Young men join into groups for bonding and aggressive actions—mild ones like egging homes on Halloween to violent ones like gang fights. It's part of their nature, an inherited, genetic tendency that will not fade away. Culture can modify this predilection and some cultures even successfully suppress it, but it will always be with us.1,7
This tendency is not itself the cause of wars. War is caused by leaders who focus and motivate the willingness of soldiers to kill outside their group or community.
Restless young males, however, do challenge the stability of all cultures. They are the single most disruptive elements in any society,2,3,4,5 and they are particularly prone to create social turmoil (and crime) when they are unmarried or unemployed and before they have children of their own.6
One traditional solution to "the problem of young men" across many cultures has been to put them into military service or to send them off (out of the community) to war. This keeps them occupied during the most volatile stage of their lives. Training under the discipline of older men has an additional advantage: it shapes youthful excesses into behavior acceptable for adult men
The Romans, for example, required all male citizens to serve in the military. These soldiers often spent little or no time fighting. Rome used her soldiers to build fabulous aqueducts, astounding roads, and monumental and imposing buildings, performing their labors in the conquered territories and in the homeland. The Romans understood that people need to work and that young males, in particular, must be kept occupied or there will be trouble.
What will happen when we make war obsolete? Might we lose the maturing benefits of military life? Some military force will always be needed for national defense, even in a warless future, and particularly for "policing" or "backing up" treaties and other agreements. Some young men will be drawn naturally toward these policing, peacemaking and peacekeeping services.
The military training they receive would have a different orientation than the training given to an army being primed for conquest; the emphasis would be on putting down insurgencies, separating combatants, preventing violence, and enforcing good behavior. At the same time, however, their time spent in service would provide the valuable socialization benefits that a tour of duty in the military can today.
In the future, forceful resolution of conflicts should become a baffling, even quaint, memory from humanity's primitive past. But into the foreseeable future, if we stop waging wars, what are we to do with massive numbers of young men not subject to draft or service?
We can't simply ignore them. Planning for their needs must be a cornerstone of any better world we wish to build. Young men in all countries must have positive outlets. Doing something about young men everywhere is a facet of everyone's defense.
The United States, which has embraced an all-volunteer military, already suffers a high crime rate. Too many American young men stumble from their teens into gangs and crime with no means of making a living and no vision for their future. We could expect crime to decrease dramatically if we required young men, without exception, to give the four years following high school to public service under the guidance of adults. During those years they could mature and emerge with useful skills, pride, and positive goals.
Even if compulsory public service is unacceptable to independence-loving Americans, there is an alternative. We can make voluntary public service during those formative years extremely attractive, something to which young men and their parents will be powerfully drawn because of its obvious benefits (for example, scholarships or loans for school, or guaranteed work placement for a year or more afterward). Perhaps just as important, voluntary service could be something that teens choose to do "because it's cool." Serving their country in this way can be made into a matter of pride and honor, something "my father did, and his father before him."
It can be done. What we require is the will to do it and the funding necessary to:
- set up programs and expand those we already have in place. These are numerous, from AmeriCorps (see http://www.americorps.org/) to the thousands of local programs sponsored by states and municipalities throughout the country
- Recruit young men vigorously and creatively to "national service with honor." Dedicate to this new program, "Be All That You Can Be," all the financial resources used today to promote military service. (see Shifting our Economies)
- take note when the children of rock stars, movie stars, and sports heroes—the people our teens emulate—participate in voluntary national service and make sure that their service is given high profile as an example of patriotism at its best
Many cultures have or at one time had formal initiation ceremonies for young men to help them make the transition to manhood (see Foster Connectedness). These formal rites of passage were lost in most if not all modern democracies as we experimented with freedom of choice where decisions for young people were made by families, not the state. Some families and communities do quite well in providing for their young men. Some do not. And such education is necessary. Joseph Campbell, student of mythology and human nature, has been quoted as saying that if a society doesn't have initiation ceremonies for its young men, the young men will invent some. As we see in their gangs, young men don't always invent positive rites. If we want to end war we must enlist our young men in the campaign, and at the same time we will be working to reduce high rates of youth crime.
A word concerning young women and voluntary service. Empowered women are both catalyst and stabilizers for a future without war (see The Secret Ingredient and Empower Women). Both experience and education are critical to empowerment. In preparation for careers, leadership roles, and roles as good mothers, young women must be given the same opportunity to mature and broaden their outlook under the guidance of caring and skilled adults. They must also enjoy the benefits, honor, and satisfaction of contributing to the common good by voluntary service.
To end war we need to employ creative, positive solutions to young male aggression in particular. We certainly need to bring young men into a culture of nonviolence (see Promoting Nonviolent Conflict Resolution) so they are part of the solution, not a cause of the problem. We can embrace the energy and passion of young men by educating, challenging, and initiating them into the process. We can enlist them.
In the past, organizations that worked to end young male violence have primarily thought of themselves as working to prevent crime, not wars. Yet there is an intimate connection, as the events of September 11th 2001 made clear. America woke up to the reality of terrorism. The same kind of violence happened in places like Spain, London, Bali, and Baghdad. The solution to "the crime problem" (which is primarily a young male phenomenon) must become part of the campaign to end wars. Crime and terrorism share a common basis in young male social disaffection (see Foster Connectedness), and young men are the cannon fodder from which the majority of criminals, terrorists, and warriors are drawn.
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