You will remember "A Soldier in Pittsburgh" from his response to Michael Moore's open letter, posted here. Our friend has shared some thoughts on what was behind his decision to enter military service. In the light of recent criticism of recruiters as "duping" our youth into enlisting, this is an enlightening perspective.
Why I joined the Army
How I learned to relax and start loving the anti-war movement.
It’s a little confusing, joining the US Army. Nobody really understands how lengthy the process is. The pacifist movement portrays our all-volunteer force as a manipulative cult, with legions of zombie-like recruiters bent on selling a deadly career like particularly evil used-car salesmen.
Not so. From my first phone call to the National Guard to my ship date was a six month ordeal. There are endless hoops to jump through, and at any point either I or the Army could have said, “No, this ain’t for this kid.”
There’s a credit check. A police background check. A security interview. For the Officer Candidate side, there is an arduous application process, a test, a medical history. Failure at any of these points would mean failure and rejection on all of them.
So the Sunday after I signed my contract I watched with bemusement as an anti-war rally tried to shut down the recruitment center. The theme was “March of The Undead” and the rallying cry was the brains of the anti-war crowd were not for the “eating”. I suppose they are frightened of being impressed into service.
The fact that most of them looked like they couldn’t pass the drug test, the height/ weight standard, or the physical fitness tests didn’t seem to phase their desperate plea to stop the all-volunteer process.
They complain that the army is full of the poor, and that the children of the rich are not fighting this war. I suppose their standards of poverty are a bit better than, say, the ragged armies literally drafted from the ghettos and sent into the service of Marxist nations like the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and, (ah ha!) Iraq. These kids, despite their scruffy attire, certainly looked well-fed.
Besides, me, the volunteer, can’t complain that I’ve been disenfranchised. I’m white, college educated, mostly debt free, in good health, with my first marriage and a new baby. I have more invested in the welfare of this nation than some, it seems. I owe this country and its institutions a great deal of loyalty.
And I’m not some “right wing nutjob” either. Although I tend to lean right, my wife was on the state health insurance plan when my child was born. I took advantage of bankruptcy law when my debts became insupportable. I think the environment deserves a bit of protection, like Teddy Roosevelt did. I support desegregation, like Eisenhower did. I support a national health plan, like Nixon did. While our currently polarized climate provides a false “either / or” choice of who you want to be, I have found realities to be so subtle that it is entirely possible to suffer from an excess of clarity.
My father was stunned when I told him and is still opposed to my decision. He is vehemently against the war in Iraq because he says it has nothing to do with the War on Terror, and that if I die because of W’s decision to invade, he will not respect my choice and will speak out against the war, ala Ms. Sheehan.
I have yet to ask him if he would be okay if I were killed in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban. The Taliban really didn’t have much to do with 9/11 either, other than merely funding it and providing a safe haven for the planning. So it might be possible for some to decry the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that “vengeance solves nothing.”
Of course, my father and I disagree on many other things, and I suppose this is just one more. I don’t want him, however, taking Ms. Sheehan’s illusory soapbox and speaking for me. The real issue of my death would not be the war, it would be the fact that his oldest son died in a manner that he sees as avoidable. Hence I think it is important to write this essay before I go.
I support the war in Afghanistan. I also support the war in Iraq. I think it is important that democracy be given a chance to flourish and that the good, decent, God-fearing and peaceable Muslims, and there are many, be allowed to speak in freedom. I believe Saddam was a threat to the welfare of this nation and its citizens, and that our country is safer for having removed him.
More than that, I think the “contained” state we held Iraq in for 10 years is a crime. I think the anti-war crowd should have to answer for the devastating effect that the sanctions had, and our non-involvement in the Shiite uprising that created mass graves. Since when have Americans been so cowardly as to let a confirmed mass murderer hold 25 million people hostage? Why do we keep running away and letting Communists and other religious madmen slaughter those who depended on us? When we look around and can’t find any Muslim to condemn attacks on our people – that’s because the Muslims who would have been slaughtered or cowed by their fanatical countrymen!
It’s time for all the decent people of every faith to stand together, rather than let us be picked apart. And the war in Iraq is not a distraction in that effort. It is central.
The other main leftist objection is that the war is being poorly run. As a future soldier, even I can see that mistakes have been made, and some of those mistakes have cost American and Iraqi lives. That is the nature of war, and part of why an all-volunteer force is so necessary. Leaders make decisions, and sometimes they make the wrong ones, and that’s a risk we all accept as part of the job when we sign up.
But there are many positives to the way the war has been conducted. To do in three weeks what the entire nation of Iran couldn’t do in eight years is an impressive achievement no matter how you slice it. To orchestrate the post-war chaos to prevent mass starvation while protecting the country’s most vital industrial structures is a mammoth, historically noteworthy accomplishment.
The military has seized the offensive against terrorism, in inspiring and often bloody tactics that get results and stabilize city after city. The army of Iraq is starting to coalesce, cooperate, and even take the lead in operations. If you think building an acceptable national army is easy, maybe looking at the desertion rates for the first Continental Army might provide some perspective.
Construction projects abound. Watching them go up, thanks to the information age which bypasses much of the traditional media, is exciting and makes me want to help, to get involved, to assist my nation and the nation of Iraq.
More than that, the military has accomplished all this on a budget that represents one of the lowest percentages of the GDP of any nation in history.
So the Army is an inspiring, exciting opportunity for me, despite the danger.
I hope that this essay helps people see that nobody tricked me into anything. I know what I am doing and what I want.
So, how does a soldier like me feel about the anti-war movement? Obviously, I disagree with their stance. I wish they wouldn’t try to interfere with recruitment, at least physically. I appreciate their passion and their concern, but if their commitment leads to violent intervention with somebody else’s choice, then how the hell are they any better than any other fanatics?
But as long as they are free to march, as long as they are free to shout whatever they please, even when I intellectually dismiss such as inane rattlings from a failed idea – then I know that my military is doing the job assigned to it by the Constitution.
Sometimes the only way to do what you want is just to do it, and smile through the controversy.