders, plumbers, or whatever? How many paralegals do we need? As the economy begins to grow again, where will the job growth be – entertainment, governmental agencies, and health care?

Usually when things start falling apart, the best way to fix them is by going back to core competencies. In our case this would be agriculture and manufacturing. At one time we were the world leader in these areas. We need to get back to these core competencies to stimulate economic growth…

Greg Sitek

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