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February 25, 2013

What can you do for your country? – Lesson Plan


Social Studies, Government, History

Estimated Time

Three class periods

Grade Level



This lesson plan poses the question, “Should America have required military service for all citizens over the age of 18?” Students learn about the history of the armed forces and conscription in the United States, compare the U.S. policies to those of several foreign countries, and debate the value of required military service in America.


  1. Ask students if they know how the U.S. is fighting the war in Iraq. What are the conventional forces that the U.S. is using (air strikes, ground forces, Special Operations forces)? What are the other types of service that America is committing to the war? (Students should think about the use of computers and technology to gain intelligence information and to follow the path of financial funding for terrorists, as well as the support in terms of food and supplies for those directly affected by the war.)
  2. Explain to students that current U.S. military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan has led Americans, both young and old, to reexamine their views on military service. Currently, of the country’s 1.4 million active duty troops, 655,000 are Army and Marine personnel, the pool from which troops in Iraq are drawn. Because the 191,000 troops currently stationed in Iraq and elsewhere in the world must be rotated often, military resources are scarce.
  3. Ask students how they perceive the U.S. military. What is the role of the military in our society? (Students should think about issues such as protection of territory and boundaries, protection of freedom, as well as the appearance of strength in the international community).
  4. Ask students if they know the branches of the armed forces. Why does America have multiple branches? Go to the military history handout. Which branches came first? Students can also go to the following armed forced Web sites to learn more.
    • Information on the founding of the Navy can be found here.
    • Information on the founding of the Army can be found here.
    • Information about Air Force history can be found here.
  5. Ask students how they think Americans have responded in the past to being drafted into military service and if they know the difference between enlisting in the military and being drafted. What are some reasons people choose to enlist in the armed forces during peacetime? Do people join the armed forces for different reasons during times of war?
  6. In the past, when the demand for U.S. military personnel has exceeded the supply of enlisted personnel, the U.S. has resorted to drafting civilians into the military. Students should go to the handout on the history of conscription in order to learn more about when and why America has enforced a draft. More information about the Selective Service System can be found here.
  7. Students should create a timeline with the major American wars and the role of the draft in each conflict. Why do they think Americans might be proud to serve? Why do they think some Americans might have resisted service? Do they think that the response might vary according to the particular war? Explain to students that in conflicts such as World War II, many Americans were eager to join the armed forces and serve their country. In more recent wars such as Vietnam, however, many civilians protested the war, identified themselves as Conscientious Objectors, or fled the country to avoid being drafted.
  8. Ask students to read the article about teenagers and their views on the military. Which of the teenagers’ views most closely resembles their own? Who do they identify with? Why? Ask the students if they have any family members who have enlisted in the armed forces or been drafted to serve in a war. Would they consider joining the armed forces when they were older? How would they feel if they were drafted to fight in the war on terrorism?
  9. Ask students to read the NewsHour Extra article: “Strained Resources in Iraq Lead to Fears of a Military Draft.” Ask students if they think that the current war in Iraq is supported by patriotism. Do they think that people are going to volunteer to enlist in the armed forces? Do they think that there are people protesting the war? How do they think the American people would respond to a draft?
  10. Explain to students that many foreign countries have required military service for all men and sometimes women over a certain age. Ask students why they think the United States doesn’t require military service. Have them look at the handout that lists countries with required military service and additional information about the military service laws in certain countries (Israel, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey). Students can also go to the CIA Factbook for statistical information on these countries.
  11. In his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1960, John F. Kennedy stated “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” Ask students what they think Kennedy meant by this statement. What are the various ways it could be interpreted? Might Kennedy have wanted mandatory military service? What are other ways someone could serve the nation or their community?

Class Activity

The main task for each student is to write an individual position paper and conduct a group debate over the issue of mandatory military service in the U.S. Break students into groups to examine this question; students can be divided along the lines of their own personal views, or they can be assigned a position. Students should use the information from the NewsHour Extra articles, as well as the handouts and information from the Web sites in order to write this paper and prepare for the debate. They should examine the historical need for military service, the use of conscription in the U.S., and they should consider the service requirements in foreign countries.

Students will conduct a debate in class over the issue “Should there be mandatory military service in the U.S.?” Students will use historical facts and opinion to frame their arguments. Each side will present its opinion, and then the students will be able to ask questions of the opposite side. Students can use a poster as well to express their main ideology. Students should take into account:

  • Is the military a necessity for protecting our freedom?
  • Does the U.S. have an obligation to set a standard for other countries to follow?
  • Should the U.S. be able to handle the war in Iraq without resorting to a draft?
  • How does the war in Iraq compare to previous wars, e.g., the Persian Gulf War, WWII and Vietnam?

After the debate, the students will come back together as a class to discuss the merits of both sides. Which side had more factual support? Which side had more conviction? Did they believe in one argument more than another? What do they think the U.S. government will do about military service in this war on terrorism?


Student understanding should be assessed through:

  • Contributions to class discussion
  • Creation of a timeline of conscription and the armed service branches
  • Ability to discuss and identify arguments in the NewsHour Extra articles
  • Position paper for or against military service
  • Ability to make persuasive and fact-based arguments in the debate

Extension Activities

Students can think of alternative ways that citizens can serve a nation during times of war, beyond typical military service. Students will work in groups to devise creative programs, and they should make posters with slogans and information to present to the class. Examples of alternative programs might include organizations such as AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, VISTA, and the American Red Cross. Students should be encouraged to think of new organizations that would provide services such as giving blood, aiding Afghan refugees, protecting Muslim students in the U.S., coordinating food donations, and founding cross-cultural organizations.

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
    • Understands the social and economic impact of the Revolutionary War (e.g., problems of financing the war, wartime inflation, hoarding and profiteering; personal impact and economic hardship on families involved in the war)
    • Understands how the Civil War influenced both military personnel and civilians (e.g., the treatment of African American soldiers in the Union Army and Confederacy, how the war changed gender roles and traditional attitudes toward women in the work force)
    • Understands how different groups of people shaped the Civil War (e.g., the motives and experiences of Confederate and white and African American Union soldiers, different perspectives on conscription, the effects of divided loyalties)
    • Understands how the Civil War influenced Northern and Southern society on the home front (e.g., the New York City draft riots of July 1863, the Union’s reasons for curbing civil liberties in wartime, Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the war)
    • Understands events on the U.S. home front during World War II (e.g., economic and military mobilization; the internment of Japanese Americans and the implications for civil liberties)
    • Understands the impact of the United States involvement in World War I (e.g., U.S. military and economic mobilizations for war and the role of labor, women, and African Americans in the war effort; World War I military engagements and the campaigns in which the American Expeditionary Force participated; the impact of the war on American troops; Wilson’s goals in recommending the establishment of a League of Nations)
    • Understands the events that influenced U.S. foreign policy from the Carter to the Bush administrations (e.g., Reagan’s efforts to reassert American military power and rebuild American prestige; crisis areas around the world and some of the major peace initiatives made during the Carter administration; geographic changes after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and communist states in eastern Europe; places in the Middle East, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia where U.S. advisers and military forces were involved during the Reagan and Bush years)
    • Understands the social issues that resulted from U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (e.g., the composition of American forces recruited in the war, why the Vietnam War contributed to a generational conflict and concomitant lack of respect for traditional authority figures)
    • Knows various means used to attain the ends of United States foreign policy (e.g., diplomacy; economic, military, and humanitarian aid; treaties; trade agreements; incentives; sanctions; military intervention; covert action)

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