Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Military and Me

[posted by Callimachus]

I've addressed the "chickenhawk meme" here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Not that I expected that to make the slightest bit of difference. It will continue to be the default position of the Glenn Greenwalds of the world. It has become a standard feature in mainstream discourse, used by people who I know would do better if they thought about it.

It came up, again, recently here.

Now I utterly reject this silly idea, and refuse to participate in it. On the other hand, I do think a man's history is relevant to his opinions, to weighing and judging them. Which is why I write more about the media than I do about the president. I'm in the media: I can write about it with some authority. I've never been president. My opinion about how to be a president is worth about as much as a check I'd write for a million dollars.

Also, having pitched my career in the shade of the First Amendment, I'm a full-disclosure person by nature and by experience. Which is why it's such a pain in the neck for me to have to pretend to keep a secret identity here. I would love to tell you about my personal experience with the U.S. military. And now that, for the moment, no one is browbeating me with the chickenhawk meme, I will.

I have none. That's the short answer. My family, insofar as it has been rooted in and around Philadelphia, is peppered with Navy men. They served in both world wars (one piloted an LST at D-Day), and those who didn't often did a stint on the docks or in the shipyards. I always was fascinated by ships and the sea. At one time I could tell you all the U.S. battleships and aircraft carriers in history by their BB and CV numbers and classes.

In high school I planned to apply for a Naval Academy scholarship, but my grades weren't good enough. After high school, when I was fetching around for something to do, I considered enlisting. But this was the late 1970s. We all knew what World War III was going to be: Mass nuclear annihilation of 100 million people in about 20 minutes. It seemed to make little difference, in terms of patriotism or commitment, whether you awaited it on the deck of a warship or on a beach chair on your apartment balcony.

Then Carter revived the selective service enrollment, which had the predictable time-honored effect of all drafts of discouraging volunteerism. I dutifully trooped down to the post office, filled out my form, and figured, "if they need me, they'll call."

Eventually, I did go to college. I didn't think about it again until 9/11. I was past 40 then, but I thought the Reserves could use me. I contacted my local Army Reserve unit (1185th Transportation Terminal Brigade), but was told my scoliosis and resulting back problems made it unlikely I would be considered for their work, which is highly physical. I have had to content myself with supporting military volunteers from the sidelines, with donations to groups like Soldiers Angels and Spirit of America, as well as personal efforts in my community that I don't really care to get into here.

So that's it. I'm sorry to say, I never served.

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