My e-mail to a law clinic supervisor of a counter-recruiter project
Date: Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 5:55 PM
I talked around this point in the team meeting, but it's a point worth highlighting - a strong intangible attraction of the military, specifically for young men, is the implied promise of a traditional masculine culture, a disciplined paternal structure, and the tutelage of authoritative father-figure role models.
Military service just makes sense to men in an intuitive hard-to-articulate way that's not explained by popular culture. I believe the notion of joining the military for a life-changing formative experience matches the typical yearning of young men to become men who can provide and protect, with a man's responsibilities and the respect of men. That socialization is structurally designed into the Army. Moreover, rites of passage are defining for men and there aren't so many traditional (warrior, tribal) rites of passage available to young men in modern society. Legal ones, anyway. The title of Soldier earned in Basic Training and subsequent rank come through rites of passage steeped in military traditions as old as civilization and validated by service to Nation and People.
So yes, the explicit recruiting pitch is heavy on some combination of job benefits, pay, skills, college money, travel, and adventure. But of deeper resonance on an intuitive level, specifically for young men, the military is about essential manhood. Explaining the dangers and risks of military service for an informed cost/benefit analysis may not put off a young man who feels driven to earn his manhood and place among men. Would a typical young man knowingly risk death in order to actualize his concept of virtuous manhood and earn a respected place among men? Historically, yes they (we) have. However abstract and lacking in real value, irrational, and anachronistic that seems in 2012 America, XY is still XY. And men are at their rawest XY when they're young men compared to any other period of their lives.
Army recruiters, based on my limited experience working with them, talk about pragmatic benefits and not philosophic notions about manhood. However, some things don't need to be communicated with words. The sergeant I assisted in Harlem was a fit and competent, confident, professional and proud black man. His impeccable uniform said the Army made him who he was. To the young men in Harlem who hardly registered anything I said to them, he communicated a powerful message to them just by showing who he was, as a man and a soldier.
To repeat a doubt I expressed at the team meeting, I don't believe young men who join the military are induced to do so by ignorance of alternative job/academic options in civil society. The pragmatic benefits and opportunities are just one, tangible part of the cost/benefit analysis. For the other, intangible part, especially for the young men who I presume to be the Con Lit Clinic military recruiting team's target demographic, you should ask, what options in civil society can compete both with the pragmatic opportunities of the military and the military's proving ground for traditional, respected manhood?