Credit: George Danby / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Peter Reilly of Belfast served in the U.S. Air Force. He is retired from a career in finance and teaches various courses at the Senior College in Belfast.

Whether the lens that you view our great country is from the left, right or center, it’s difficult not to be concerned. Today, sadly, we see good people entirely convinced that the other’s political philosophy (if adopted) will (without a doubt) destroy the country.

Yet history tells us the country can come together and work as a force to accomplish great good.

How do we create an environment where people recognize that on both sides of today’s inflaming issues there are legitimate, serious and substantial points of view worthy of consideration? Benevolence is not just going to come. If we think the holy spirit is going to descend at some point and sprinkle gumbuya dust on us, we’ve got a long wait.

When John Kennedy started his presidency, one of his first initiatives was to create the Peace Corps — Americans setting out to make the world a better place. Not by espousing politics, but by helping people through hands-on, grassroot driven projects. Talk to anyone who has served in the Peace Corps and what comes out is the pride of having real accomplishments and shared experiences with people who were totally different from themselves.

In the 1960s, when I was in my 20s, I spent four years in the military. As I look back, what stands out are the friends made. All of us from different parts of the country from different backgrounds — Black, brown, white, rich and poor. I had friends from West Virginia, Tennessee, New York, Texas, Oklahoma, California — in short from all over. We got to know each other, had fun together, worked together, complained together.

No one is arguing for a military draft, but the coming together of diverse young people does not happen anymore.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed legislation creating AmeriCorps, a sort of domestic Peace Corps. Today, more than 270,000 Americans are members and volunteers engaged in intensive service. In return, volunteers may be provided low financial compensation, student loan deferments and possibly education assistance. There is evidence that civic attitudes become strengthened and members may choose careers in public service.

Perhaps it’s time to build on those programs, maybe introduce a “mandatory” community service program for our youth — a year or so of service to our country or state.

Our youth is watching the older generation run the country, and they are surely not impressed. It’s time to start bringing people together, to provide the experience of giving back, sharing challenges.

The fact remains there really are few sizable places, institutions, organizations that impel Americans into situations where they get to know different people coming from different places.

Even our representatives in Washington are in an isolated, technological bubble.

We don’t need a military draft, but we do need something with purpose that will impel young and old people to know and understand each other. In the late 1980s, Sam Nunn, a U.S. senator from Georgia and others had a proposal for tying student loan aid to community service. A requirement for some type of service — military or community — in return for a route to higher education. He included a domestic agency to organize and channel this new workforce. Some people found a ton of reasons (real and unreal) why we shouldn’t do it. Sadly a good idea floundered and died.

Could now be the time for a mandatory community service program, not just for the work to be accomplished, but maybe more importantly for the purpose of bringing us together. Education, infrastructure, climate change, etc. — the challenges are there. The game changer is not.