Food for Thought
Before Enlisting uses this page to offer "food for thought" to young people considering joining the military, their families, and anyone concerned with timely issues of war and peace.
In February of 2021, the PBS Newshour ran a segment detailing the rising epidemic of sexual assault in the ranks. The voices of victims and their families tell a nightmare that some servicemembers do not survive.
In January 2020, after a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad killed Iran's top general, Young Fellows at FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation published a stark article entitled The Only America We Know Is an America at War.
As young adults, we only faintly remember what life was like before Sept. 11, if we remember at all. Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, we have made it through elementary, middle, and high school. We’ve applied to colleges, finished our degrees, moved away from home, and entered the workforce—and the entire time, the U.S. has been carrying out military actions halfway across the world.
The cost has been devastating. The post-9/11 wars have directly killed over 800,000 people —including more than 335,000 civilians—and countless more have been impacted by hunger, disease, and trauma. American military aggression has contributed to the displacement of 21 million people and crippled multiple economies for a generation. The U.S. has spent more than $6.4 trillion and expanded our unaccountable surveillance state to unprecedented levels.
These are staggering numbers; yet somehow, we have become numb to them. The distance of the violence, the advent of drones and other war technologies, and sheer time elapsed have combined to sanitize war. Instead of being a catastrophic event, war has become an unfortunate reality.
Two decades worth of evidence make it clear—this is who we are as a country.
But it’s not who we have to be. With the recent escalation of violence with Iran, fueled by yet another president bypassing Congress to commit an act of war, we have a chance to change the paradigm. And we as young people are the ones who must do it.
From Greta Thunberg admonishing world leaders for their inaction on climate change to Parkland activists putting their foot down on gun violence, we have proven that our generation is hungry for change and ready to lead. And now, as the president toys with yet another needless conflict abroad, it’s time for us to stand up to endless wars.
Read the full statement here.
On Memorial Day weekend, 2019, the U.S. Army asked "How has serving impacted you?" on its Twitter Feed. Thousands of veterans posted agonizing responses to the question. The phenomenon was picked up by news organizations across the country, including the New York Times, NPR and Time Magazine. A few of the many, many eye-opening responses are below.
I lost my virginity by being raped in front of my peers at 19. Got married to a nice guy who was part of my unit. He was in the invasion of Iraq. Came home a changed man who beat the shit out of me. He’s convinced y’all are stalking him and he’s homeless, so great job there!
The strain of my deployment was too much for my wife to bear. She committed suicide in our home when I had just one month left. When my mental state deteriorated, I was sent to counseling so my COC could check off a box and say “they did everything they could”. (1/2)
I turned to alcohol and other vices. I begged to be sent to any other unit in a different state, just needing a change of scenery. Instead, I was demoted and discharged. Dumped like a bag of trash when I had at one time shown great promise as a leader and soldier.(2/2)
My wife walked in the garage and found me hanging from an extension cord. What’s worse she had to lift me up, cut the cord and resuscitate me all while screaming for help. My black ass is 6ft 245 pounds and she is 5’2 130 pounds. But hey at least I got to shoot some cool shit.
a friend’s father, 20 years after Vietnam, was still managing massive ptsd, and would have nightmares so big that he’d wake us up convinced we were under attack. he called us by names of his former unit soldiers and would cry when we told him about it.
My grandfather served in Vietnam. When I was 6, he shot himself in the head because of his depression and PTSD. I never got to learn who he was because of you.
My mom served at ft. McClellan and is still suffering from being poisoned to this day.
I am a Navy vet, I was a happy person before I served, now I am broke apart, cant even work a full 30 days due to anxiety and depression, i have Fibromyalgia and nobody understands because I am a guy. I am in constant pain everyday. And I think about killing myself daily……..
My grandparents were used as pawns serving the US army in aiding them on the Ho Chi Minh trail. They served in The Secret War, and when the US lost the Vietnam war the Hmong were left to die in genocide. To this day Hmong veterans are not recognized by the US army.
More than half of my people were wiped out through genocide. Only about a third of what once was the Hmong population are scattered in diaspora around the world. Many in the US who deal with PTSD through alcoholism, abuse, and addiction to opium.
And the children are left to pick up the pieces and navigate a delicate past, present, and future for the years to come while inheriting intergenerational trauma.
My dad has PTSD and is now suffering through chemo cuz of the shit he was exposed to in the gulf war. The VA is making it impossible for him to get benefits even though 1/3 of the vets from that war have weird health issues; too many for it to be a coincidence.
My brother came back from Iraq a broken alcoholic who has disowned us as a family and has retroactively blamed my poor mother for the horrible things that have happened to him. Every Mother’s day all she wishes for is for him to reach out again. Haven’t heard from him in years.
i watched my coworker work a 12 hour shift through panic attacks due to ptsd on the fourth of july (fireworks) bc he couldn’t afford to give his shift up due to the VA cutting his benefits and not helping to pay for his insulin (have you seen insulin prices lately?)
