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On joining the military

A friend of mine recently signed up for the Special Forces, and he sent along some thoughts on why he did it. Suffice to say it's not exactly the normal reason. I'm reprinting it below with permission.

"I was finally feeling cracks begin to form in my skull from the benign day-to-day life of this place. While fun, the school work wasn't exactly challenging me. I had been working two jobs since I came up to [REDACTED], leaving very little time to actually have an "American College experience" (not that I can say I would have enjoyed such a lifestyle any more or less). I came up here thinking I'd find something different. I assumed that, through school, I could find something to eventually do with myself. Instead, I found a city full of people happily headed down a path of materialism and overconsumption. Even in my "environmental science" classes, I found a generation of people who babble about how important recycling is to our survival before driving their range rovers back to [REDACTED] for the night. Most of the people I have met here are quite content to get a degree, mortgage a house, get a job to pay the mortgage, buy a car to get to their jobs, and buy a bunch of shit to fill their newly-mortgaged house. When I ask people what they want to "Do," I usually receive a response about salary and lifestyle rather than aspirations. For instance, my roommates (who I consider friends), worry about what size their flat-screen TV's are, what kind of Audi they drive, how green their lawn is, what bar they'll hit up that night, etc. I ask them again what they want to "DO," and they look at me like I'm deranged before saying, "I just told you" (meaning the TV, car, etc.).

"Being surrounded almost entirely by this kind of lifestyle/culture/whatever-the-fuck-it-is for 3 years now, I have become terrified of ending up living out such a life. And their aren't many other options in this society. Everything seems to steer you down that same path. Every little rebellion against this status quo, no matter how slight, seems to be emotionally taxing. And because I don't share the ideals of most of the people around me, I am essentially living at odds with most of the people around me. I have to bite my tongue so often I've thought of just cutting it out for efficiency's sake. The banality that our society seems to strive for is overwhelming in it's totality. Everywhere, all the time, the people here seem content to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Sure they have a job, a car and a 56" flat-screen with 400 channels. But they don't seem to actually DO anything. Further, the more I live here, surrounded by this, the more I seem tempted to just give in a follow them down their easy road of suburban decay. So I decided to leave.

"The Army, for all it's structure and gung-ho nonsense, is a perfect place for me to get away from the society that I simply wasn't built for. In the military, at the very least, I will know my actions will have consequence, for better or worse. No more worrying about paying rent or missing the bus or my roommates having panic-attacks because our lawn isn't green enough. Instead I can worry about things that ACTUALLY MATTER, if only for a moment at a time. I don't agree with the foreign policy that drives our military, but I'm ok with that. Regardless of whether an armed conflict is a force for good or not, it is A FORCE. War is what shapes history and promotes progress, in a very precipitous and drastic way. I don't really care what the "mission" of the Army is, I'm just along for the ride; to witness history being made first-hand. I don't like the idea of fighting for "American society," which, for the reasons I've listed above, I don't really fit into. But this is a chance to experience life in its most distilled and elemental form. Reading about your experiences in the PC, I have felt a distinct envy for you and your life away from here, away from all this shit."

I've got some more thoughts brewing on that, but I'll let it sit for the time being. Any thoughts from the audience?


  1. I'm not sure how far off this guy's (sexist assumption?) reasons are from "normal" reasons. Sure, you can find a lot of less verbally expressive people joining the military, but most folks that I know who've joined have seemed less concerned with any given or overall mission than with living a more extraordinary or purposeful life, or getting out of the normal icky mindset of whatever your social class back home is/was. I mean, you sure aren't going to find a lot of new military folks (or old ones, for that matters) with informed, positive opinions about the U.S. overseas force mission overall...are you? I haven't seen it. Similar thoughts crossed my mind as well in the contest of the tenure track. (liz)

  2. Not sexist, I did say "he" at the beginning :)

    I was thinking more along the lines of normal like what is acceptable in political conversations, which usually revolves around patriotism, duty, honor, etc. Perhaps you're right that those things are not as common as generally portrayed, but I think it's fair to say that the military is drastically more conservative than the US average and therefore much more likely to believe in the military as a force for good, preemptive wars, etc.

  3. As someone living on the easy road of suburban decay, I found his words comforting. I often feel trapped in this culture and long for something different.

