A few week’s back on Carrying the Gun, Michael C rebutted the idea that, if women join the infantry, it somehow prevents young soldiers from validating themselves as men. He responded to this specific quote:
“The question looming, hidden and afraid in masculine hearts, as this discussion rages, is nearly impossible to ask: Where now does a man go to prove his manhood in society?”
This wasn’t the first time I’d read something like this. Donovan Campbell, in his war memoir Joker One, wrote:
"I also knew in the infantry I’d be in a place where I could no longer hide behind potential, a place where academic achievements and family connections were irrelevant."
(Before I go on, I do have to point out that Campbell’s assertion is absurd. Family connections absolutely make a difference in the military. Unfortunately, I will agree with him that academic accomplishments are meaningless.)
Andrew Exum, in his memoir This Man’s Army, wrote:
"I began to believe that war might be the only answer to all my doubts. That war might validate my existence as a soldier and a man."
In my time living with Michael C in Italy, I met more than one soldier who justified their experience in the Army with this explanation. In short, if you want to prove yourself, go to war and see some action.
Michael C, in his guest post, addressed gender issues. To me, the real issue is a moral one: why should one have to validate their existence by killing people?
The above quotes don’t talk about joining the military, but going to war. Exum specifically writes, war is “the only answer” while Campbell advocates joining the infantry, not say, logistics or the Signal Corps.
The vague, indefinable self-worth one gets from going to war comes at a cost. That cost is human life. Whatever self-worth a soldier gains from his combat experience, the cost in human lives will always outweigh it.
Want a good reason to join the military? Do it to protect our country. Or to help other people around the world. Or to pay for college. (I just happen to think that should be free regardless.) Do it to learn leadership or gain life skills. My favorite reason comes from my dad when he justified Michael C’s decision to join the military: the military needs smart, ethical soldiers. It needs soldiers who will question authority, who will strive to improve the organization and, most importantly, who will maintain the moral high ground.
Those are all good reasons to join the military.
But no one should have to prove their self worth by killing someone else.