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Bush call for volunteerism: Will citizens take heed?

President goes on the road to sell new USA Freedom Corps program.

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The military is already mobilized. Now it is US civilians who are being called to arms.

President Bush's announcement of new government volunteer initiatives represents an unprecedented attempt to channel national emotions generated by Sept. 11 into productive community action.

That might be harder to do than it sounds. History shows that spikes of interest in volunteerism, such as occured following the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing, can be transitory.

But if there is a time when such a call can work, this might be it, say some experts. The attack on Pearl Harbor shocked a generation into a lifetime of civic involvement. Terrorist strikes on America could be this generaton's Pearl Harbor.

"In the aftermath of September's tragedy, a window of opportunity has opened for a sort of civic renewal that occurs only once or twice a century," says Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard University.

In his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush issued a call for civic involvement that was both general and specific.

As to the general, he asked all Americans to serve the nation for the equivalent of two years, or 4,000 hours, over their lifetime.

"In the sacrifice of soldiers, the fierce brotherhood of firefighters, and the bravery and generosity of ordinary citizens, we have glimpsed what a new culture of responsibility could look like," said Bush.

As to the specific, the president announced the creation of a new umbrella organization called the USA Freedom Corps.

Three sub-organizations under the Freedom Corps will address three different needs, according to Bush: homeland security, community rebuilding, and international aid.

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