Thanks for Letting Me Choose

Thanking our veterans is more than a cliche or a perfunctory exercise in patriotism- it is sincere, and deserved

I have never served in the armed forces.  Frankly, I never wanted to- I didn’t grow up in a military family, and my interests and talents tilted in a different direction from a very early age.  I wanted to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a writer, or something academic or political; military service did not appeal to me.  Also, crucially, and never-to-be-taken-for-granted, I had a choice.  I did not have to serve.

That is precisely why I am so grateful for our veterans.  Because so many people volunteer, people like me can make a choice, and can choose not to serve if our interests and abilities lie elsewhere.  It hasn’t always been that way in America, and it isn’t that way in many other places in the world.  We have a choice, and we only have that choice because of our volunteers.

During the World Wars of the early to mid-twentieth century, military service was mandated for most able-bodied males.  My grandfather served, as did a great part of his generation.  They were never asked if they felt that military service would benefit their careers, or help them with college, or provide generous benefits.  They were simply told that they were needed, and off they went.

In my father’s generation, the Vietnam conflict-but-not-technically-a-War was much more contentious, and many people in America were against our involvement.  The politics were not as straightforward as in the European wars of a few decades before.  My own father- who shares a birthday with Bill Clinton- was only spared deployment because his “draft number” in the lottery was chosen quite low on the list.  Fate, luck, and family connections determined who was given a choice, and who was required to serve.

Today, our military is all-volunteer, and the prospect of a draft is virtually unthinkable.  I still have my selective service card- one is required for, among other things, student aid- but I keep it more as a memento than a “retrieve in case of emergency” item.

Part of the reason we have this choice is the evolution of warfare because of technology, but we still require trained, professional soldiers to fly our planes, man our bases, deploy our weapons, and maintain a vigilant defense.  Our limited successes in Iraq and Afghanistan were attributable to political missteps, not any failure on a part of our armed forces.  Our great victories, including the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, showcase how powerful and effective our armed forces really are.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, America is still the “force majeur” in the world.  We project our military strength throughout every part of the globe, which both keeps us safe, and deters others from military mischief.  We do this with an army made up entirely of volunteers.

Too often, the debate about cutting military spending is reduced to an attack on our troops.  As one of the frequent advocates for reducing military spending, I can tell you that reduction is completely misplaced.  I support our troops unconditionally, and when I talk about reducing military spending, I have in mind budget-busting armaments, not pay cuts for personnel.

I often hear that some people choose military service because there are no other good options for employment, or education, or advancement, particularly among the less-affluent.  While I am sure the incentives to service play a role in some soldiers’ decisions to enlist, I reject any inference that this makes their service somehow less admirable or less commendable.  My ethos does not require that the decision to join up be made out of patriotism or service alone.  It’s much more simple than that:

I don’t have to serve, because they do.

So, soldiers past and present, you’re going to hear this a lot today, but it’s important, and while I tend towards wordiness I want to tell it to you straight:

Thank You.


Published in: on November 11, 2013 at 11:36 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You might enjoy this poem about families and absence, “While He’s Away: A Poem About Being Gone.”

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