President Clinton has issued another call to arms on behalf of keeping the peace in another country--this time Haiti.
Historically, Americans have resisted sending their young people into battle. The high school students interviewed here reflect that tradition, largely opposing intervention.
Since young people so often cite domestic problems as their primary concern, it seems only fair to ask if they're doing anything about it. The answer is a resounding, "Yes."
"There is an incredible increase in the number of young people volunteering," says Eli Segal, chief executive officer of the federal Corporation for National Service. "Sixty-seven percent of all college freshmen volunteered for some kind of activity."
In fact, says Segal, his program, AmeriCorps (a sort of domestic Peace Corps), received more than 100,000 applications for 15,000 spots when it was first launched. Participants earn only a small stipend but get full benefits, including health insurance.
Altruism is far from the only reason--or even the main reason--that young people volunteer. In a tight economy, many young people say they do volunteer jobs as a way to improve their resumes. Many schools are also requiring that their students do volunteer work.
"I think students are very ambiguous" about it, says Ronald Fagan, professor of sociology at Pepperdine University. "In one sense, they are idealistic. They want to influence social values. But they want to make money and be powerful.
"You're not seeing huge numbers of people going into social work or public-service kinds of professions," Fagan says. "You are, however, seeing people who are lawyers and doctors volunteering to read to kids."
While few people would compare service in the military to service in a domestic volunteer program, there is some similarity: the hope that doing a service eventually will lead to a better job.
"The military does continue to have programs for educational support but, in real dollar terms, the level of support has declined dramatically over the past 15 or 20 years," says Robert Hanneman, professor of sociology at UC Riverside.
Hanneman, who does not believe that the armed services does an adequate job training its recruits for civilian life, notes that the best route to a better job is a college degree. "If you can't invest enough in education to escape the growing low-income service sector, the military is better than flipping hamburgers," he says.
Still, no matter how a young person serves his or her country, any kind of volunteerism apparently makes for a better society.
"Our early democratic thinkers assumed that for democracy to work, the people would be informed and would be involved," says Fagan. "Our democracy is built on the concept of people volunteering."