The Czar continues to hear back from Operative BJ, Retired Spook, and Island Dweller about national service. Come to think of it, the Czar seems to get a lot of letters from retired guys. The Czar is worried hes going to start receiving cut and paste animated GIFs of kids throwing footballs and cats falling down stairs like his father does. (By the way, happy birthday, dad!)
To catch up on this very lively debate, you can find links to all four prior discussion by clicking on this link.
Operative BJ writes a beautiful essay on the inspiring nature of patriotism. You can skim through a lot of letters, but this one deserves a careful reading. The Czar not only agrees with it, but appreciates the historical nature of it:
O Mighty Czar!
This worthless one has been reading the back-and-forth discussion regarding national service, and finds something missing: how, when coerced into service, do you inspire true patriotism? No, the “last refuge of a scoundrel” or “my country, right or wrong” stuff, but the “ask not” stuff. The stuff that inspires people into doing the right thing for the right reasons, putting their country ahead of themselves when it’s right and refusing to do things when they’re wrong.
Yes, I served for 10 years in the United States Navy and I am proud of many of the things I have done for my country. But the root cause of that service was coercive – conscription – and not voluntary. The result, as I mentioned earlier, is that I was pushed into sacrificing my chosen career because those in Washington felt that they knew what was best for me. Or, at least, they made the choice for me: I had no say in the matter. And I’m still upset about it to this very day – but not of what I did as a result. My pride in my service is stronger than that.
Those who volunteered and/or were drafted into WWI and WWII did it because they had a sense of duty to country. American interests were involved, not as much in WWI as they were in WWII. But the attack on the homeland in WWII inspired a desire for revenge (yes, that’s the word), and – as the Master Sergeant writes – the draft was used as a means toward an orderly induction process.
Today’s volunteer force is made up of men and women who have made their own choice to join the military and serve their country. Some may have expected glory, medals, gunfights (although not at the O.K. Corral), and a return to a thankful nation. Others may have volunteered to serve only to find out that their recruiter “lied to them” (one usually starts one’s military career, not by leading others, but by cleaning latrines). But they are volunteers. They were not forced into giving up their chosen career: they chose to serve in the military. They chose. And that’s the big difference.
Your Majesty, forgive me if I ramble a bit here. As I have said, I am proud of my service. But here’s the part I didn’t write, and it is important if for nothing else than its context in this discussion: it took me many years to be proud of it. The political environment in which I served – the early-mid 70’s and well into the ’80s – still inspired “spit on a soldier” protests more than arrivals home at the sound of applause. In such an environment, it’s hard to find the best of us who want to serve. Instead, you are left with those who are unable to find another occupation. Indeed, there’s more to a “hollow force” than limited numbers of servicemen (and women): one must consider the ability of those servicemen (and women) to perform the tasks at hand.
I remember seeing training manuals written as comic books, illustrated as if they were fantasies, because the only people who were enlisting had such a low reading and comprehension level that they had to be spoon-fed instructions on increasingly complex weapons systems. There was no inspiration to join the military because service to country was honorable, and the press did its utmost best to ridicule (for example) both the Grenada action and the servicemen who took part in the action.
A case was made for American involvement the first Gulf War: an invasion into a “friendly” country by an aggressor. A case was made for American involvement in the Balkans: a NATO effort that involved the US due solely to its membership in NATO. Then came yet another embarrassing loss in Mogadishu while on yet another “humanitarian” effort. None of these cases involved purely American interests: American interests were tangential to the purpose of our involvement. None of these cases inspired men and women to put aside their chosen life paths and devote themselves to military service.
Compounding this was the failure of William J. Clinton to use the “bully pulpit” to describe how the first World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of 3 American Embassies in Africa, or the attack on the USS Cole, were attacks on America. Not just American interests, but America itself. For, is not an American embassy considered American soil? But apparently these were “law enforcement” issues, not attacks on America, so the American people were not inspired to service. And the military continued to suffer low enlistment numbers and induct recruits with 6th grade reading and comprehension levels.
Then came September 11, 2001. An attack on American soil, this time on the homeland, called out for some kind of action. A country that had suffered so many overseas attacks for so many years, and had ignored those attacks at the behest of a previous administration, waited for a response from the current administration. But this time, instead of calling this a “law enforcement” issue, George W. Bush stood on a pile of rubble and used the “bully pulpit” to call for revenge. Enlistment rates exploded, and the military was able to pick from the best of Americans and no longer settle for the dregs. The new recruits wanted to serve. America once again looked to the military as their protectors: we realized we needed our “sheepdogs,” as Dave Grossman describes them in his essay (I strongly recommend it).
O Great Czar, compare two political environments and the administrations that presided during them. In the first, we have an attack on the homeland, multiple attacks on direct American interests (embassies, Kobar, USS Cole), and a President who treats them as “law enforcement” issues. Enlistments evaporate. In the second, we have an attack on the homeland and a President who calls for revenge. Enlistment rates skyrocket.
Patriotism. Not the “my country, even if it’s wrong” kind. Not the “last refuge of a scoundrel” kind. The “I won’t allow anyone to hurt my family, friends, neighbors, or anyone else in my country” kind. The “I will stand up for those who can’t” kind. The “greater love hath no man” kind. Make no mistake: that’s what’s driving today’s recruits.
No draft, coercion, conscription, or mandated national service can inspire that kind of dedication.
Americans respond to actual love of their country, not to some ethereal feel-good psychobabble about why America should lead “from behind,” or some “we need to be involved to be relevant” gobbledygook when the reasons for involvement are murky and cannot be clearly described. Americans want to be proud of their involvement in the world and they want to know that they’re doing “good work”, whether that work is flood/tsunami relief or protecting innocents from being slaughtered (but only when the end goal is clearly defined). And Americans understand, finally, that America has been under attack by a widely but disparately held ideology that wishes for its (America’s) being rendered powerless if not outright destroyed.
There are youth in today’s America who understand this. They love their country enough to enlist and serve. And they serve for years, sometimes in multiple deployments overseas, and sometimes coming home missing body parts. And even then, after missing arms and legs, they want to return to serve this country. Others see that dedication to this country and are inspired to find out why such dedication exists – and then they enlist themselves (I know 2 who told me that’s the reason they serve).
Nobody needs to draft today’s youth into service. They’re volunteering. And our military is the strongest it has ever been because of it. Any talk about a draft or mandatory national service is self-defeating: all we need to do is inspire our youth and they will come of their own accord. They’re doing it now. Military recruiting targets are being achieved and some are being exceeded. We’re getting good men and women who are willing to serve. And the country for the most part (and you know who you are… and aren’t) honors them and respects their service to America. (I wear a Navy Veteran hat, and I can’t count the number times someone reaches over, offers their hand in friendship, and says “Thank you for your service”. How different that is from ’74 and being spat upon.)
Now, if we could only get our politicians – and some Presidents – to understand that the military’s purpose is to defend America and its interests here and abroad… not just hold an umbrella in the rain. (The Marines were proud to do it, even though it was the gravest possible insult to them, their honor, and their service. No, I won’t forget nor will I forgive. They are my brothers, after all.)
This lowly one thanks you for allowing me to speak my piece… and leave in peace… but not in pieces.