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What is the motiviation of military recruits?

In an earlier thread, someone who served three years pointed out that Americans do not sign up for the military to defend the nation. Rather, they're motivated by the kill.

(In response to "The problem is that people don't usually sign up to kill. They sign up to defend their nation," he replied that was "the most naive thing" he ever read about military service. Then he explained the 82 Airborne Division's motto is "Death from Above.")

Is this true, or at least how Republicans tend to see things?

When a recruiter called me, his carrot was to subsidize my college. When he realized this wasn't an issue for me, he politely thanked me for my time and went on to the next number. A sniper I once knew explained he wanted adventure and to see the world. However, I had assumed these people genuinely believed they were doing something honorable, or at least justified. Had you asked people if they wanted to kill on command, no matter if they realized their mission was an error where innocents would certainly be written off as "collateral damage," I think many fewer would join. I haven't yet met a military person cynical enough to say otherwise.

Is this why the government implements stop-loss policies, which even Republican Senator John McCain calls a "back-door draft"? Because they believe our soldiers are really killers rather than defenders, and they deserve involuntary conscription?
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 25th, 2005
My response wasn't that they were motivated to kill. Your assertion that they were motivated to defend, but not kill seemed absurd.

Personally, I signed up for the Army College Fund. But I knew that during my service, war was a possibility. In war, "defending" and "killing" go hand in hand. I just don't see how you separate the two in this context.
Permalink Cowboy coder 
March 25th, 2005
if people were joining just to kill you would expect army subscription to go up during war time.
instead over the course of the Iraqi war it has gone down, way, way down.

this makes me suspect that most people genuinely sign up to defend their country and fight a just war, there is nearly no interest in invading other countries unilaterally.

This thought comforts me :)
Permalink FullNameRequired 
March 25th, 2005
Well then Cowboy, you have strawmanned me (as some might think I strawmanned you). I certainly believe in a military; just that it's a tool to wield properly... and most people don't know how to use tools right.

Of course, some guy was calling people idiots in that thread, so perhaps it was hard to extract signal from noise in that discussion.
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 25th, 2005
I wasn't trying to straw man you. I just strongly disagreed with you.
Permalink Cowboy coder 
March 25th, 2005
My motivation, and I've heard from radio reports a few other people's motivation, was to get out of the situation I was in.

I got money for college, I improved my Electronics knowledge, and I did something I never ever want to do again. That would be serving in the Military, because they screw with you so much. The Navy has the highest divorce rate, for instance. Serving couples are not allowed to serve together, for instance.

The deal was, sign up and get these advantages. The price was, you agree to go in harm's way, should it come to that. As a Navy person, they'd be shooting at my ship, and I'd be throwing armed airplanes at them. It seemed a fair risk.

Very few people get in the military to kill people. Alright, maybe a few Marines. But mostly people go into the military to get benefits for themselves, at a slight risk of getting killed.

Nowadays, in Iraq there's a LARGE risk of getting killed or maimed. It's having a depressing effect on recruiting. Also, you used to be able to go into the Reserve's with a pretty good chance of not seeing combat. Mr. Bush has changed that.
Permalink AllanL5 
March 25th, 2005
My buddy from high school joined the air force. He definately did not join to kill people. He joined because he didn't know what to do next, was attracted to the military (had books on the military, played Risk, that kind of thing), and I guess it was a path that gave him some discipline, a direction. I was surprised he did it, but in retrospect, it made some sense.

There's something very comforting about rules. Knowing how to advance and so forth.

He's stationed in England but goes to Kosovo & Rawanda regularly. That kind of thing scares the shit out of him, and his wife (who he met in the Air Force, she was a military BRAT growing up) also goes, but they alternate tours of duty. I think they're trying to get the AF to send them together so they have more time together.

Neither one of them is in it because they want to kill people. It's just a career path. They're proud to defend their country and believe that what they do is necessary. They're also not fighters, they're technical people, support folk, but have been near fighting.

I think there's some sort of cult-like indoctrination that goes on as well. Cults also promise the same kind of "follow the rules" path to freedom from your previous life.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 25th, 2005
The recuriters are some desperate that they are offering free boob jobs to chicks. Perhaps cowboycoder could use a free penis enlargment procedure by joining the army :)
Permalink Dan Denman 
March 25th, 2005
> In war, "defending" and "killing" go hand in hand. I just don't see how you separate the two in this context.

Consider for yourself the Swiss, for example: Swiss citizens belong to their military, in order to defend Switzerland. It seems pretty clear! I don't see how it could possibly more obvious: they will kill ... to defend Switzerland ... and if it's not to defend Switzerland, then they won't be killing.

Would it be naive of American recruits to imagine that American armed forces exist only to "defend America"?
Permalink Christopher Wells 
March 25th, 2005
In my experience, there are three primary motivations for those joining up:

  1. Job Training. Getting paid while you learn a skill is very attractive to most people -- especially to those who have no money for school (lots of folks in this category).

