The sense that “we’re all in this together” is missing from our exhausted military. When my son John graduated from boot camp on Parris Island, 3,000 parents were on the parade deck stands cheering. We did not represent a diversity of economic classes. My son was an exception: He’d gone to a swanky Boston private high school, we’re well off and liberal, and we weren’t a military family.
For many service members, the truth is that while everyone is ready to 'thank them,' few are ready to join them.
We are now. Through the many e-mail responses to books I wrote about my experience of becoming a military parent and how unexpectedly proud I became of my son’s choice, I discovered that many of us in the military family feel alienated from society. I did. I didn’t know anyone in my Volvo-driving, higher-education-worshiping neighborhood with a kid serving. I couldn’t help noticing a “we” against “them” edge to a lot of the e-mails I got, like, “My son is getting shot at while everyone else goes shopping.”
With the end of conscription, service ceased to be something ordinary. It became a “choice” for needy members of the aggressively recruited lower middle class and a generational “duty” for the legacy recruits from upper-middle-class military families. In this environment, it is inevitable that military families will ask: Why should I, or my child, die for rich people who never served and won’t send their children to serve?
There is a symbiotic relationship between the “leave it to us professionals” attitude expressed by our military leaders — who now command what amounts to a mercenary force wrapped in the flag, when compared with the citizen army our founders envisioned — and the “not with my child” selfishness of our upper classes.
For many service members, the truth is that while everyone is ready to “thank them,” few are ready to join them. It’s hard to fight for your country year after year (or watch your child do so) then recover from physical and psychological wounds when, let’s be frank — our nation doesn’t share the sacrifice.
Lurking in many military people’s minds is the question: “Was I a sucker for joining?” Most are proud of their service and should be. But their multitude of physical, family, mental and economic sacrifices might be easier to bear if the pool of recruits were truly diverse and everyone had “skin in the game,” including our political and corporate leaders.