While we were in Idaho, admiring the Boise River, Richard Taylor emailed me an article – and article might not be the right word here – from the Pew Research Religion and Public life Project that was titled Public Esteem for Military Still High. The article started with Americans continue to hold the military in high regard, with more than three-quarters of U.S. adults (78%) saying that members of the armed services contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being.
I am astonished that Americans hold the military in such high esteem. Maybe I should say that I am astonished that Americans hold the military in higher esteem than teachers or doctors. I am astonished that twice as many think the military contributes a lot to society’s well being as feel that way about clergy. My first though was, Obviously, none of the them have been in the military. From my very limited direct experience of three years in the Regular Army – RA, all the way – and my obsessive reading about the same, I feel safe saying that the only people who are in the military are people who see no other way out of where they are and people with a sort of idealized patriotism.
Some of the people who joined to get out of where they were, do so and move on, some do so and stay. Some of the patriots – for lack of a better word – get disillusioned and get out, some get disillusioned and stay. The military has always been a, slightly to considerably, distorted vision of America writ small (depending on the size of the war or peacetime force).
That writ small part is important, because the resultant inbreeding adds to the distortion. There are some very smart people in the military and even more stupid people, there are some people who contribute a lot to society’s well being and more who don’t contribute much of anything. There are a huge number of people who respect their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines and a much smaller, but large, number who rape them. With near impunity, apparently. Last year, there were about 19,000 sexual assaults in the military and only 96 went to court-martial.
And then there is Chelsea Manning. In an idealized world, I like to think he would be treated as a whistle blower and the criminals he exposed would be prosecuted. In the real world, however, exposing your bosses almost always results in the whistle blower getting the punishment, especially in the military and when classified documents are involved. Bradley could have been executed, he could have been locked up for life in the ADX Florence supermax in Colorado. Instead he got a judge that tossed out the Aiding the Enemy charge. He got 35 years with the possibility of parole after twelve years with 4.5 already served. He got the military at its best.
Maybe that is why Americans hold the military in such high esteem, at its best it is very, very good.