The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Officium Honor Et Patria

As I embark upon my chosen path of military service I can't help but reflect upon the immense potential demonstrated by my colleagues and classmates at Columbia, on whose shoulders lay the hopes and dreams, indeed the very future, of this nation. And yet, while potential I see, I also note a supreme lack of vigor and ambition for national service, military service in particular. I have worked as an active duty military officer in New York City for just a few months now, and have been doing my best to interest students in something that shouldn't need to be sold, something that should be looked upon as an honor and a privilege: the chance to lead our nation's servicemen and women as military officers. It wasn't so long ago, less than half a century in fact, that Columbia was known throughout as a source of great military leadership, an institution that honed the knowledge and skills of officers in the arts and sciences and informed them upon the very philosphical and ethical foundations of the free and democratic society of which they stood in defense. As one learned sociology professor has noted to me, the societal and political expectations of today and indeed the very abandonment of national conscription in favor of a small volunteer military have changed the equation and removed much of the impetus for university graduates to enter into service as commisioned military officers. Others have observed the expansion of opportunities for service into other realms, as exemplified by the success of Teach for America or the Peace Corps, and the desire of students to use their talents for the 'good of humanity' rather than in the service of what they view as an immoral or barbaric institution. These other forms of service are quite admirable and immensely beneficial to society, but the contrary view of military service and leadership as an immoral venture to be shunned or castigated illustrates a thorough lack of understanding and foresight. Wars may come and go but the necessity to protect and defend our constitution as well as our lives, liberties, and persuit of happiness will always remain. This is your military. And for you, the best and brightest of this nation, the charge to serve has always been greater, for you have been vested with the immense responsibilities that arise out of great intelligence, knowledge, and influence. Recall that our constitution and the political and moral philosophy upon which it is grounded was forged and remunerated by Columbians. That among the great officers who fought for these rights and civil liberties we today enjoy were the likes of John Jay, Gouvernor Morris, and a certain Army Colonel by the name of Hamilton. War, politics, and governments change. What remains, however, is the continued need for great military leadership, tempered by a broad liberal education in philosophy, history, science and economics, and a worldly understanding of global affairs. I entreat you, my fellow Columbians, to take up the torch of leadership and bring to our armed forces the values of leadership, knowledge, and understanding that Columbia has imparted to you. Remember well the words of Lt. Gen. Sir William E. Butler, "The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."


  • At 1:53 AM, Blogger Wang said…

    to be honest, there have been a lot of times in the last few years that I thought US military service should be mandatory for everyone.

    For one it would give most people a profound sense of patriotism and secondly it would quiet the political pundits who irresponsibly put words into the mouths of soldiers and officers for the sake of some already irresponsible agenda.

  • At 11:11 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    Sean- I agree with you in the general sense of your statement (which is very well written), but you of course leave unmentioned the fact that for many young Americans, even if the nature of military service doesn't turn them off to the idea of national service, the military actions and policies that we have pursued in recent decades do.

    Vietnam was of course the watershed moment, a dirty, prolonged war that ended with a nation exhausted and confused, its sense of WWII destiny jumbled by the notion of a war that we continued to fight even after our leaders stopped thinking in terms of "victory." One the one hand, you have that side of the coin, that military service is no longer so clearly motivated by feelings of survival and righteousness (best example of how populations could be whipped into a military fervor in 'simpler' times? Half of Scotland's men age 18-54 served in WWI, a vast portion of that volunteers. You would never see such wholesale commitment to military service in any nation today).

    On the other hand, you have the increasing complexity of the military -- the soldier of today is a highly trained machine, where many of our soldiers in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam had little or no training. Simply put, the military is a much more complicated commitment than it used to be, and that too deters people.

    Finally (the third side of the coin?) is something you touched on, complacency. Many Americans just don't see why they personally are needed or should serve, because they don't see the need for the military in their everyday lives. When you combine this feeling with the two aforementioned changes, you do get a picture of greatly decreased national interest in military service.

  • At 3:30 PM, Blogger Sean said…

    I agree with both of you. People are turned off by current military entanglements and politics. Heck I am turned off by them. But my general feeling is that more well qualified people should suck it up and serve - if only to share the burden and to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of their fellow citizens (particularly those fellow citizens who are now serving).

    And to go along with what wang said - the first people who should be serving right now are the wealthy and the well to do. Why aren't Jenna and Barbara Bush serving? They have both graduated college. One of them should be in the Marine Corps by now! Or at least the Air Force. I am not saying that our leaders and congressmen should force their kids into service. But what I am saying is that, if they truly did encourage service, if they truly did believe the words of respect and honor and patriotism that come out of their mouths, then more of their children would be serving in the military because it would be encouraged and respected among them. Right now I can only think of one politician who seems to have done this - and that is John McCain, whose son has joined the Marines. But, as my uncle has mentioned to me multiple times, he isn't even a real republican. Where are Bush's kids? or Clinton's? Or Frist's? Or Cheney's? (Oh right, she can't serve, she's gay...yeah no wonder he still supports DADT). Or how about those wallstreet types, or the media moguls, or all those doctors and lawyers on Park Avenue? These are the people who should be serving, or whose children, brothers, sisters, uncles, and cousins should be serving. If they did, perhaps smarter decisions would be made by those who are in a position to make them.
    That is the crux of what I am getting at, and why I think students at Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Duke, MIT, Berkely, Michigan, and Penn should serve. I don't care if ROTC isn't on campus (though damnit, when I get them to get rid of DADT, and I will get congress to get rid of it by golly, I hope it will help). More people should still serve. If not out of a desire to protect our country, if not out of a sense of patriotism, than out of mere courtesy to and respect and kindness for those thousands of soldiers who have already served two, three, four tours overseas and need some relief.


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