US Navy Gets Honest About Why People Join

US NavyAs I’ve written about a few times, I live across the street from a very nice family. You really couldn’t have better neighbors, and I like them all as people. But I’ve always found it curious that they are Christian, yet the two boys who have left home have both gone into the military. What’s with that? I mean, when I think of Jesus, I just don’t think of the military — and for a lot of reasons beyond the standard “Prince of Peace” nonsense. For example, I understand that Judaism goes along with the command and control of the military. But Christianity is all about doing the right thing because the holy ghost is inside of you. It’s really a very liberating theology.

Of course, in America, it largely isn’t practiced that way. Christianity is more or less a cultural signifier. People use it as a shorthand for “patriotic American.” This is why we see states trying to make the Bible the official book. The level of theology in the Bible for most Christians is something less than what is taught to five-year-olds in Sunday school. And the one thing other than Christianity that is most tied to this form of “patriotism” is the military. Taxes for public libraries are tyranny, but taxes for almost half of the world’s military spending is somewhere there in the middle of the Ten Commandments.

But there is a great rhetorical ploy when such things are brought up. The Christian will claim that our military is not aggressive. This, of course, is the standard American line, discussed so well in, War Made Easy. Supposedly, the last thing that any president ever wants to do is go to war. To see how absurd that claim is, note that George W Bush said exactly that before the Iraq War — a war that he was most clearly determined to wage. But there is more.

The Christian military apologist will then mention “nation building” and all the great humanitarian work that the military does. Setting aside the fact that this is just ridiculous, it certainly isn’t the way that those in and around the military see it. Earlier this week, Sam Knight at The Intercept wrote a great article that relates to this, Navy Drops Humanitarian Ad Campaign, Looks for Something More Appropriate. It seems that for about five years from 2009 through 2014, the Navy has been pursuing an ad campaign, “America’s Navy: a global force for good.” They killed it last year and have now hired a firm to create ads that look more like something out of Call of Duty.

These earlier ads were about all the good things that the Navy does to help people all over the world. But check it out in the video below. It is filled with all the badass equipment anyone would want. What it doesn’t include is the usual bellicosity. In a word, it is: mature. It puts the best face possible on the dirty business of war. Thus, it isn’t at all surprising that it didn’t play well with the 17-year-olds it was supposed to attract. Sadly (but not surprisingly), it also didn’t appeal to veterans.

The point is that people can talk all they want about the need for the military and all the good work that the military does. But it means nothing. These are not the reasons people go into the military. These are the reasons people come up with to make joining the military seem noble. I’m with Father James in Calvary, “People join the army to find out what it’s like to kill someone.” And that’s okay, I suppose. I’ve made my peace with the need for a military (although ours is about ten times as large as it needs to be). But it is outrageous that people are allowed to go around claiming others join the army out of some sense of altruism. I’m not sure there is such an army that we could say that for. But certainly we can’t for our imperial army.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “US Navy Gets Honest About Why People Join

    • Thanks! I’ve been looking for that for years. NBC is just terrible about allowing its stuff online at all, much less on YouTube. “Navy. It’s not just a job. It’s $96.78 a week.”

  1. Great, Lori!

    @Frank — While it’s not altruistic, it feels altruistic, and that’s the important thing. Those who don’t join the military out of necessity do so because they believe it offers some kind of courageous sacrifice for others. Clearly the notion of sacrificing for foreign others didn’t jibe with recruits. Whereas “killing them there so they don’t kill us here” satisfies a lot of emotional needs. Phony bravery and patriotism among them, some genuine social connection with others who want to feel brave and altruistic a major plus.

    Graeber pointed out that this isn’t very different from rich kids interning at NGOs, except for the class divide. You can’t intern at an NGO based in some expensive city like NY or SF unless you’ve got family funds to burn. You also feel you’re doing good, although you largely are just backing up global capitalism and making rewarding peer connections. As for bravery, neither the average US soldier or NGO aid worker is at very high risk compared to people living in war-torn or disaster-torn nations, although they certainly do face more risk than US cops.

    In my brief experience among military types I’d say most of them want to feel very selfless and altruistic — but they also need to believe that America is threatened by enemies everywhere (no nation-building for them, killing is more brave-r.) But then again I knew volunteers in officer-training schools. (Most of our grunts aren’t really volunteers, they’re desperate for a job.)

    • I get that — I really do. To a large extent, it is just a question of the military providing a clear sense of right and wrong. And I’ve since learned that the GFFG is not being shut down because it wasn’t successful. They are just moving on. Ad campaigns have lifetimes. I still think regardless of the altruism on the part of recruits, you still end up with a lot of Chris Kyles — basically psychopaths. We spend a lot of our military. A lot of the work they do is good. But that’s not why we give them the money. We give them the money to support our empire by any means necessary — and some of those means are good. But that’s the exception. And a sane people would provide a better way poor young people to better themselves. We’ve created an economic system that leaves almost nothing for these people but the military. That’s sad.

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