Sunday, June 3, 2007

Whiles Any Speaks

I generally seek to live my life so that regrets play no large part. For the most part, with a few notable exceptions, I have managed this fairly well. Recently, one of those exceptions has been playing on my mind. I regret that I have not served in the armed forces.

When I was a boy, I dreamed of being a US Marine. One of my older brother is a Marine. He served for 30 years before retiring as a Sargeant Major. I always idolized him for that, although in fact, I really didn't know him all that well as he is some 15 years older than me. Of my 5 brothers, 2 others served in the Air Force, so military service was seen as honorable in my family, although not necessarily expected.

Upon graduating High School, my focus was on college. In college, my focus was on graduating, and toward the end, on getting married. During that time I went through an unfortunate pacifistic phase -- one I view now as typical of the intellectual exploration of the young. Naive but understandable. In addition, of the few times I mentioned the possiblity of military service, my fiance reacted strongly to the negative. So I did not pursue it. This was in the late 80's and there was no pressing reason, in the national perspective, for a guy like me to pursue military service.

The Gulf War gave me pause, but of course it was over almost as soon as it began. Pretty soon I had surpassed the cutoff age for enlisting. It was now a moot point.

Then came 9/11 and the aftermath. A few years ago, I heard that the Army had increased the maximum age for enlistment to 42. That year I turned 43. Nevertheless, although the point is still moot, I regret now that I did not enlist.

There are many many good reasons for me to have NOT enlisted. I won't even recite them here as I'm sure you can guess them. I am fully aware that war is not a game, and I do not think I am overcome be romantic notions of military glory. Yet there is something deep inside, or hidden way back in my brain that wishes that I had stepped up and done my duty.

I've been thinking of Shakespeare's St. Crispin Day speech from Henry V.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

I'm afraid I do now "hold my manhood cheap" when I think of those who are now
in Iraq and Afghanistan or wherever they are posted around the world, working to insure my safety and that of my children. I loath and detest the fact that we fight in Iraq, and think we should never have gone there. But now that we are in it, we must finish it and finish it properly. I regret that I cannot be a part of that, even though I
know that to do so would be a terrible disruption and would put my life at risk.

Yet when others are doing so, and I am not, I feel cheap. Can't help it. I just do.


Anonymous said...

I agree. I too thought hard about military service and never followed through. I regret it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me. Ron Jung

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My path was different - I would not have considered military service even honorable in modern America until I was probably 35 or so. Shameful of me, because of course it comes cheaper then when it's not me on the line.

Mark Helprin has a moving essay on this "I Dodged The Draft, And I Was Wrong."