    It looks like your friend found a good escape for himself, though. Perhaps if I had the belief that I could make a difference in this world (civilian or otherwise) I would follow in his footsteps.

  4. Well, it's not so cut-and-dried as all could join the Peace Corps instead ;)

  5. Tim brought up what he (and I agree) thinks is the #1 causes (rather than reason) for joining--extreme poverty and lack of employment options. After that, I think it's a media portrayal rather than a fact that the people who join up (and I'm saying generally--no idea about your friend's exact line of service) are more patriotic. In our generation(s) (eish, I forget how dense the post-9/11 crowd can be though...) even conservatives are loathe to say politics and politicans are awesome, well-meaning, moral people, even their media obviously portrays American interventions as such. The people I know who've signed up had nothing to say about US interventions abroad (what COULD they say??) and a lot more to say about the lack of options for making a difference or being an authentic person by just going to college, just getting a job, picket fence, etc. It's like PC right? We surely can't say PCVs are more intelligent, critical, or better informed than those that opt for force, can we? That we are all "pro-America" in some substantial way? Of course, there are 18 y/o's who think "go USA" but I would say most join for far more individual reasons which are generally about surveying the options available to them at that time and opting for something "different." Of course being "different" in US overseas missions is another story entirely :P
    There must be some data on this somewhere, that is not put out by a patriotic organization... (L)

  6. You might be largely correct about reasons for joining up in the first place, but I think it's important to note that the military is a lot more conservative than the population at large. A 2008 Military Times survey said that only 1 in 4 voted for Obama and "In keeping with previous surveys, nearly half of the respondents described their political views as conservative or very conservative. Slightly more than half said they consider themselves Republicans, 22 percent independents and 13 percent Democrats." Some estimates put the officer corps at ~90% Republican.

    The people you know who signed up might be more neutral, but my friend here is about the only one from my area from my area that isn't a gung-ho Republican.

  7. So now I wonder why you equate voting Republican and/or NOT for Obama with unconditionally supporting US interventions abroad and not critically reflecting on life choices? And on the flipside, do you assume that some substantial portion of Obama supporters and/or Democrats have some rational, well-informed, critical perspective about these things? I don't know about the first question, but I am very cynical about the second from my experience. People just talk the talk of those around them, however it is they talk, as the second post reflects. In terms of your data, the people I happen to know may fit into the category of non-Obama voters and/or Republicans. That doesn't mean they don't have unique, individualistic reasons and major cynicism toward the U.S. gov (Republicans are cynical toward politicians and the government sometimes, especially in the over 25-crowd). So then is the assumption that Republicans and/or "conservatives" are dense and without reflective reasoning? Logic can be used by anyone, it isn't partisan regardless of Fox News, etc.

  8. I didn't say anything about critically reflecting on life choices. I haven't seen many polls on that. I don't know how well-informed or rational Obama supporters are. The reason I equate voting Republican with being more likely to unconditionally support US intervention is that Republicans are far more likely to unconditionally support US intervention. Ninety percent supported the Iraq invasion.

    People joining the military surely have their own personal reasons, and some are surely critical of the government. I know they hated Rumsfeld for using them like toys a rich kid got for Christmas. I'm not saying service members are dense or incapable of coherent thought. I'm saying the military is rather conservative and thus tends to support more aggressive foreign policy like the kind implemented by Reagan and Bush II, so my friend's reasons are somewhat outside the norm in that he actively disagrees with what's being done.

  9. I see...and to be fair, I was playing a little devil's advocate. I guess I wasn't sure what part of your friends' sentiments you viewed as unique. And also saw a parallel between the "alienation" you describe and how a lot of conservatives and/or Repubs feel about the whole Yuppy well-educated lifestyle liberal Dems on the other hand tend to be enthusiastically lapping up (of course this all varies region by region...). So I would agree it is unique to disagree with the policy while signing up. What about those who are already in the system? I have a buddy who's basically in the frontline in Afghanistan, and I can tell you, he doesn't think the US is doing anything right now from his position! Something tells me that there is a lot of interesting independent research that could be done in this area.

  10. No doubt. I've spent a lot of time digging for some of those data and it's pretty thin on the ground to say the least. Anything people could find would be more than welcome.


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