Is military service still respected?
Is military service still respected?
As I traipse further down the road of life, I’ve begun to lose perspective on certain things. The minuscule fashion sense I had in my younger years is now hanging by a thread. Modern music mostly confuses or annoys me. I no longer care about getting a tan.
More concerning, I worry that I’ve lost my perspective on the true value of military service. Ever since we entered the post-9/11 era, scientists have studied the “military-civilian divide.” Myths sprang out of the ever-widening “gap in understanding” between civilians and military, creating a more insular military community and civilian population that wasn’t interested.
The public’s general support for U.S. military forces in the years after 9/11 waned as people became war-weary, conflicts ended and warriors survived intact. By the time of the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, US public opinion of the military had reached a low point, affecting military recruiting efforts, veteran hiring and military strength.
As I observed these changes over the years, I never questioned our family’s decision to stay in the Navy. Our pride in military service never wavered, and I believed, perhaps naively, that the vast majority of military-connected people felt the same sense of honor.
However, recently I’ve begun to question the accuracy of my beliefs. Like hemlines and pop music, maybe I’ve lost my sense of the value of military service? Are my notions of honor old-fashioned and out of date? Do people still hold military service in high regard, or has it become just another job like truck mechanic, medical assistant or airline pilot?
Recently, a friend commented that today’s military recruits sign up for the benefits or because they “graduate and don’t have other options.” I didn’t question him at the time, but his comment twisted and turned in the back of my brain, until I had to know if he was right.
Researching, I found the Reagan National Defense Survey, an annual study gauging American’s concerns about the military. The study indicated that public trust and confidence in the U.S. military fell from 70% approval in 2018 down to 45% in 2021. There was an uptick last year to 48%, but the reports indicate that the majority of Americans think negatively about the military. The cynicism is especially prevalent among younger Americans. People between 18 and 45 have an unfavorable view of the U.S. military, according to 2022 polling, which is particularly concerning considering that this age pool must be tapped for new military recruits.
In my middle-aged military spouse mind, I could chalk all these abysmal facts up to the gap in understanding. “The public just doesn’t get it,” I might say. “Those of us who lived military life know better!”
However, I also found studies indicating that the percentage of military-connected people who would recommend military service to others is dropping fast — from 75% in 2019 to 63% in 2021. Depressing facts like that contradict my perception of the military community as a dedicated group of patriotic public servants.
Have I been wrong? Is military service no longer a respectable or respected endeavor?
I found two studies that debunk the preconceived notion that the military is “a refuge for the unfortunate” who serve because they have no other options. Although the public perceives that military recruits are less-educated and less skilled people that sign up out of “desperation,” the truth is that most are from middle-class backgrounds and have cognitive skills advanced enough to handle the increased demands of America’s “information-dominant, expeditionary” military force. Forty-three percent of those who served cited patriotic or citizenship reasons, and 48% listed pay and benefits as the primary reason; but very few of those who served said their motivation was desperation.
The only fact that was clear from my research was that it is difficult to prove that military service is an honorable, respectable thing to do with one’s life. However, I still have my perceptions, as old-fashioned as they may be. Despite the depressing statistics I found, I believe that serving one’s country is the best and smartest thing any American can do. Our family has no regrets about the 28 years my husband spent serving in the Navy, only pride.
And that’s a fact.
Read more at the website and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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