December 28, 2006
True To Self And Country
By Jonathan Eggers-Gold, Special to The Times
I'm the kind of guy who's not supposed to be joining the military these days. I grew up in an affluent community. I attend a first-tier private university. I'm fortunate to have many career and personal options.
Several months ago, I was accepted for the Marines' Platoon Leaders Class (PLC), a two-summer program leading to commission as a second lieutenant upon graduation. I'd like to explain a little about why and what it means to me.
My father and uncle were Marine officers. However, while legacy is important, it's not my fundamental reason.
Although I've been curious about the military for years, and knew several guys from high school who joined the Navy, went to West Point, or were planning on PLC, I talked about my own interest seldom. Now I wonder how many kids might have considered it seriously, if talk had been more open.
When I got to college, I found that most of my new friends and a lot of the people I respect are military. As former high-school jocks (mostly football and lacrosse), we value camaraderie, discipline and challenge and a lot of men and women certainly join for those reasons. But we're also united by patriotism.
Not the flag-waving, ready-to-die kind. Just a quiet sense that we have a responsibility as citizens to serve, and the fact that there's no draft doesn't change that. Freedom is a debt that we're always paying interest on.
That's true in theory, I believe. But events are real. Perhaps some want the military so badly that they don't care what's going on. Others may just want it for the chance to fight. But if you're serious about the "citizen" part, it matters what you might have to do. Freedom isn't free, but if you're going to pay, you want to get your money's worth.
Our attitude toward the Iraq war might be described as "iffy." We supported Afghanistan and Iraq in the beginning. Now we just wonder what's going on. But we know that the fight against terrorism is pretty permanent, and we feel that we have to look beyond the present moment.
Iraq may be long over by the time we serve. But there will be future wars and battles. Since we won't be able to pick and choose, all we can hope is that we'll be committed the right way, for the right reasons. In the end, it's a vote of confidence in the country that we're willing to take this chance.
My dad, who writes books on these things, says that there seems to be a trend on the elite campuses, for men and women to join. Not a big movement yet, and nobody knows how far it will go.
Perhaps they're attracted, as I was, by books like Dartmouth grad Nathaniel Fick's "One Bullet Away" or Bing West's "No True Glory." Both men are fighters and patriots who tell it like it is without seeing only the bad. They provide a new view on events that may have been jumbled up through the media and politics.
Other young men and women may just be so disgusted by campus politics that they're making statements of their own, except with their lives, not their mouths. I tend to agree with Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer, who wrote "AWOL." Being against the military is a form of snobbery that says more about the snobs than the people they dislike.
Whatever the individual reasons, we accept that we'll be entering the military at a very tough time. Regardless of what happens in Iraq, it will be many years before the military recovers. Money will be an issue. The fighting won't stop.
But why the Marines? For me, it's part legacy, part my PLC friends. A lot of it is the challenge of serving with the best and leading the best.
It's also a realization about life. Before I applied, I had a nasty health scare that turned out to be nothing, but had the doctors testing for cancer. It made me realize that you have to do what's most important to you. It's ironic that it took a health scare to show me that I wanted to undergo the pressures of PLC and the possible dangers of service.
The worst decision you can make is to lack the courage to make one, and then spend your life wondering what might have been. I hope that a lot of young people who are considering the military quietly will have the courage to ask themselves how much they really want it and then to be true to themselves and the country, if they do.
Jonathan Eggers-Gold, a 2005 graduate of Mercer Island High School, is a sophomore at Northeastern University studying political science.
RESTORE THE REPUBLIC!
R.W. "D1ck" Gaines
GnySgt USMC (Ret.)
1952- (Plt #437PISC)-'72
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