I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1971, a time when many of my peers were protesting the war in Viet Nam and doing everything they could to avoid military service. There was still mandatory conscription in those days. Consequently, dodging the draft became an art form. A lot of young men simply burned their draft cards and openly defied the Selective Service System, willing to risk a jail sentence rather than serve in the military. Although I disagreed with their choice, at least this groups was willing to take the consequences of their actions. Those less principled of my peers snuck across the border to Canada where Canadian officials conveniently looked the other way and eventually welcomed American draft dodgers with open arms. I did not accept then nor do I accept now those who chose this option. Many of my peers who opted for Canadian refuge stayed there until Jimmy Carter pardoned them before leaving office as a defeated and failed president, just one more of his ill-informed, misguided decisions as chief executive.
Jimmy Carter’s naïve benevolence notwithstanding, I have never been able to bring myself to “pardon” the draft dodgers of my generation in my heart. I always felt like the majority of those who protested so vocally against the Viet Nam War—supposedly out of a philosophical disdain for war in general—were really driven by a more practical motivation: they did not want to serve in the military and risk deployment to Viet Nam. My suspicions along these lines were borne out when President Nixon eliminated the draft and established the all-volunteer military. As soon as college students learned they would not be drafted, their protests against the war in Viet Nam dried up almost overnight. As things turned out, the draft dodgers of my generation were not really all that opposed to war, they just wanted someone else to do the fighting.
I provide this background to establish the fact that I have always viewed military service as a worthy and honorable undertaking. Further, I have always recommended it to young men—especially those not yet set on a different career path. Military service allows young men to give back to our country, broaden their horizons, develop a better understanding of the cost of freedom, and learn how to interact with people of different races, backgrounds, and cultures. It also helps young men mature, gives them responsibility, and teaches them to function as part of a team. With this background established, I have a frank admission to make: I would not serve in the military today, nor do I any longer recommend it as viable option for the young men who seek my counsel.
The years when I served in the military were among the worst in the history of our country. Military service was anathema to the general population, the Viet Nam war was the most unpopular armed conflict in the history of our country, drug-use was rampant in the ranks, insubordination was common, and less-than-honorable discharges were being handed out in record numbers. Category Four inductees were common, meaning the ranks were filled with people who otherwise would have been in jail or should have been studying for their GED test. I served my entire tour in the military with a number of young men who had been given the choice by a judge of going to jail or joining the Marine Corps. These Category Four enlistees did not leave their problematic ways behind when they joined the service.
My point is that as bad as things were during my time in the military, they were better back then than they are now. Why? Several reasons come immediately to mind: 1) Men and women during my era still had unimpeded religious freedom; 2) Military personnel of my era were not forced to accept—upon threat of punishment—open homosexuality regardless of their personal values or religious beliefs; 3) Military leaders of my era did not meekly give in to politicians who pressured them to toe the line of political-correctness on such issues as women in combat; and 4) The presidents of my era—Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford—as well as many members of Congress had served in the military and, as a result, had a level of respect for the military that is missing in President Obama and Congress today.
I have counseled hundreds of young men to join the various branches of the military, helped dozens secure ROTC slots at various colleges and universities, and assisted several in gaining military academy slots. However, I have begun to question the advisability of providing this kind of assistance. How can I in good conscience recommend that young men pursue a military career or even enlist in the military when I would no longer do so myself? How can I look a young man in the eye and recommend that he knowingly and willingly put his life on the line in an era when he will be expected to regularly violate his most deeply-held religious and personal beliefs? How can I ask a young man to follow the orders of politically correct officers who are more concerned about protecting their career than their men? How can I recommend that a young man put his life in the hands of a president and a Congress that do not respect him or the military? The answer to all of these questions is one I never thought I would utter: I can’t.