Things to Ponder Before You Enlist

Dear Tayler,

First I want to say how much I enjoyed seeing you and Bayley and your mom when I visited last week. Aunt Bonnie did a wonderful thing bringing us all together again for Great Grandpa’s 90th birthday.

In particular, I am writing to you because of something that happened at Great Grandpa’s home on Saturday night. We were all sitting around talking, and Aunt Bonnie talked to you about maybe going to the Air Force Academy. You then mentioned that you might consider going to VMI, where your Dad graduated.

You may be a little young to be considering military service, but I believe you are very mature for your age. So, I would like to present this letter to you. It is an adult letter, with important adult issues for you to consider. I believe that you can handle it now, and maybe you will keep this letter and read it in the next few years. It is my desire that when you reach the time to decide to go in the military, or not, you will be prepared. To get prepared, you need to decide why you would want to serve in the military, and whether it is the right thing for you.

I will ask some questions below. After each question I will give you my comments and some advice. I strongly recommend that you get advice from other people too. Maybe talk to Bonnie some more, talk to your Dad and your Mom, or anyone else whom you respect to give you good judgment. Then I ask you to decide the answers for yourself, based on what your conscience tells you, what you know to be right and wrong, and whether going into the military service meets your needs as well as the needs of the United States.

Before I start, I want you to know that I am not a pacifist (someone who does not believe in war). I served proudly in the U.S. Army Special Forces, and received my honorable discharge. I will defend myself and my loved ones if they are ever threatened, even if it means killing someone. But taking lives is something that we should do only when there is very clear danger, and only after all other solutions are gone.

There are many people who are far wiser and more experienced than I am about the U.S. military. There is one man in particular who had valuable experience in military and civilian service to the United States. Dwight Eisenhower was a brave general during World War II, and then he served for eight years as president. Why am I telling you this? Attached to this letter is his "Farewell Speech" to the American people as he left office. