Hugh Hewitt asked this question recently, as a by-product of a discussion that evolved during an appearance at Biola University. His point was that in 2028, for those running for public office, the answer to that question may prove pivotal to their chances of getting elected. That question splinters the conversation into a few directions…why serve?...will it make a difference in my future?...how will it separate me from my peers?...and to Hugh’s larger question…how will I be perceived if I do, or don’t, serve?
I’ll deal with the last question first.
Guy Sajer, in his excellent book, Forgotten Soldier... a recounting of a French citizen’s conscription into the German Wehmacht, because of his mother’s German heritage, interestingly opens with his observation…that upon his return to France after the war…he never met a man his age that had not served in the French Resistance. His inference was that this was a mathematical improbability, and that a large preponderance of the male population in France, were abject liars about their service to their country.
A credible recounting of the Resistance movement can be found in Raymond and Lucie Aubrac’s account…The French Resistance 1940-1944. This accounting will support Sajer’s inference that few actually served in the Resistance, thus many Frenchmen must have been lying about their participation in resisting the German occupation. Lies, that by their very nature, are intended to mislead the listener as to the bravery of the teller…his selflessness, his courage under fire, his audacity, his sense of purpose, his coolness under pressure, his service to his country or a higher good, his physical hardships endured, and the mental challenges that accompany the depravities of war. When combined, these lies are designed specifically to elevate the stature of the teller in the eyes of all.
B.G Burkett’s Stolen Valor will greatly reinforce Sajer’s simple observation, in regards to service exaggeration among our own Vietnam era veterans and, incredibly even, non-veterans. It seems that when faced with Hugh’s question…What did you do when America was attacked? Or …What did you do when your country asked for your service? Apparently there are significant numbers of people who do little or nothing, yet they feel compelled to behave as if they contributed in a meaningful way. Or more plainly put…lie about their service to this country.
I would set the standard in this way…if you will routinely visit a national cemetery. Always shake the hand, or stump, of an injured vet and thank them for their sacrifice when you seen one. And always firmly state your reason for not serving, while NEVER making an artificial excuse as to why you didn’t serve. And be able to NEVER say, imply, infer, that you did serve, when you didn’t…then not serving may be a good choice for you. For when asked, you will be able to give a credible, conscience backed answer that you can, and must, live with. Seems a lot of people can’t
Just be prepared to choke on your “justification” when you stand in the middle of the Gettysburg National Battlefield. Or visit Arlington National Cemetery. Or visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These sites and hundreds more across this land and across the globe, pay tribute to the solemnity of the sacrifices millions have made for our freedoms. Visit these sites and you will feel the gravity of that sacrifice. A sacrifice made so that a preponderance of our citizens can live free from fear and sacrifice.
Measure your choice against the enormity of that, then swallow hard.
As long as you don’t diminish the service of others; fabricate or exaggerate your contributions; and are comfortable with your decision, in light of those who have sacrificed so much; then not serving may indeed be an appropriate choice.
To repay this country for the freedoms it has afforded you, your ancestors, and your offspring. To share the in sacrifices that are required to keep this country free…sacrifices being made every day by others unknown to you and your family. To measure up to other men of your generation, and previous generations, who have endured hardship and sacrifice. To learn teamwork, leadership, courage, conviction, honor, camaraderie, brotherhood. To “set” your mettle early in life. To travel the world, and learn from direct experience. To do, rather than to watch.
Will it make a difference in my future?
If you think keeping a clear head in combat will help you keep a clear head in business. If you think that leadership is more valuable than management. If you think that learning to adapt, and to overcome challenges will help you in life. If you think that hard work and discipline will help in a competitive business environment. If you think that people respect selflessness more than selfishness. If you think that being responsible for others’ lives will help you be a better boss. If you think that learning to give and receive orders will help you be more successful at work. If you think that learning how to reward those who work for you for their efforts is a good thing. If you think that being a doer rather than a watcher will make a difference to an employer. If you think that respecting yourself and your accomplishments will make a difference in the rest of your life.
How will it separate me from my peers?
Your peers will have never endured the physical hardships that you will endure on a daily basis…you will be harder, and tougher. You will have seen many things first hand…the world itself; third world poverty, deprivation, and corruption; laziness and excuse making; heroic achievement and self sacrifice; excellent role models and moral examples; organization and efficiency…all things that your peers will only read about at college, or never experience at home…you will become a realist. You will come to recognize and admire qualities in other men/women that you had not previously understood. You will not be deterred by challenge. You will excel under pressure. You will become a judge of men and their character. You will immediately recognize bulls**t when you hear it…you will come to despise it. You will learn to tell the truth…always. You will have integrity and character…always. You will respect the accomplishments of quiet, modest men. You will become…indeed, an adult…many of your peers will never clear this hurdle.
I owe all of my successes to my time spent with my wonderful comrades in the Corps… ‘nuff said.
I spent a lot of time on the impostering aspect of this question for one simple reason…when having served seems to become admired and respected, and possibly a ticket to some future endeavor…the imposters will come out of the woodwork. So to those who choose not to serve…don’t dare claim that you have. Live with your decision, but always respect the sacrifices made by those that have. Don’t claim their golry for your own.