For the rather large number of folks surfing in from the Whatever this morning, Greetings. Feel free to wander around.
As seems to be a continuing tradition here at Stonekettle Station, in today's post I want to expand on something I said elsewhere. In this case in the comments section of this post on the Whatever, and to a certain extent on yesterday's post here on Stonekettle Station.
In the Whatever post, one of the commenters pushed a particular button for me. I won't repost the comment here, because I don't have permission to so, but I'll summarize. The commenter basically said that those who serve in the US Armed forces are volunteers, i.e. they had a choice. However, he seems to feel that for many, it really wasn't much of a choice at all. He implies that many US Service men and women joined because they really had no other good options, i.e. they're poor and jobless and the military offered a way out of poverty. He goes on to say that he originally had "very little sympathy for Americans in Iraq" because they choose to be there. Eventually he changed his mind and came to the conclusion that even though they did volunteer, it was because of the reasons stated above and now they are "hemmed in" by the circumstances that existed in their own lives when they made the decision to enlist.
I have long held the opinion that the military is the last acceptable stereotype in American Society. Make a movie, write a book, or speak publicly using racial, religious, or scientific stereotypes and somebody will call you on it. We've gone to great length in recent decades to rid ourselves of stereotyping. I'm not saying that it doesn't exist and that people don't get away with it, but sooner or later somebody will call you on it.
Except when it comes to the military.
Television, movies, books, and media commonly portray the members of the military as poor, disadvantaged, uneducated and unimaginative dolts who scream "Yes sir" or Yes ma'am!" at the top of their lungs in a predictably robotic fashion and march around with a ramrod up their collective asses. NCO's are uniformly sadistic bastards with a venereal disease, junior officers are unthinking naive idiots, and senior officers all have a secret agenda and strange sexual fetishes. Oh, and we all know about the UFO's and alien bodies stored in Area 51.
Nobody ever gets called on it. Movie critics who wax self righteously rabid over the stereotyped portrayal of woman, ethnic minorities, and religion in popular media, are strangely silent when military members are portrayed as shave-headed thugs bent on some secret plan to overthrow the democracy or steal gold from some foreign land or are repeatedly portrayed as just plain stupid. And the biggest stereotype is the one implied by the commenter on the Whatever - i.e. those of us who choose to spend our lives in the military do so because we are the poor, uneducated, foolish dregs of society who only have the option of joining up or going to prison. I've run into this stereotype on countless occasions, in countless places, both online and off.
Thirty years of collective guilt regarding the treatment of veterans following Vietnam has changed how we treat military folks today. People, in large part, seem to be able to differentiate between the individual soldiers and the government who sent them to war under false pretenses. And while there seems to be a fairly wide show of support, or at least a measure of sympathy for those serving under arms in the US Military, it seems to me to be based more on pity than an actual sympathy. A rather significant number of Americans seem to feel similar to the commenter on the Whatever, i.e. those who are caught up in this war were simply too poor and stupid to get out of it. They fight because they have no other option.
This is a form of contemptuous arrogance that I find irritating, demeaning, and patronizing in the extreme.
It is true that I was firmly at the bottom end of the lower middle class when I joined the Navy. I wouldn't say was I poor exactly, at least not in the sense of abject poverty, but I lived from paycheck to paycheck. But that's not why I joined the military. I didn't have to, I had other options, I could have stayed in Grand Rapids, Michigan and gone to work in a factory (and I did for a time). I could have spent the next 40 years in some union job, making furniture or car parts. But it became obvious to me fairly quickly that the horizons of Michigan were just too damned close. I joined the Navy because I wanted adventure, because I wanted to see the world, because I wanted to surround myself with others who thought the way I did, because I wanted to see what I was made out of and be tested, I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. The Navy made it damned clear right from the very first day in the recruiter station that they'd take care of me, that they'd give me an education, and adventure, and useful skills, and that I'd see the world and maybe even meet exotic hookers in strange and distant lands - but that I should consider those things an advance on a loan that might or might not come due one day.
We all join the military for one reason or another, and yes sometimes that reason is to get out of poverty. BUT, we stay in the military for one reason and one reason only, because we find a home there. For some of us, it gets into our blood. Far from restricting my freedom, the Navy gave me a life and pushed me to accomplish things that I never would have otherwise. I saw things and did things and went places that I myself can hardly believe. The Navy was my home for over two decades and I stayed because I loved it.
And the same was true of the vast majority of my shipmates. And here's the funny thing about those people: some were from poor families true, but many were from middle class backgrounds, and a few were even rich. A few were somewhat less that agile minded, but the vast majority were highly educated, intelligent, innovative, motivated folks who truly loved what they were doing. A finer bunch of people I have never known.
It always amazes me that Americans seem to think their military is manned by poor, uneducated, unimaginative robots and yet they trust billion dollar, highly complex machines and the safety of the nation to such as us. Like all false perceptions, when held up to the light of day even the most entrenched stereotype really doesn't hold water.
When the bill came due, and they sent us to war, we went because we had given our word. We went for the same reason a fireman rushes into a falling skyscraper. Not because we were stupid and ignorant and poor, but because it was our duty and our obligation to do so. We went fully knowing what the cost could be. Of course we knew, it's our job to know. We went because we are professionals. We went because that is who we are.
It's not about poverty and lack of options. It's about honor, duty, commitment, and keeping your word. It's about service above self. It's about standing up for something you believe in - not the conflict, but the ideal of Service. Unfortunately, that kind of idealism seems to be an alien concept to many Americans these days, and if you don't get what I'm saying - you never will.