Military moms are not failures
This postcard "secret" is in today's postsecret batch. I take it personally because my mom took it very hard when I joined the Army.
I responded to the postcard in the postsecret community forum:
When I volunteered to enlist in the Army, my mom cried and acted as though I was volunteering to commit suicide. Whenever a son or daughter enlists, it is very tough for the parents who have always protected their child's safety and interests fiercely. We should never lose our support and sympathy for soldiers' moms and dads, even the ones who denounce their child's decision. They do so out of love for their child, and never forget, no matter how much they test our tolerance, they still are honored members of our American community.
To this day, my honorable military service is the proudest and most enriching part of my life and the most important, meaningful thing I've ever done . . . and my mom is still opposed to the idea.
I wrote this in my bio statement when I was the VP of my college veterans group: It truly is selfless service – a lot of love and pride goes into soldiering. It doesn’t matter why someone joins or where he came from, or how much he enjoys (or suffers) his duties. It doesn’t matter who’s making the tough decisions in the White House. Soldiers are part of a heritage that is older, deeper and more essential than the republic for which they sacrifice. Soldiers are of the people. They are the primal embodiment of the social contract we make with each other to be a civilization.
Pragmatically speaking, my experience as a soldier placed me on a path to become an Ivy League graduate with a job in the civilian world that, while low-paying, I'm proud of doing. Even so, I feel a strong pull to go back to the uniform because serving in the military is the most important job any person of my generation is doing right now. This war is taking place at a crossroads in our nation's and the world's history, wherein the world order on multiple levels is changing. Our children's America will not be the same as our America or our parents' America. Americans like the child of this Marine mom are determining, right now, what that America will be like for our children, and in what kind of world. Moreso, because this war is full spectrum - meaning that it mixes together economic, infrastructure, security, diplomatic/political, humanitarian, media, judicial, community, social/cultural/religious (you get the idea) interactions, as well as the military's traditional 'Cold War' combat role - and the greatest difference across that spectrum is being made on the ground "over there", it is absolutely necessary for our best and brightest men and women to be in uniform right now. The Long War is a different kind of war, but it is no less a generational undertaking than that of the Civil War or World War generation. If anything, our war is a much more complex endeavor - your child can do worse for a formative moral-physical-intellectual challenge.
But, yes, military service is sacrifice and your child is making a dangerous, even life-threatening, decision. We are facing committed deadly enemies and our people are being killed and grievously injured by them.
Marine mom, I know it hurts and you may not agree with me now or ever, but your child's decision actually points to your success as a parent to instill selflessness, community, and other superior values, and while he or she still has a long road ahead in which his or her idealism will be tempered, your child has taken a determined step on a special path shared by very few members of this generation. We need more Americans like your child, not fewer.
Nothing about volunteering for the military in this day and age is easy, and what our parents think of that decision matters a lot. If I don't go back to the uniform, the pain that re-enlisting would cause my mom would be a major reason. As a college senior, I wrote this column about my personal debate over re-enlisting (or not).
Finally, Marine mom, if it helps to comfort you, when your child is finished with the military, he or she can apply to Columbia University in New York City (my Alma Mater), which has a thriving student-veteran campus community: Dean's letter to veterans.
04NOV07 UPDATE. A woman identifying herself as the mom replied to my post and said:
Thank you for your post. You managed to touch upon many of the exact same things that I am apprehensive about. You really gave me some food for thought and another perspective. I appreciate that rather than the emails that belittle my comments. I can understand those too. Which is why this was my SECRET. I will never tell my son. I did not try to talk him out of his decision. I took him to the airport and I have written him regularly while at boot camp. Many of the things I tried to nurture in him-empathy, compassion, kindness, a healthy distrust of authority are all things that I was afraid would be stripped at boot camp. So far his letters home sound like his old self. You were able to relay many of these qualities in your own post. Obviously you are an articulate, intelligent man. It really was a comfort. While it may be hard for me to see my son at graduation, in his uniform and with a rifle, I know I admire his courage, conviction, and determination. I am proud of my son. Maybe someday I can say I am proud he is a Marine.