The presence of Army (or other service branch) recruiters on college campuses are a subject of much passion and heat in the social discourse of modern US society.
The current war the US is involved in against radical Islamists in Iraq is the focus of this debate. The sides are chosen, the battle lines drawn, and everyone seeks to bolster their position at the expense of the other.
How we got to where we are
A look toward the past may shed a bit of light on the present. We need to understand where we've been to develop a vision of where we now need to go.
When kings and monarchs ruled, the matter of military service was not one of choice. The king sent his professional corps to the towns and villages and asked for volunteers. Failing in getting adequate manpower on occasion, they would resort to pressing men into service. The choice was clear, one could either serve in the military and hopefully survive or resist and surely die. Given the choice, men would accept the course that at least presented a chance for continuation of their lives.
Other societies have presented military service as a path to fame, advancement, and glory. An example would be Germany in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The elite officers and members of the Army (and later the Air Force) were accorded respect and honor. They served with pride, confident in their role as protector of the Fatherland.
In the USA military service has usually been accorded respect. Even in that most horrible and bloody conflict in our national history, the Civil War, the vanquished warriors were respected as fellow soldiers by the conquering armies. The oppression of the South under Reconstruction was a political policy of the Union rather than the vengeful excesses of a conquering military.
World War I found the US involved in another foreign war, one in which we acquitted ourselves with honor. The same held true in World War II. The Korean Conflict is the first modern war in which we in the US found ourselves with no clear cut agenda. This war was one structured along ideological lines, those being a stand against the encroachment of Communism.
Vietnam was a reprise of that same stand, an effort to stem the rise of Communism in southeastern Asia. Under President John F. Kennedy, our military fought to help South Vietnam establish and flourish as a democratic government. The war was an effort to prevent all of southeastern Asia falling under communism, the domino theory mentioned first by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, though not specifically by that term. Due in large part to the unpopularity of the war at home and mismanagement by the political masters of the military, that conflict ended in US withdrawal.
Brave new day?
In the two decades following that horrible national experience the US had little appetite for armed conflict. Those two decades saw funding for the military gutted in favor of a dramatic expansion of social programs. During that time treaties were signed by the US and the USSR limiting the development and use of nuclear weapons. The Cold War seemed to have ended, especially with the dissolution of the USSR into Russia and the satellite nations which once (sometimes under threat of force) made up the USSR. It seemed that peace was breaking out all over.
New bad guys, same bad results
The world continued to turn and other threats came to the fore. The USSR had been involved in a conflict in Afghanistan, a war in which the US trained and armed the opponents to the USSR-backed Marxist government. The US wasn't the sole supporter of the resistance fighters. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim nations also aided the Mujahideen resistance.
How we get military manpower
In the US the military conscription program was popularly called the draft. That policy ended in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam era. Since that time we have, as a matter of national policy, chosen to provide for military manpower requirements through an all volunteer military. Toward meeting those requirements our armed forces have a recruitment program. These programs seek to find, test, and enlist participants in the military of the United States. One such place for these recruitment centers is on the campuses of colleges and universities. It is reasonable to look for recruits where large numbers of citizens of the requisite age and, hopefully, educational requirements are located.
Be all you can be
No one in the military is there because he or she was forced to join. No one received a letter from Uncle Sam directing them to report for service at a specified time and location. There is no draft.
People join the military for a large variety of reasons, some of which are not strongly based in reality.
Some join to make use of the military job training programs, hoping to use that training to transition to civilian employment. This has worked for thousands of men and women who did just that to secure and hold well paying jobs in the civilian economy in their post military lives.
Some enter the military because they recognize that their prospects for a happy future are severely limited by their current situations. They may feel limited by their education, their race, their economic circumstances, or a variety of other factors. They hope that military service will allow them to escape their perceived limitations, give them a hand up toward better lives. This too has been the case for many who have served. At the worst they know that in the military they will receive food, clothing, shelter, and medical care while they wear the uniform.
