When a good friend returned from Iraq, I was confronted not by my lack of regard for the soldier’s serving in Iraq, but by how little such regard affected my daily life. For most of us, our days are spent in blissful ignorance of the danger, the progress, and the harsh realities of war.
William Quinn, a soldier who is currently a student at Georgetown, highlights the disparity in an article that should be read in full:
This culture of duty [in the military] is at odds with the culture of individualism and self-promotion that seems paramount here in college. And yet, the divide between my soldier friends and my fellow students isn’t the result of any fundamental differences between the people themselves. Many of my peers at school know much more about the world around them than my fellow soldiers do — international relations is a popular subject at Georgetown. My Army friends used to laugh when they saw me reading the Economist; my friends here think everyone should read it. Students talk about refugees from Iraq, North Korea, Burma and Darfur with sincere compassion. One of my friends told me: “I want to dedicate my life to educating people about the sufferings of others.That’s a wonderful goal, but I often feel that the words ring hollow. Students’ true priorities are demonstrated by their daily activities: They have friends to meet, parties to attend, internships to work at, extracurricular activities to participate in, papers to write and classes to attend. They’re under a lot of pressure to build a strong resume for whatever company or graduate school they apply to after college. They’re under no pressure to be concerned about those who are less fortunate — or those who fight wars on their behalf.
This danger, of course, extends itself beyond the college campus. As Patrick Deneen writes,
Will’s presence at Georgetown is a constant reminder of the chasm that exists between our upwardly mobile elites and soldiers serving our nation who help ensure that upward mobility remains viable. This is a wholly new phenonemon: an earlier generation of college students went on extensively to serve in the military. The change in our college culture reflects a deeper change in the culture at large: as we have become ever more consumers, and ever less citizens, the reasons for military service have ceased to be a serious consideration. What were once seen as among the primary forms of human excellence, or virtues – duty, patriotism, self-sacrifice – are now seen as ways of living that might be borne by unfortunate sops. Our meritocratic age has no space for such animating virtues: our motivations are now success (defined materially and financially) and self-fulfillment. It’s difficulty to find sufficient cause to join the military with those sets of motivations. And, I am not for an instant blaming the students: they “take their cues” – they are educated to value certain things over other things – by their elders and the broader culture. Military service is now largely for those who don’t have better options.
The extent to which we serve, support and honor at home those who fight abroad is the extent to which we resist consumerism in our own hearts and minds. Honoring those who exemplify virtues which we hope to attain is helpful to attaining them ourselves.
It’s a small gesture, but support Honor Flight or Semper Fi Fund today.
HT: James Poulos