Book Review: 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military, edited by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg (The New Press, 2006).
Keeping war in motion requires fresh infusions of new recruits. To attract them, the Pentagon has fired up a multibillion-dollar advertising campaign that promises young people good things – money for college, purpose in life, bonuses, adventure, camaraderie, discipline, honor and service.
Military service can look attractive to young people who are bombarded with snappy military ads on radio programs and their favorite TV shows. Military recruiters stroll parking lots where young people hang out and offer them a better life if they only sign on the dotted line: join the military and see the world.
Military recruitment pervades every corner of life. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools have to turn over their students’ private information to military recruiters or risk losing federal funds. Last year, military recruiters even went to the Astrodome in Houston where Hurricane Katrina survivors had fled and they urged the young people there who had just lost everything to join the army.
A new no-nonsense book plays David to that Goliath-like bombardment of military advertising and recruitment. 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military is packed with information that military recruiters omit. Each chapter is short, to the point, and raises serious issues that young people need to think through before sitting down with military recruiters.
It is obvious that one risk of joining the military is being killed. This book also discusses consequences of killing others, an act with the oft-unexpected result of personal anguish that can haunt veterans for the duration of their lives.
10 Excellent Reasons addresses another outcome more likely than one’s own death: the possibility of permanent injuries such as severed limbs and psychological impairment. U.S. law shields the Pentagon from lawsuits dealing with service-related physical or mental injuries so adequate financial compensation for loss of limbs is out of the question. Beyond that, follow-up medical care is sometimes problematic.
The book tells the story of one soldier, badly injured in Iraq, who was ordered to repay the Pentagon for travel expenses related to his care. “I don’t know how much they want from me,” he said. “I already gave them one arm and part of a leg.”
The book points out that only the recruit is legally held to the promises made when he or she signs up. Recruiters can promise anything and make it appear absolute fact – you won’t have to go to Iraq, some of them tell young people, you’ll never see combat, you’ll be assigned a position in accounting, you’ll be able to finish college in the military. Those promises are not enforceable.
Many a young person has heard the recruiter promise particular jobs, education opportunities, bonuses or posting locations, only to discover after they have signed enlistment papers that the Pentagon will honor none of these promises. The book has poignant stories from soldiers in Iraq who found life in the service far different from the near-idyllic one that recruiters sketched for them.
The book reminds its readers that, once in the military, recruits may be required to carry out orders that go against their own beliefs and values. Unlike other occupations, military life does not allow them to negotiate these demands or even to leave the job.
It’s hard to get out of the military once you’re in it.
The contributors suggest that young people consider a life not as visibly glamorous as the glossy military ads, but that takes even greater courage and dedication – working to make people’s lives better by countering social woes of war, poverty, neighborhood violence or hunger.
A resource guide at the end of the book offers information on funding sources for college along with opportunities for job training, travel, and adventure through voluntary organizations that work to improve communities and people’s lives around the world.
“Information is power,”one person observes in 10 Excellent Reasons. “People who are about to enlist in the armed forces need fair, honest information regarding the consequences they may incur during their time in service and the hidden costs of that service.”
This wonderful little book deserves to be bought by the boxful and given to young people everywhere. It is short, easy to read, filled with personal stories that illustrate its main points and small enough to fit into cargo pants pockets. It is a sure-fire discussion-starter in youth groups and a gift well-chosen for any young person trying to decide what to do next.
Mary Hershberger attends Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church. A cousin's son, Peter Wagler of Partridge, Kan., was killed in Iraz earlier this year. Reprinted with permission from author and Mennonite Weekly Review, where this review was printed July 31, 2006.