What the military isn't meant to be is an education program or a job training program. They do fulfill these functions, but only incidentally to fulfilling their primary mission which is to provide for the defense of the nation. There is a need to have people trained to weld the steel hull of ships and submarines which are in the water. They train personnel to do that task. It is only incidental that the skill will also apply toward welding on a deep sea oil drilling platform. The pilot of a military jet often transitions into the civilian job of airline pilot. The military didn't intend for him to ferry people and luggage about, but it works out due to his or her military training that they can do this job. On the other hand, driving an M1A Abrams tank around doesn't have a ready civilian application. In other words, jobs the military provide training for often have a civilian application, but there is certainly no promise of such being the case.
Can we have some logic here?
Some time ago I saw a news clip of a mother railing against the military because her son had gotten killed. She cried "He just wanted to be trained and get his education!" I understand her grief, but that is not what the military is tasked to achieve. Her son may have been better served by a civilian jobs training program, of which there are many. People die in military service. To enter the military with the expectation that you will never see combat is patently foolish.
A short digression
In the era following Vietnam many colleges and universities have become places where students are indoctrinated into whatever ideology is held by their professors. In order to succeed and get their degree many students are forced to hold their opinions to themselves if they differ from those of the powers that be. Instead of being places where free debate is allowed and encouraged many find higher education to be the opposite, a place where the politically correct view is allowed and all other points of view are stifled.
An example of this is the current subject de jour, the global warming debate. Every time one turns on the tv, the radio, or reads a newspaper there is another article crying that the sky is falling. The US government is debating a policy of 'Cap and Trade', new laws and regulations which seek to limit carbon emissions into Earth's atmosphere. The movement seems to have gotten its greatest momentum from former Vice President Al Gore, who has wrapped himself in the mantle of protector of the Earth and all who reside thereon. No matter that his views as expressed in his book Earth In the Balance is founded on supposition and demonstrable falsehood. Most recently Gore has declined invitations to debate the issue by Hudson Institute senior fellow Dennis Avery. Another debate invitation to Gore by Lord Monckton, former advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has also been declined. Gore, while long on rhetoric, has been a no show when it comes to publicly defending his views.
Now that I've gotten that out of system
Back to our topic at hand. While it is certainly fair for a person to choose to be a pacifist, that in no way precludes the necessity of having a viable military. The military is the means by which political policies and decisions may be enforced on other nations. Usually those policies are simply matters of self defense, but sometimes there are decisions to remove threats proactively. An example of a nation which was perceived to present an imminent threat was Iraq. Israel struck Iraq in 1981 when they bombed the Osirak nuclear research facility near Baghdad to remove their capability of producing fissile material with which they could produce a nuclear weapon.
Just because the military exists is no reason to expect that it must be used. Many suggest that the military be used to establish and maintain territorial integrity along our southern border with Mexico to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Thus far no such use has occurred, and the reason is the political leadership hasn't chosen to pursue that policy.
Bring on the demagogues!
The assertion by some that the US war in Iraq is over oil seems foolish at best. The US is getting no oil from Iraq, nor is it demanding any at this point in time. In order to extract oil, if that were the US goal, would require the US to rebuild not a single school, not a single hospital, restore services such as water, power, and sewerage to a single village, town, or city. We have undertaken this restoration, at the expense of the US taxpayer, for all these efforts. All these humanitarian efforts are dismissed by war critics who find it easier to simply use the jingoistic tag line "Bush's war for oil'.
Most thinking and rational people desire that the world be a a safe place. The simple truth is the world is not a safe place, has never been such, and presents little prospect of being peaceful or safe in the foreseeable future. As long as nations have the power and ability to take what belongs to others, to oppress those with different beliefs, different skin color, different languages, there will be a need for those people to defend themselves from naked aggression. One can espouse pacifism right up to the moment an aggressor pulls the trigger and blows your pacifistic head off, a brave stand which assures the transferal of your goods to the aggressor. As much as it is politically incorrect to embrace any type of violence, there are still situations which demand a violent response. It matters not one iota whether one finds the aggression distasteful, stupid, senseless, or uncultured. Force still wins the day. To believe otherwise is to become a victim.
The US military is not the focus of evil in the modern world. It is high time someone had the courage to proclaim that fact. The military is a tool, one of many, and has a function. That function is largely one the members of the military have fulfilled with honor, intelligence, and restraint.