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Q - question
How could a person volunteer for the military and then later decide that he/she is opposed to going to war? Isn’t this person a coward?
A - answer

Most young people who enter the services today make that decision without giving much thought to the prospect of being in a war (to kill, risk being killed, or play a supporting role). Our system of military recruiting relies on young people adopting this kind of unthinking attitude.

Signing up for the military and then changing one's mind later may seem unbelievable. After all, everybody knows that the purpose of the US military, or any military, is to prepare for and to wage war.

But does one gain a realistic sense of what in means to fight in a war, and its consequences for soldiers and civilians, here and abroad, from movies or recruiters? It is unlikely, as the reality of war is intentionally obscured in military presentations.

Today’s military is portrayed as a place where a young person can get skill training (“Be All That You Can Be”) or can develop character and self-discipline (“The Army of One”). Indeed, military recruiting ads and pitches avoid images of war or present military hardware (tanks, etc.) or field experience in relation to non-military objectives (teamwork or technical training) that can help a service members in their post-service lives.

In wartime and in peacetime, some service members begin to feel that they cannot participate in war. Contrary to popular stereotype, many of these GIs had already developed an uneasy feeling about various aspects of the military regimen before being mobilized for war. Some GIs report being upset with targeting of human beings in military exercises and training, with military chants, and with the violence and intimidation that sometimes go with military life. Once confronted with the prospect of going to battle some GIs struggle with these feelings more seriously.

Why don’t they act sooner? Most service members are led to believe that their troubles adapting reflect a personal weakness. Many fear intimidation or harassment from other service members. Few are aware that there may be options (reassignment or discharge), although these alternatives are hard to get. Some service members do talk with others (family, friends, other service members) about their feelings, but are led to think that there is no way out. Finally, in a small number of cases, GIs do seek to be released from the military (as conscientious objectors or in response to stress-related illnesses.)

During this tenth anniversary of the Gulf War, it is important to remember the thousands of service members who sought a way out of fighting in that war. Standing up and saying NO to war once inside the military is not an act of cowardice, but an act of strength and maturity.

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