In the Nov. 19 edition of The Maine Campus, Michael W. Gibson wrote a column on our military, urging people not to enlist. According to him, the military will brainwash you, telling you “when to eat, sleep and use the toilet.” Your personal liberties will be taken away.
Gibson disrespectfully ignores the fact that the military is the most diverse employer in the world. Veterinarians, computer experts, journalists, interpreters, lawyers, tailors, graphic designers, chefs, teachers, travel agents, insurance agents and thousands of other professionals come together as one. Undoubtedly these people are not brainwashed. Neither are the troops. They are making a conscious decision to serve their country in a manner that benefits us and them.
The G.I. Bill covers the cost of a college education and other benefits for soldiers, giving back to them after their times of service. It has been expanded to finance books and often assists with housing after the end of service. The military is a legitimate career option for many — from the rich and well-educated to the poor and under-educated. America takes care of its troops after their service.
Our motives in war aren’t always correct. Look at the reasons for our wars in Vietnam and Iraq — communism and weapons of mass destruction, respectively. They were not large risks in retrospect. We have paid and are paying those prices. According to PBS, “440,000 U.S. military personnel were killed in action in the wars of the twentieth century.” Two-thirds of those casualties came from the brutal World War II. It has been said approximately 160 million people were killed worldwide in 20th century conflict. Some say more, some say less.
War is terrible. There are terrifying physical, mental and emotional risks when it comes to serving. They can’t be overlooked. We do need to find other ways of solving our problems through negotiation. But some people can’t be civilly negotiated with. The bin Ladens and the Hitlers are too radical. Many world leaders will not submit to arbitration. The option of war sadly has to be there.
Gibson wrote that “one sure way to end wars is to stop supporting the system that allows them to continue. This means people have got to stop enlisting.”
All wars aren’t instigated by enlisting armies anymore. Terrorist groups, rogue militaries and political leaders have plunged countries into chaos for a long time. Without organized, strong militaries, groups like that will rise to greater power than they have already. If Americans stop enlisting in the service, will world problems vanish and the need for a strong military go away?
This is undoubtedly a boneheaded and overly idealistic thought. The world isn’t calming down. We are the richest and second-largest military on Earth. Our military and government will be influential to large world conflicts for the foreseeable future — whether we fight or not.
Right now, there are ongoing struggles in Yemen, Russia, Thailand, Colombia, Somalia, Pakistan, Mexico and of course Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. Gibson has a noble goal — the end of war. Most of us want that. But in order to have that, the world will have to agree.
Gibson said “the ultimate purpose of the military is to fight wars, not to promise you college money, job training or leadership roles.” To a point, that is true. But these benefits help people to make the choice to serve in a way that does benefit them. It is a gamble for those who decide to serve in any capacity, but one that has benefited millions of veterans. Hundreds of thousands have heartbreakingly perished.
But surely, Mr. Gibson, you wouldn’t suggest the return of the draft or the implementation of a system of conscription like in most of Africa and much of Asia. If people don’t enlist, that is what may need to happen.
Mr. Gibson, the need for our military won’t go away. World problems aren’t vanishing. Crippling our military is no way to achieve worldwide peace. Your oversimplified strategy of reducing enlisters will work in the exact opposite way of your peaceful intentions until every other country reduces as well.
Michael Shepherd is a columnist for The Maine Campus.