Got yelled at by the CO for it...
He was a loser.
A Call To Arms
Those of us in The Club know that the intrinsic nobility of service to our country is its own reward. But before we get too high on ourselves, lets look at where we are and where we came from. The military of the past was intractably woven into the, now cliché, American Fabric. Wartime drafts assembled groups of Soldiers and Sailors from across the Nation into diverse units that helped in cultural growth, understanding, and deep citizen involvement in the military plight. A Jewish bookstore owner from the Bronx might find himself in a foxhole with a black teacher from Georgia and white cattleman from Texas; all fighting for each other and the flag.
12% of the total U.S. population took part In World War II; everyone had a neighbor, cousin, uncle, brother, or father directly involved. The Civil War era song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” remained popular in World War II because every township and borough had dozens of “Johnny’s” who they longed to proudly come marching home. Korea and Vietnam saw falling numbers of citizen involvement; Vietnam tapped just 2% of the total U.S. population. Legions of papers have been written as to why, but a needless refrain reminds us that the split between the military and the civilian population was afoot long before Jane Fonda betrayed our brave POWs.
Before the late forties, Hollywood was in love with the military; one might say was in bed with it. Try to name a movie from the thirties or forties that didn’t have a Soldier or Sailor in it as protagonists (like in Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain”) or as a subplot (see: Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”). Every movie, newsreel, even many big-screen cartoons featured our Nation’s heroic military in some big or small part; we were part of the constant conversation. Even, comically, if it was just drunk Sailor in whites walking across the background of a street scene in New York (now the Navy doesn’t even let her Sailors wear their working uniform in public). We used to be everywhere, and loved for it.
The actors of early 20th century Hollywood were directly vested in military service and support. Jimmy Stewart retired as Brigadier General James Stewart after 27 years of service to the Air Force (active then reserves). BGen Stewart flew 20 combat missions, had six battle stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, four air medals, and the Croix de Guerre with palm. Ernest Borgnine, Mel Brooks, Tony Curtis, and Don Rickles served. Audrey Hepburn was a courier for the résistance as a child in Holland. Henry Ford received a Bronze Star for Valor in the U.S. Navy. Hollywood loved and supported the military, the romantic attachment flickered on Technicolor screens around the country. People were regularly encouraged to buy bonds, sing along to patriotic War tunes, visit the local Red Cross to help, and mostly to simply stay in touch with (and admire) the 12% of the population protecting the other 88%.
But then we broke up. It started, arguably, with one our own. A 33 year-old USMC volunteer from World War II became a Senator in 1946. Joe McCarthy led a mundane senate life for three years and then blossomed into a legendary conspiracy theorist. You already now the dark pages in history from the late forties and fifties that gave us the term “McCarthyism.” McCarthy rose to fame by accusing everyone, with (ironically) Stalin-like zeal, of communism. Spies were to be found, he claimed, in President Truman’s administration, the State Department, the Army, and of course, Hollywood. The McCarthy hearings put Hollywood, the media, and a great deal of their easily-influenced audience on notice that they were not friends of DC and not trusted by the government (the inference from these claims were that the media, Hollywood, and some of the population were trusted, wanted, liked, or needed by their country); the love affair was over.
Flash forward twenty years. With the end of the draft after 1973, the all-volunteer force was born. The demographic diversity (cultural and economic) shoehorned into the system by nationwide draft initiatives faded into a small demographic of the willing. The foxhole population was transformed into professional Soldiers not an assortment of interrupted career paths thrown together to defend the Flag. We were now professional volunteers with, all things considered, shockingly similar values. Don’t take that too lightly. Not everyone wants to serve his or her country; not everyone can. But now, sans a draft, if you have little interest in serving or helping your government, there is a zero percent chance you will be asked to. No need to think about the flag, the Constitution, World politics, sacrifice, military valor, personal responsibility to the collective, or any of the other things that an all-volunteer military force already knows before taking that first oath at the in-processing center. We are now, more than any, a truly elite class of citizenry.
Less than one half of one percent of the U.S. population is participating in Iraq or Afghanistan. The media and Hollywood are not in our corner either. This year was the deadliest year in Afghanistan, but you wouldn’t know it from the news; you only hear about celebrity weddings and blond co-eds who have gotten in trouble on Spring Break. That’s where you come in.
America needs her heroes back. We must become part of the conversation by being in public about it. We must return to the pride of going to church and dinner in our dress uniforms. We need to get the service pride plates or bumper stickers on our cars. If our state has OIF/OEF license plates, and we’ve been, we need to get them. It’s not for us, we already know, it’s because we must be the catalyst for perhaps the only conversation a father will have with his daughter about the military. “Daddy, what’s that?” “Looks like Iraq plates…” “What’s that?” “It means that lady went to Iraq to fight so people around the World could enjoy the freedoms we have… wave to her…” or “Oh, that I think guy has a Purple Heart, it means he got wounded fighting so kids like you and your brother could be safe to go to school to be whatever they want to be…”
We have to be as proud of our service off base as we avow to be on base. We have to get out there and show people that we are not just among them, but that we are them. While picking up milk on the way home, you might be the only Sailor a kid from Arizona sees that year while. Take a second to answer his questions and plant the seed; not to recruit him, but to inspire him (to anything). If we don’t get out there, if we don’t don the plates and stickers, wear the squadron polos and pride T-shirts, if we think a policy hiding our NWUs from the public is healthy and creates a culture in our ranks of contagious pride, then only the tiny percentage of idiots (that every organization has) will show up in the media (see: drunk Sailor in whites in background) and we’ll be denying the hungry public the privilege and pride that comes form having the World’s finest all-volunteer fighting force. Or was....