TCS Daily


Semper Infantilis

By Douglas Kern - April 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Damn those sexy Marines! A curse upon their macho swagger and fascinating scars and rugged boot-camp-sculpted physiques and manly ill-fitting uniforms! How dare these vulpine volcanoes of voluptuous virility vend their voluminous values to vexed valedictorians? Who will keep our young adults from succumbing to the siren call of patriotism and public service?

The D.C. Examiner, that's who. In its April 25 edition, Washington D.C.'s newest newspaper ran an article from Joanne Cronrath Bamburger decrying the growing presence of military recruiters in American public schools. It seems that the No Child Left Behind Act contains a clause that requires public high schools to allow military recruiters on campus. That's bad!

"In promoting this type of recruiting effort," Bamburger writes, "our government apparently realizes what advertisers and marketers have known for years -- teens are fertile ground for influence because they still are at a point in life where impulse can overrule rational thought. So it's not a leap to worry that our children also might be unduly and dangerously swayed in these times by a call to patriotism. It's not a stretch to imagine that when they sign on the dotted line for boot camp, our children have focused more on the well-cut uniforms and group camaraderie and not on the long-term, and possibly deadly, consequences of even a short stint in the military."

Calls to patriotism! Camaraderie! Well-cut uniforms! Oogah-boogah-boogah! Such starry dreck too well deserved the Rath of Cron.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Kern," you're thinking, "you're going to write about the ironic vicissitudes of fate. Thirty years ago, a Marine recruiter would have been laughed out of public schools for his dorky hair, goofy outfit, and squaresville manners -- not to mention the crappy jobs and useless 'benefits' he had to offer. Now, those same qualities make that Marine recruiter some kind of mystic Rasputin, who must be kept out of schools for being too seductive and enticing." That would be a good point. But that's not my point.

"Okay," you're thinking, "you're going to write about the abject absurdity of the notion that military recruiters will appeal to anyone but a small handful of students. Benefits or no benefits, enlisting in the military entails a near-total surrender of autonomy, abuse from a drill instructor, relentless exercise, and the possibility of a gory death -- all for jobs that pay less than the minimum wage when you do the math. In a hot economy, and in the middle of a shooting war, just how many kiddies will follow this Pied Piper out of the city gates?" That's another good point. But it's not my point.

"I got it! Colleges don't require any sacrifices comparable to those that the military demands, but colleges recruit at public schools all the time. Doesn't the military need a little legislative help, to stand on equal footing? And if you don't think that the military deserves to stand on equal footing with colleges, doesn't that opinion reflect an anti-military attitude that most people would rightly reject?" Yes indeed. But that's not it.

"Perhaps," you're thinking, "you'll write about how many teens enlist in the military not despite the possibility of combat, but because of it." Nope.

"Well, smart guy," you're thinking, "how about this: it's preposterous to think that any teen in America can enlist in today's military without realizing that death in combat is a real possibility. There's this hip new thing that's hot with the young crowd. It's called television. And if you watched it at any time in the past two years, you might have seen several trillion profiles of young soldiers getting maimed or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heck, this war has the lowest casualty ratios of any major conflict fought in recent times, yet the MSM lingers over every tragic death like it's the 100,000th soul to perish at Antietam. Are military recruiters really so glib and convincing that they can talk teens out of noticing that war kills?" Sorry. Not my point.

"Ummm...maybe something about the idiocy of kicking military recruiters out of public schools, only to let students drive themselves home at the end of the day? Seeing as how letting teenagers drive is, statistically speaking, every bit as dangerous as letting them join the military?" No.

"All right, Kern," you growl, "it's gotta be this: Given that eighteen-year-olds (and younger!) have fought in every American war, frequently with great distinction, it's crazy to suggest that young people possess the wherewithal to be war heroes but not the wisdom to make an intelligent choice about joining the military in the first place." Now you've got it!

If you're an adult at eighteen, then you should be a bona-fide adult, not a juvenile on stealth double-secret adult probation. At 18, the law says you're old enough to vote; old enough to have sex; old enough to have an abortion; old enough to enter a legally binding contract -- heck, you're even old enough to incur the death penalty, assuming recent case law from Suriname doesn't persuade the Supreme Court to the contrary. So you're old enough to vote on questions of when and how the military will be used around the world -- yet not old enough to make your own decision about joining the military. Say what?

Whether it's jacking up the drinking age, subsidizing Romper Room party colleges with taxpayer dollars, or ejecting those luscious Marine recruiters from our public schools, the theme is the same: we are creating an extended adolescence for American young people that reaches well beyond their eighteenth birthday. The years between eighteen and twenty-one are a limbo in which responsible behavior is little demanded and even less expected.

At what point do decisions entail grown-up consequences? At what point do the training wheels come off our citizenship? Precisely what favor do we think we're doing teens by prolonging their goofy years?

"Ah, the heck with you and your childish demands for ideological consistency," you reply. "Yeah, maybe it's hypocritical that we treat high school seniors like they're idiots even though they've turned eighteen. But, empirically speaking, they are idiots for the most part. Why pretend otherwise? You of all people should understand that point, Mr. Unfettered-Autonomy-Is-A-Rebuttable-Presumption."

Admittedly, many if not most eighteen year olds are idiots. I was. But the same could be said for nineteen-year-olds, or twenty-year olds. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Moreover, one of the best ways to teach responsible decision-making is to, well, allow it. Hiding your kids from Sergeant Sign-Up because those pretty hats might eat your kids' brains -- that won't teach your kids much about responsible decision-making. But it will teach them a great deal about you.

So don't hate those Marines because they're beautiful. Don't hate them for their smokin'-hot stubbly haircuts and their surprisingly generous college tuition deals and their slick sales pitch. Fight them on their own terms. Present the case to your kid for the advantages of a nice drunken college education on someone else's dime over patriotism and making your own way in the world. Sell them on the joys of sedentary pursuits over high adventure. Make your own wicked cool berets. If your precious little adult isn't buying it, don't blame those sexy Marines. Blame yourself.

The author is a lawyer and TCS contributing writer.

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