"...I was raped during my first year as a military linguist in the United States Army in 2002. So were at least two other women in our camp in Baghdad, but only one specialist and I had the audacity to report it. I spent years wishing I hadn’t.
The first woman’s story I only know about through Rumint — rumor intelligence, the surprisingly accurate mill around which the entirety of a low-ranking soldier’s existence revolves.
The specialist was a kind woman, soft-spoken. Not meek exactly, but gentle. Every line of her body declared this, from the rounding of her shoulders — perhaps an apology for her intimidating height — to the way she tended to grasp her fists together, as if she were holding her own hand.
She reported — and then the Army said it wasn’t rape. They said that this shy, happily married woman simply had sex with four different guys at once in a wild orgy under the Iraqi night sky. Sure, she’d reported it herself — but only because she might get caught,the reasoning went..."
"...Every rape in the Army is unreal, unbelievable — but only because we already know that almost no one will believe. It’s easier not to. How exhausting rape is for everyone involved, the paperwork and the sneers, followed by the investigation that ultimately will go nowhere. We who have been raped don’t want to be reminded. We want to think our own story is abnormal, because what does it mean if it is not? What of my beloved Army then?
So I didn’t think too hard; I didn’t look too deeply. I avoided the truth by avoiding the conversation. And by avoiding this specialist. I think she did the same. I’m sure she must have heard about me, but we never talked about our rapes.
Later, another woman in our camp, a staff sergeant, was raped by a translator in a shed after a game of chess. She didn’t report it. She had been around longer; she knew better. She didn’t want to jeopardize her security clearance or her career. A female command sergeant major suspected what had happened, but refused to move the sergeant away from her rapist. Then a female chief warrant officer threatened to report the victim when she learned the staff sergeant had been in the shed with the translator, because she felt a woman shouldn’t have allowed herself to be alone with a man. Whatever had happened, that was on her. So the staff sergeant kept her head down. She remained silent for years, through her military career, finally admitting the truth to me only when the Army was long behind her.
Our rapes were on us, the Army was telling us, and neither I, nor the specialist, nor this staff sergeant acted enough “like a rape victim,” a mantra often repeated by the investigators in my own case. The sergeant went back to work, did her job, and didn’t openly fall apart. The specialist didn’t uncurl her fists and shoot her rapists. Despite my own visible, documented injuries, I didn’t cry hard enough, loud enough, in the military police station in the hours after my rape, in front of a group of men who had no intention of believing me anyway..."
Shortly after the 4th of July, 2019, Military Times ran an alarming editorial about how 16-year-olds should be allowed to enlist. The writer listed several so-called "advantages" of targeting younger teens and essentially recruiting children. Below are several quotes from the article, entitled Would Lowering the Age of Recruitment Fix the Military's Recruiting Worries?
"The difficulties of the military lifestyle can be off-putting to members of Generation Z, especially amid today’s tight labor market and the greater availability of civilian jobs. Many potential recruits today are hesitant to sign up for the back-to-back deployments, constant moves and high unemployment among military spouses. To combat the growing military-civilian divide, the military must be willing to change its recruiting tactics amid changing times, and many senior leaders are supportive of this idea."
"While the Army is expected to just barely meet its recruitment goals this year, longer-term solutions, like increasing recruiting in high schools, have to be considered. While some state restrictions have limited the ability to allow recruiters on campus, increasing the presence of service members on campuses that do allow recruiting can spark students’ interest. It can be helpful in making military service more familiar and less intimidating."
"This targeted recruitment can also have a chain effect: many enlistments are gotten through referrals from friends and peers. In a 2018 study on the life of a private, almost 21 percent of soldiers in their research group were influenced by a friend or significant other to join, compared with just over 8 percent by a recruiter."
"Lowering the age of enlistment to 16 could be another alternative. For one, many of the factors that disqualify older youth from joining — like criminal records — are not as present in younger teens. Currently, of the 75 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds who are ineligible to serve, for example, 10 percent are ineligible due to criminal records. And according to the Department of Justice there are twice as many arrests of 18- to 20-year-olds as there are arrests of 15- to 17-year-olds. It’s also significantly cheaper to digitally target a younger audience — about 30 percent cheaper for ages 13 to 16 than ages 17 to 24. And 16-year-olds show a greater propensity toward military service than 18-year-olds — 23 percent versus just 12 percent."
"And enlisting doesn’t have to mean deploying right away. The U.S. already has procedures in place to prevent the deployment of 17-year-olds. And the Army already believes it is important to have potential soldiers meet recruiters before they turn 17."
"...the military may need to seek out more innovative recruiting methods and undertake large-scale policy changes like these. And we need to change the perception of the military lifestyle as a “sacrifice” — what you are giving up — and market it more as an opportunity — what you are gaining."