Monday, November 30, 2009

Compulsory Military Service?

Compulsory Military Service?
©2009 David Talbot

I remember when I was a teenager, back in the 60’s. The traditional rite of passage for young men was reaching their 18th birthday, marching down to the Post Office, and registering for the draft. I was proud to register, and so were all my friends.

Somewhere in the late 60’s, serving in the military went out of fashion and the draft was discontinued. We all know the reasons: Vietnam, counter-culture, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. We lost our innocence in the 60’s and never got it back. The all-volunteer Army was born.

Since the 60’s a lot has happened to America and the spirit of serving our country. We have become a country of “What’s in it for me” instead of “What you can do for your country.” Fortunately, the US Military has been able to attract enough volunteers to man the “peacetime” service. But something is missing.

What’s missing is the spirit of service that we all had, back when I was young. And the country is suffering for it. Is there anyplace on earth that still has a system of compulsory military service?

Before I answer that question, here’s a test: What country has more companies on the Nasdaq than all of Europe, India, China, Korea, and Japan, combined? What country has global venture capital 2.5 times the United States and 30 times Europe?

According to Dan Senor’s new book[1], the answer to the above is Israel, tiny Israel, with a population of 7,400,000 residents living in a country the size of New Jersey. So, what does this have to do with compulsory military service?

In Israel, every high school graduate (with very few exceptions) are obligated to join the Israeli Military: males for 3 years and females for 2 years. These 21 year old men and women return from military service and resume their college or university educations, with real world experience and a drive to become leaders in Israeli society and business.

Israel’s corporate CEO’s, Managers, and Investors have become very astute in reading military resumes, in addition to college transcripts. They’ve become experts in finding the talent for running their firms in an environment of constant threats from Israel’s neighbors, no natural resources, and no internal energy sources.

At 25 years of age, these college graduates are individuals whose management skills were tested on the battlefield. They learned decision making skills, based on incomplete and sometimes contradictory information, and will sacrifice their current creature comforts for the success of a long term project. The talents these individuals learn in their military service carries them from the battlefield to the classroom, and from the classroom to the corporate environment.

Mr. Senor interviewed CEO’s of Ebay, Intel, Google, and Cisco (Which has purchased 9 Israeli start-ups this year), requesting a comparison of recent graduates of American and Israeli Universities. With out exception, these CEO’s replied they would select an Israeli over an American, hands down. Due in large part to the Israeli military experience.

On a recent CNBC Economic presentation, Mr. Senor was asked if the Israeli success was due, in part, to the political environment in Israel. To which he replied: “The U.S. and Israel are moving in opposite directions.” Israel , especially since 1990 has moved from a more socialist environment that was stagnant for a couple of decades, to a more entrepreneurial system encouraging a higher percentage investment of their GDP in new and innovative ventures than the United States.

In conclusion, am I recommending a resumption of the Military Draft for America? No, is the short answer. But, there are a few things we must do if we are to resume our position as the world leader in start-up, innovative business applications. “Start-Up Nation” is a good place to start.

Anyway, that’s my opinion.


[1] Start-Up Nation, The story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

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