Someone asked, "What would you say to someone considering joining the military right now?"
Flip, I suppose. Terse, certainly. But that’s my recommendation nonetheless. Don’t.
It doesn’t need to be any more elaborate than that, if you understand what you’re asking.
It doesn’t require any more words than that, if you understand what you’re asking.
If you understand what you’re asking.
Simple as that.
But, of course, it’s not that simple.
And, of course, it didn’t end there.
How could it?
I mean, if you had to ask, well…
Those you who follow me on Twitter, you saw the responses.
Many seemed shocked, surprised, as if they expected a career veteran like me to have answered differently.
But why? They asked. Why would you tell people not to join the military? You did. You spent 20 years and more in the military, why would you, you of all people, tell others not to join up? Are you one of them? One of those disgruntled vets, all sour and angry and ashamed of your service?
No, I’m not one of them.
Not at all.
I’m proud of my service. I’m glad I served. Even when the war was unjust and ill-conceived and based on lies, my service, and that of those who served beside me and under my command, was honorable. I’m proud of my service and those I served with. I am neither bitter nor angry nor ashamed of it. Just the opposite and I’ve written enough about my career here that such should be obvious.
But this world, this America today, is not the same nation it was when I signed up.
I was no idealist. I joined up for a number of reasons, some good, some dumb, some I’ve told you about in other articles and some that are none of your business, but idealism wasn’t one of those reasons. I knew what I was getting into. I joined the military in the first years of the Reagan Administration. Back then, agree with the president or not, the Cold War was very real and you could at least see the very explicit threat America faced every day. We didn’t have to go looking for it. We didn’t have to provoke it with bombast and juvenile posturing on Social Media – even if such had existed back then. And while I wasn't so foolish as to believe everything the government told me, I believed that the majority of those in our government wanted to make the world a better place. Reagan, whatever his faults, whatever his ideology, was trying to make nuclear war less likely, not start one to prove his manhood.
I don’t idolize Ronald Reagan, far from it. And I am well, well aware of his myriad faults and I despise the path he set American politics on, the path that has led thirty years later to this very point. But I was willing to sign up and serve under his command because I believed he truly wanted to make the world a better place for all of us. Reagan tried to tear down walls, not build new ones.
I don’t expect you to agree with me about that. I expect you and I see that time differently. That’s okay.
But I think we can agree that the world, and America, was a very, very different place and Reagan aside, back before the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and hate TV and 9-11, I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place. We certainly didn’t agree on how, and maybe many of those Americans never thought beyond winning the Cold War, but in large part most of our country wanted to make the world a better place.
I could support that.
I could be part of that.
Even if I didn’t agree with the various administrations over the years, or the methodology, or how we were used, I could be part of that.
Fast forward to the present:
Joining the military is (so far) still a personal decision.
If you're considering it, then you should understand in detail what that decision implies.
You're going to swear a binding oath to obey the orders of the President. This President. If you don’t understand what that means now, well, you could find yourself later in the same jail cell Chelsea Manning just vacated.
You need to understand that oath and what it means before you sign up.
Oh sure, the orders must be lawful.
But you’re going to find out, sooner or later, that there is a hell of a lot of wiggle room in lawful. Using that above example: nothing that Manning disclosed, not one of the things she couldn’t live with, none of them were unlawful. Immoral maybe. Unethical. Horrible. But not unlawful.
And here's the real rub: what is and is not lawful, well, that’s decided by Congress and the President.
You? Once you swear that oath, you don't get to decide what is and is not lawful, but you will be held responsible for it anyway -- and they will not.
So, before you hold up your right hand and swear your oath, you need to think about what that could mean for you personally.
Particularly under this Congress and this president.
And you need to think about it in detail. Hard. All the way through. And if you can't live with what it very well might come to, if you can’t see what it might very well come to, then don't swear that oath.
Because once you do, you're part of it.
All the way.
Once you swear that oath, you're part of this administration. Part of its agenda. And you’ll be held responsible, at least in part, by history for it. If you sign up during this administration, you're saying you're good with all of that – or if not good per se, then at least you can live with it. Whatever it might come to. You won't have an excuse. You volunteered. You're in, all the way, whatever might come, to the bitter end.
And you damned well better understand that in your bones.
Me? I spent more than 20 years in the military. I served under Republicans and Democrats with equal fidelity. I had to do some pretty shitty things in some pretty awful places. I don't regret that, because I made my peace with it before I swore my oath the first time and again when I became a Chief and then an Officer and was put into a position were I would surely have to order others to do terrible things in the name of my country.
I can live with it.
I can live with it, even if I didn't agree with the government, or the president of the moment, or the war. I did my duty because I believed we were right. Because I believed we weren't sacrificing our lives for nothing. Because I believed the majority of Americans wanted to make the world a better place.
I no longer believe this to be true of America.
You see, my word, once given is good. No exceptions.
So I don't give it lightly. And as such, I could not in good conscience swear to obey the orders of this President, even lawful ones – not when he is enabled, encouraged, and unchecked by this Congress and an America who put these rotten faithless sons of bitches in power. I could not in good conscience follow the orders of this feckless fool of a President unrestrained by this small-minded hateful Congress. I do not believe they want to make the world a better place for anyone but themselves.
I do not trust these people not to waste lives, mine, yours, the lives of my troops, the lives of our children, or the lives of those caught in the middle.
In point of fact, many in this government have made it abundantly clear that they regard the lives of those they deem unAmerican to be unworthy of any further consideration. This is not acceptable to me. I would not pledge my life to those who see me as expendable to further their own selfish ends.
Yes, but what about the Coast Guard, someone asked. What about the National Guard, asked several others.
Those services most especially.
Why? Well, see, the Coast Guard is a military service under the cognizance of the Department of Homeland Security.
Think about that.
Think about why it is that way.
You want to think carefully about what that implies nowadays in the context of, oh say immigration, or drug enforcement, or national security, and how those things have grossly distorted the Coast Guard's traditional mission in this paranoid, nationalist, post-911 America. And then you want to remember that the Coast Guard is specifically not under the Department of Defense because it is, primarily, a law enforcement agency who unlike the rest of the military, can enforce the government's will directly on Americans without regard to the Posse Comitatus Act or other niceties.
The same is true of the National Guard when under the command of State Governors, and I wouldn't trust those fascist bastards not to abuse that power nor this federal government to hold them in check.
Nor would I want to be the instrument of it.
How likely do I think that danger is?
I don’t know. And that’s the problem.
So, if you're thinking of joining, think on that very carefully.
Remember, you asked me what I would do.
Back in the early part of the last century, there were those Germans who signed up. They weren’t Nazis. They weren’t terrible people. They were serving their country long before the fascists came along. They were decent people who hailed from a tradition of service in a nation that valued their sacrifice. They were professionals. And when Hitler came to power, well, at first they were glad to see their military restored to priority in that society.
But when it all went to hell, when the horror became apparent, it was too late. They were part of it then. All the way. To the bitter end.
Those men, they didn’t know, not at first, not like those who joined up after the truth was obvious, but in the end they had become monsters just the same.
In this world?
In this America?
I would not join up, because I know in detail what that oath means.
The oath is power. Service is power. Not for you, but for those who command it.
And I know that the restraints and the reason that were once placed on that power no longer exist in America.
I won’t be a part of that. And I am not willing to risk becoming a monster even by accident.
Well, that's your decision.
And you’ll have to make it.
But if you’re asking for advice, then my answer is this: Don't.
If you don't like my advice, then you shouldn't have asked for it.
Then again, if you’re asking, you really don’t understand the question.
And you really, really should.