  2. Travel. This, well, not so much as years ago, but still a factor for some. Even for those who serve in another state within the United States for their entire enlistment period, getting out of Armpit, Arizona, can be a compelling enticement. Nothing personal against Armpitians...or their town.

  3. Patriotism. This might be harder to find these days than a few decades ago because, IMHO, folks are simply more "me" oriented and less likely to believe that they owe anyone anything for anything. Sigh.

I've heard rumours from a few oldtimers to the effect that folks used to have another motivation: Service or jail. Publicly, this isn't done anymore, but I suppose it is still done "behind the scenes".

Ideally, I think, folks would be doing well to serve for some combination of the three reasons above, notwithstanding the fact that many folks report having so many difficulties while in the service or with the mere concept of service. I'm sure there are still a few...

It appears that many of us are still not getting the fact that our schools do hardly anything at all to prepare people for life in The Real World (TM). Therefore, I suspect that most recruits join for reason 1.

Also, I believe that there are three reasons why people already in the service become disenchanted with it:

  1. Too much time away from family and friends. Another poster already already mentioned the Navy's problem with divorce (although I know that there are many reasons for that issue that were not mentioned).

  2. Fear of the unknown. Specifically, the reality of really having to do what the military is there for: Protect and Defend. It is amazing that when this part of "the job" has to be done, all of a sudden, all other grass looks greener.

  3. Money. The service pays well enough while one is learning their skills, but once school is over and people have a couple of years experience doing their thing, they tend to compare notes with their civilian counterparts who are making three times the money. Of course, the prospect of retirement (with immediate pay) is attractive too.

After years of talking to hundreds (if not thousands) of service folks, I never met one who admitted they joined to kill. Whatever.

Silly Me
Permalink Silly Me 
March 25th, 2005
Preceding our involvement in WWII, we were attacked at Pearl Harbor. To the best of my knowledge, there was no other fighting on US soil.

Prior to WWII, I believe the last time that foreign troops were on US soil in an act of war was the War of 1812.

So while the US has had a long history of military action, most of it has not been in the "defending the homeland" mode.

So I just don't see where the parallel to the Swiss Army is valid. It was good for a laugh, though.
Permalink Cowboy coder 
March 25th, 2005
Cowboy,

The United States has interests around the globe. We have an obligation to protect and defend those intests too.

While there are those who refuse to accept this simple concept as fact by saying things like, "We're not the world's policemen", I am thankful that those in control do.

Silly Me
Permalink Silly Me 
March 25th, 2005
>Would it be naive of American recruits to imagine that American armed forces exist only to "defend America"?

Oh, I doubt it. The Romans justified invading Carthage in order to "defend the Roman Empire." I'm pretty sure anyone could manage to make any war of aggression into a make believe "defend your empire here" war.
Permalink Peter 
March 25th, 2005
> I'm pretty sure anyone could manage to make any war of aggression into a make believe "defend your empire here" war.

Yes, I believe so; I heard that Germany did so, for example, prior to invading Poland.

And I think that you would have to be cynical to say to your government "hey! *this* isn't a war of defense, or *this* is not a legal war, even if you say it is".
Permalink Christopher Wells 
March 25th, 2005
Tayssir John Gabbour is trolling at best. To assert that any percentage of US recruits join the Armed Services to kill is insane.

I personally joined to take a break from college. I spent two years in the Airborne Infantry. If anyone joined to kill others I suspect they would have funneled into a combat arms MOS. I am not sure why I am taking the time to discredit your naive observation.

Regarding the “backdoor draft:”

There is no such animal. Every and I mean every recruit enlists for eight years. Original contracts are written that a certain number of years are on active duty with the remainder being on ready reserve meaning they can be recalled, or never discharged. The armed services are simply holding recruits to these obligations. There is nothing back handed or illegal about this. Even my recruiter told me about this possibility.

Cowboy- the Aleutian Islands (in Alaska) were briefly held by the japanese during WWII. Just an aside, I agree with your posts above.
Permalink Christopher Hester 
March 25th, 2005
"Tayssir John Gabbour is trolling at best. To assert that any percentage of US recruits join the Armed Services to kill is insane."

Excuse me? I specifically claimed they DIDN'T join to kill. Putting words in my mouth...

As for your assertions about the stop loss:
http://www.fra.org/mil-up/milup-archive/08-26-04-milup.html
http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/index.cfm?page=Article&ID=2215
"'An enlistment contract has two parties, yet only the government is allowed to violate the contract; I am not,' said Costas, 42, who signed an e-mail from Iraq this month 'Chained in Iraq,' an allusion to the fact that he and his fellow reservists remained in Baghdad after the active-duty unit into which they were transferred last spring went home. He has now been told that he will be home late next June, more than a year after his contractual departure date. 'Unfair. I would not say it's a draft per se, but it's clearly a breach of contract. I will not reenlist.'"
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 26th, 2005
Perhaps you were not trolling so much as perpetuating an existing troll... Either way, it's a troll with your name attached to it. ;-)
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 26th, 2005
Quite true. What people claim on these forums are starting to make me mad, and... perhaps I'm just being easily goaded or whatever. ;)
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 26th, 2005
Come on.

