Saturday, November 11, 2006

Why I Never Served

When I was a senior in high school, an Army Reserve recruiter came to speak with me. I had accepted his invitation because, frankly, basic training sounded like a good summer job where I could make solid money and learn something new. But ultimately I said no, deciding the regular commitments to attend training would be too burdensome while I attended college.

That was that. I would never serve. And it didn’t bother me in the least. After all, I only knew one person among all my peers who was going into the military, and he was going to the Air Force Academy. Military service just wasn’t something our parents or teachers or even society held to be of significant value—certainly not as valuable as going to college.

This was, I should point out, 1993. While I was in high school, we’d won the Cold War and proved our phenomenal superiority in the Gulf War. The military really didn’t seem to need us. So great swaths of us chose service to our own futures over service to our country.

But there was more to it I think. Those of us born in the 1970s are the children of men and women for whom the Vietnam War was a formative event in their lives. We grew up under the general understanding that military service is not rewarding—that those in power waste lives and that those at home are ungrateful.

Fortunately such attitudes tempered and by the Gulf War soldiers were once again coming home to cheering masses. But being born in the shadow of Vietnam certainly affected my generation’s desire to serve. It wasn’t something I actively thought about when I turned down the Army, but I do wonder how much my unrecognized but still deep-seated attitudes towards war and the military shaded my decision.

Sometimes I worry that not serving has left a void in my life. I wonder if I’ve shirked my duty as an American. And I question what the long term consequence to our nation will be now that so many of us have never served. Our military is more engaged and more essential to preserving our freedom now than it was when so many of us came of age in the ‘90s. And yet, in ten or twenty years when the children of the 70s ascend to the top leadership positions in government, will too many of us know too little about our military?

I’d like to believe we’ve all managed to find other ways to serve. Service to our communities, service to our churches and service to our families must count for something. Perhaps not knowing the military is not so important so long as we still know what it means to serve, to give of yourself. The military is an honorable way to serve. But there are many paths to achieving a strong character. Hopefully my generation will prove that.

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2 Comments:

Blogger amba said...

An argument for universal national service (taking several different forms)?

7:34 PM  
Blogger cakreiz said...

I volunteer in 1971; served for 3 years as an enlisted man in Army intelligence. On election day of 1972, I was at Travis AFB, 6 hrs away from a plane flight to Saigon. My orders were cancelled (through the efforts of Kissinger and Nixon). The rest of my service was uneventful. Always glad I did it.

7:58 PM  

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