The patriotism of most 18-year-olds (rather like, on the one hand, the patriotism of most people and, on the other, most other enthusiasms of 18-year-olds) is seldom deep, thoughtful, or nuanced in distinguishing the abstract idea of “my country” from the concrete facts of this country, this administration, this war. (I work daily with young people of this age, by the way.) So it is that few young people who joined the military do so with a clear notion of what that decision might entail, and whether such a decision really serves their country.
And of course military recruitment ad campaigns do not emphasize patriotism, sacrifice, duty – they’re all about adventure, training, and pride.
So why the fuss over John Kerry’s remarks? Apparently we’re not allowed to state the obvious: many soldiers are soldiers because they saw no better options. They saw an opportunity to make something of their lives – assuming they can get through Iraq with those lives. Very few active-duty soldiers are in line to inherit Fortune 500 corporations or have parents in the White House. (Jenna? Barb? Why is it you haven’t enlisted?)
Certainly there are some soldiers who might otherwise have had plenty of career options. But if it’s true that most do, or that most people join the military for altruistic reasons, what makes the people who market the military so afraid of using such a pitch? Could it be they recognize what Kerry was wisely foolish enough to state out loud – that such a message would be far less effective than the allure of fast machines and flashing, D&D-like swords and armor?