I have always claimed that liberals would be less anti-military in their thinking if their sons and daughters served in the military. It is always easier to criticize something you have no investment. It is harder to be a critic when you have skin in the game. Liberals love the freedoms guaranteed to them in the Constitution, but they conveniently overlook the fact that Americans fought and died to establish those freedoms and many more have died preserving them. While serving in the Marine Corps during Viet Nam, I wondered about the irony of protesters exercising the freedom of speech won for them by soldiers in battle while self-righteously condemning and even spitting on the soldiers who fought in Viet Nam.
My response to the anti-war, anti-military protesters of the Viet Nam era was always the same: “Right now you have no credibility. Join the military and serve. Once you have done that, maybe we can have a legitimate conversation about your misgivings concerning the war and the military.” I am no fan of John Kerry and other anti-military types who served in Viet Nam. Further, I believe the group that called itself Viet Nam Veterans Against the War was mostly a sham organization that admitted people who never served in the military and veterans who never served in Viet Nam. However, with these disclaimers stated, I will say that military personnel who serve in combat and then become critics of the military have more credibility with me than those who refuse to serve.
My theory that liberals would re-think their anti-military leanings if their children ever served was borne out some years ago in a book and follow-on article written by novelist, Frank Shaeffer. Writing for The Washington Post, Shaeffer described himself as follows: “I live on the Volvo-driving, higher-education worshipping North Shore of Boston. I write novels for a living. I have never served in the military.” In other words, Frank Shaeffer was the typical Northeastern liberal. But things changed for Shaeffer when his son, John, surprised his family, neighbors, and elite private school peers by foregoing college and joining the United States Marine Corps.
Shaeffer described how this happened in these words: “…when the barrel-chested Marine recruiter showed up in dress blues and bedazzled my son John, I did not stand in the way. John was headstrong, and he seemed to understand these stern, clean men with straight backs and flawless uniforms. I did not.” Shaeffer’s other two children had gone to Georgetown and New York University. They fit the mold prescribed by the other liberal parents in Shaeffer’s Boston neighborhood who were all vying to get their children admitted to various Ivy League schools. Not even one of John’s friends from his elite private high school planned to join the military. Heaven forbid.
Shaeffer’s effete liberal neighbors were true to form in their reactions to John’s decision to enlist. One women asked Shaeffer, “Aren’t the Marines terribly Southern?” Another commented, “What a waste, he was such a good student.” One parent who was a professor at a well-known university recommended that John’s high school “carefully evaluate what went wrong.” The comment about the Marine Corps being “terribly Southern” can be chalked up to the blue-blooded snobbery long associated with Northeastern liberal elitism. Hence, it is not worthy of a response. But the other comments made by Shaeffer’s neighbors do require a response. It says much about the liberal mindset that they would consider serving in the military a “waste” of a good student. I wonder what occupation this individual thinks is more important than one devoted to protecting his safety, security, and freedom.
I was not in the meeting where these comments were made. Had I been, my response to this feather-brained liberal would have been simple: “If you think serving in the Marine Corps is a waste of a good student, when your family is attacked by terrorists call a Harvard-educated stock broker to save you.” As to the comment from the professor about “what went wrong” at John’s high school that would lead him to join the Marine Corps, I would have responded: “This is probably the first time anything at this school has gone right. If history and civics were properly taught here every graduate of this school would want to join the military. Why didn’t you serve? Do you think you and other Americans are entitled to enjoy the benefits of the sacrifices of others without contributing anything yourself? I’ll bet you don’t allow students to take your classes without first paying the tuition. Maybe it is time you and your fellow liberals started paying the tuition for the freedoms you enjoy.”
Liberals love to blather on about bringing the races together, but it’s just talk. The Northeastern liberals in Shaeffer’s exclusive Boston neighborhood can live their entire lives without ever coming in contact with a person of another race, except of course their domestic help and grounds keepers. The military, on the other hand, does very effectively what liberals only talk about: it brings people of all races together on a level playing field and gives them equal opportunities to serve, succeed, and excel; a fact that was borne out for Frank Shaeffer when his son graduated from Marine Corps boot camp.
Here is how Frank Shaeffer described that graduation ceremony, an event that turned out to be a life-altering experience for him: “When John graduated from three months of boot camp on Parris Island, 3,000 parents and friends were on the parade deck stands. We in the audience were white and Native American. We were Hispanic, Arab, and African American, and Asian. We were Southern whites from Nashville and skinheads from New Jersey, black kids from Cleveland wearing ghetto rags and white ex-cons with ham-hock forearms defaced by jailhouse tattoos. We would not have been mistaken for the educated and well-heeled parents gathered on the lawns of John’s private school a half-year before.”
The experience of having a son serve in the Marine Corps changed Frank Shaeffer’s outlook on the military. Here is how Shaeffer described his transformation: “My son has connected me to my country in a way that I was too selfish and insular to experience before. I feel closer to the waitress in our local diner than to some of my oldest friends. She has two sons in the Corps. They are facing the same dangers as my boy.” Shaeffer described with barely constrained emotion the special bond of kinship he now shared with other parents who have sons and daughters serving in the military. These are people he never would have even spoken to or had any kind of contact with had his son John not joined the Marine Corps.
Shaeffer closed his article for The Washington Post with a heart-felt statement that every anti-military liberal, including the one in the White House, should be required to read. He wrote: “I feel shame because it took my son’s joining the Marine Corps to make me take notice of who is defending me. As the storm clouds of war gather, at least I know that I can look the men and women in uniform in the eye. My son is one of them. He is the best I have to offer. He is my heart.”
Every time President Obama cuts the Defense budget or disrespectfully returns a snappy salute with a casual wave of a coffee cup, he insults not just every man and woman serving in the military as well as every veteran, he also insults military mothers and fathers who know what it means to worry every minute of every day while their children in uniform are in harm’s way. If liberals in Congress and the White House had to endure the gut-wrenching worry of military parents for just one week, their elite and condescending attitudes toward the military would change overnight. This is why I believe that service in the military should be a pre-requisite to service in Congress and the White House.