A letter from a reader: Contrasting lessons of war
I respect the opinions of war in the Jan. 23 letter of combat veteran John Neely '67, but I take exception to many of the self-esteeming and vainglorious "lessons" of that letter's content. One of these is his proposal for mandatory national service, including the possibility of involuntary military service. As a once-U.S. Navy Seabee combat engineer, I am -- in Mr. Neely's words -- one of his "brothers and sisters" with "nuanced connection to country that only veterans fully understand." But I do not share the same sanctimonious and self-righteous identification -- the "uncommon breadth of wisdom" -- that Mr. Neely attributes (by implication) to himself and his extensive self-designated military family. I see myself as only a fellow citizen-soldier who once honorably did service for his country. And thankfully I survived the experience unscarred. I am no more, and I am no less.
Instead of his lesson for imposing involuntary military service on the nation, perhaps the first "opportunity" for service should be extended to the incarcerated of our nation's prisons. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate and total documented prison population in the world (China ranks second, though it has more than four times our population). Nearly one in four of our inmates in the federal and state prisons are there because of drug-related offenses, most of them non-violent. What if they were offered amnesty in exchange for honorable-discharge from active military service during time of war? Would justice be served (perhaps even two-fold) by such an action?
Mr. Neely piously relates another lesson that "many of those who return from war … have suffered deep wounds to their souls." Sadly, this is indeed so, because as Mr. Neely fails to note, all war is horror. And so perhaps -- in his own choice of words -- "the decision to go to war should include the corollary" that all those in uniform put the choice for war to a vote prior to hostilities. We espouse the sanctity of our democracy, so why wouldn't we entrust it to those whom we would deliver into harm's way? Entrust them with it at least until that point when our enemy is engaged (few will argue that democracy proves little effectiveness in the heat of combat).
I acknowledge the special sacrifice often made by those sailors, soldiers, aviators, and marines who serve our nation. And I pray that they return unharmed from those political decisions that thrust them into danger. But I cannot endorse the Homeric ideals of heroism suggested by John Neely. There is no specially anointed citizen status accorded one because we chose to enter military service. It is a choice made freely by conscience. We should choose so for whatever reason appeals to our free nature. And we should be able to trust that those in power who deliver us into the maw of horror that is war do so for a very compelling and honorable cause. To do any less is akin to homicide and should be considered a crime. These, in reply to Mr. Neely, would be my contrasting lessons of war.
ROCKY SEMMES '79
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