Define “Service”

A friend put a note on Facebook about the fact that “The Air Force must really need more Electrical/Computer Engineers. They sent me an email saying they will pay $33,000 a year +full benefits while in school so long as you work for the USAF and DOD afterwards. GPA requirement is only 3.0.. Of course I would never do that but I always am just shocked by how much money they throw at people, even before graduation they will have invested almost $100,000 in these people.

“It's too bad for them my conscience and my soul are a bit more expensive than that.”

I replied, “Too bad for them, good for you.”

One of his other friends responded with, “Yeah people who serve their country are terrible human beings.”

That started a collection of responses that pretty much left me out of the loop. However, I spent a bit of my home improvement carpentry time contemplating what “serve your country” means to me and, apparently, everyone else. Service is defined in Webster’s as “the action of helping or doing work for someone” and “a system supplying a public need such as transport, communications, or utilities such as electricity and water.” I expect the sarcastic responder has a different definition of the word, but I’m pretty happy with the traditional explanations. There is a rash of “thanks for your service” lip service being paid to military personnel and veterans. It’s hard to believe many actually believe their words, since the majority of Americans keep electing Representatives and Senators who don’t believe in providing decent military pay or veterans’ benefits. Talk is cheap and politicians and conservatives talk cheaper than anyone.

There is a concept I try to get my head around often described as “Love the Warrior, Hate the War.” “Love” is a pretty strong word and one that I do not apply loosely to my personal feelings. I don’t love all that many people and those I do love are rarely people I’d describe as traditional warriors. So, don’t take it too personally if I don’t love you and still hate the war you fought. Honestly, I’m not that big a fan of humanity in general so I’m not picking on soldiers any more than politicians, religious nuts, bankers, investment scam artists, cops, bureaucrats, construction workers, or guys who live under bridges in cardboard boxes.

Many of the members of our current military are victims of the poverty draft. Their reasons for “serving” (to use the term applied by others to being a soldier) are varied and only occasionally connected to patriotism. Some “reasons” are downright stupid and others are sad. A military poll found the top five reasons for enlisting were “education, stability, respect, community, and adventure.” You’ll note “service” is not in that group. One of the commenters to a website reporting that poll had his own top five, “1. There are no jobs where you live. 2. There are no jobs where you live. 3. There are no jobs where you live. 4. There are no jobs where you live. 5. There are no jobs where you live.” I believe that kid’s list is a lot more accurate than the more idealistic, if no more patriotic, list the military poll found. Most of the military is staffed, from privates to the Joint Chiefs, with people who don’t have the skills to make a useful contribution anywhere in society, so they make a destructive contribution in the military.

Back to the original stimulus for this conversation, the idea that my friend was refusing to “serve his country” by not considering the Air Force’s generous offer.

Who is serving his country better or more: an Air Force electrical engineer or an electrical engineer who specializes in alternative energy research or manufacturing? How about an engineer who designs new products that will be manufactured in the United States; even consumer products? Where does an engineer who becomes an educator fit into the service formula? Or an engineer who works for one of the power distribution companies whose mission is to harden the electrical grid to make it less vulnerable to physical or software hacking terrorist attacks? How about an engineer who dedicates some of his early career days to volunteering for the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps Vista?

I know which side of everyone of those questions I fall on. The military is notorious for loyalty to itself; not just in the US but over the course of history. The whole idea of patriotism is entangled with nationalism, a bad motivation under all circumstances. Being patriotic to one’s country is a complicated issue. What exactly is our patriotism directed to? The Constitution? That is often one of the first luxuries to be sacrificed in any time of war, from the Revolutionary War to the Patriot Act and the NSA’s most recent abuse of privacy. There have been more than a few challenges to civilian rule in modern times: General Lucius Clay’s unauthorized attempt to taunt the USSR into an act of war in 1961; General Curtis LeMay’s arrogant tantrum threatening to “make a strike” against the Russians without Presidential authorization; CIA mobster William Harvey’s general disrespect and dishonesty in his attempt to drag the US into a war with Cuba at the Bay of Pigs; a fair number of US citizens still believe the military, military-industrial complex, and the CIA were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy (Yep, I’m one of that group. The CIA has consistently proven itself to be one of the least patriotic collection of mobsters in human history. They have been in a constant race with Russia’s Secret Police for that honor.); Oily North’s participation in the conspiracy to prevent the return of the Iran hostages until after Reagan’s election; the military and military contractor behavior during the Katrina hurricane disaster; pretty much everything the ex-military gangsters of Blackwater/Academi and Halliburton have done in those corporations’ history;  the ease and amorality of the pathway between a military career and a military vendor’s career; and the terror our military has inflicted on the world with their never-ending War on Terror.

The real question is in joining the military is a young person serving the Constitution, the people of this country, the government, the ruling political party, or the 1%? Carefully look at that question and your answer because those diverse masters are too often contradictory. The Constitution has fared poorly during time of war, so if that document and its best intentions are your motivation, you should probably be a war protestor rather than a warrior. The “War on Terror” has been particularly hard on the Bill of RightsThere are those who argue that the Bill of Rights is a luxury that should disappear during war time, even when that war is unjustified and irrational. If that’s the case, we are considerably less of a democracy and even more unjust a society than most patriotic Americans would like to admit. Many times the people have had to be “sold” on a war by the politicians and the 1% who will profit from any war preparation and actual warfare will make them “filthy rich” in the best application of that phrase. Any time you are “serving” anything, you should know who benefits. Serving the government is the last thing any citizen should be doing; governments are supposed to serve citizens or be overthrown. In the case of military “service,” the beneficiaries of  that service are probably not who you think they are or who they should be.

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