Permissible Arms

Pro patria mori.

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 1 December 2009

This was from a couple weeks ago, but I liked it so much I wanted to repost it. (Liked it in that way you keep pressing a bruise even though you know it’s painful.) Via Christian at GOA, from flickr user agentvladimir.

It popped into my head on reading David Wood’s column, “The Young Americans the United States Is Sending to War.”

The military services enlisted more than 7,000 17-year-olds during the most recent 12-month period for which it has a detailed analysis, fiscal year 2007 (7,558, to be precise). The Pentagon’s total intake of 17- to 20-year-olds was 86,072 — more than half of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines it recruited that year (most of the other half were under age 25). On active duty today in the Army, which does most of the fighting in Afghanistan, are 66,220 soldiers 20 years old and younger, including 1,252 17-year-olds.

They are tough, boisterous and mostly likable. They are offered enormous responsibility, which most of them seize with an eagerness that would catch the attention of anyone who has raised teenagers. I forget sometimes just how young they are. A few years ago, I was lazing in the dust with a bunch of Marines during a break in training. Already combat veterans, they were about to deploy back to Iraq. They’d been practicing getting ambushed and killing the ambushers, and now they were chatting about computer games.

“Hey, did’ja ever get ‘Gears of War?’ ” asked Louis Duran, 19.

“Nah, I was gonna,” said his buddy, Steven Aspling, 20, “but my Mom wouldn’t let me.”

I grew up in the rural mountains of Tennessee, and there–as my father and his brothers’ service attests–the military was frequently the only way out, the only assured source of income, the only way to afford an education. I say was, but I mean is; by the time I graduated high school, three of my close friends had been recruited into different branches, notably the National Guard, the Army, and the Air Force, who were most active in that part of the state. This was after 9/11.

Tonight I’ll listen attentively to what the President has to say, as he stands before well-trained student-cadets who will go on to be well-trained officers. But there is some part of me that thinks about the kids I grew up with, the kids I went to college with, my uncles and my father, and wonders if one death is worth it. That’s my biggest doubt, I suppose. It’s outweighed by the hawkish conclusion I’ve come to, and by my genuine concern for the oppression of half of Afghanistan’s population due to gender. But still, I carry doubt.

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