Admit it, you love Noam Chomsky! Learnt his trade...
Permalink Rick Tsang 
March 26th, 2005
Tayssir learned linguistics?
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 26th, 2005
No.

HATE AMERICA!!!
Permalink Rick Tsang 
March 26th, 2005
Well, if Tayssir took the time to learn it, I hope it's at least a lucrative trade.
Permalink MarkTAW 
March 26th, 2005
I know you're joking Rick, but it's entertaining that people will call you anti-American if you think the current president is harmful to the US... yet they HATED Clinton when he was president. ;)
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 26th, 2005
But you really learnt his trade!

You are even better...
Permalink Rick Tsang 
March 26th, 2005
You might actually like studying activists, like the right-wing "funding father of the conservative movement" Richard Viguerie, or Noam Chomsky. I'm nothing like them, since I don't help anyone organize. (At least not politically, though there's a programming community I'd like to help out with.)

So take Noam, who explains how he does the blowhard circuit. People similar to him, who apparently draw similarly-sized audiences by offering information you don't usually hear about, give a talk organized by other people who do the real work. Then after his talk, the organizers offer interested audience members something to do. So it's not like The Noam Chomsky Show, where everyone is expected to just go home afterwards. Rather, it's a division of labor, where he takes one role.

This sort of thing happens spontaneously. In a local programmers' meeting I regularly visited last year, we wondered what we should do as it grew beyond four people. Some of us hit upon the idea of giving an informal talk, after which we'd head to a restaurant to socialize. Guys in a nearby city later did 3 talks, which was mindblowing, and soon we're having a 9-talk megalith artificially capped at 95 people. (The organizers changed rooms like three times due to more people wanting to attend, and drew a line in the sand at 95.)

Right-winger Richard Viguerie explained how Goldwater-conservatives had "to learn to communicate with each other below the radar of the liberal establishment." So his alternative-media movement also offered people what they couldn't get otherwise.

----

What do _I_ do? I just get on some forums and use that to drive my personal research. So Christopher Hester above claimed that I misunderstood stop-loss, though I just mentioned that the Republican Senator calls it a backdoor draft. However, it appears that Christopher may have misunderstood stop-loss; this fellow claims it has nothing to do with the obligatory 8 years:
http://usmilitary.about.com/od/deploymentsconflicts/a/stoploss.htm

Further, Sgt. Emiliano Santiago does talk about the 8 years, and said he fully served all of them:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june05/stop-loss_2-24.html

So as I understand, the real issue is whether an administration should be allowed use of stop loss in this situation, and whether soldiers may successfully sue the DoD in this instance. And Christopher's debate against my offhand remark gave me more insight on this issue.
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 26th, 2005
In fact, for those interested in the issue, this looks like a good editorial on stop-loss by Col. David H. Hackworth (USA Ret.):
http://www.sftt.org/cgi-bin/csNews/csNews.cgi?database=Hacks%20Target.db&command=viewone&op=t&id=72&rnd=931.7936744894719

He has other interesting editorials. Sam Easton on this forum said that while they don't always agree, "he had a distinguished military military career and tirelessly works for the interests of both veterans and active duty military personal." So he seems worth listening to.
Permalink Tayssir John Gabbour 
March 26th, 2005
My motivation was that I had been kicked out of college and needed something to do.

I was originally talking to the Navy, and had qualified under the Nuclear Reactor program, but then the state recruiter (a Master Chief) showed up and fed me such a huge line of BS that I walked next door to the Air Force. On reflection, the USAF was a better choice -- I don't think I could have stayed cooped up in a sub for 6 months, pulling 6 hour shifts, watching needles move.

The educational benefits I had were very nice (I was in under the VEAP program -- they would match 2-for-1 for up to $8100 in received benefit), and the travel was great (got stationed in Germany and California). Patriotism entered into it as well, but wasn't a primary motivator for me. I also learned a healthy dose of pragmatism, which helped a bunch when I returned to school afterwards.

I signed up for 4 years, and did another 15 months (or so) of active reserve time after that. Was freed from my IRR commitment 8 years after first signing. For me, the reserves were a huge waste of time. I would show up for training with the active duty guys, and they wouldn't have anything to do, much less anything for me to do. So I got paid for doing school work.

Being in the reserves today is an entirely different situation. I don't think I could afford to be out of work for a 1 year active duty tour -- the pay would cover my mortgage, and not much else. The being shot-at thing doesn't bother me that much -- I had to deal with car bombs, demonstrators, eastern-bloc spies, etc, while I was in Germany.

I see that they've raised the maximum age for joining the reserves to age 39, in an effort to broaden their recruiting base. Which isn't a bad thing -- older soldiers/airmen/seamen tend to be more stable and reliable than your typical 19yo.

I'd like to see us move to the Swiss model of national defense, with a much smaller active duty force.
Permalink example 
March 26th, 2005

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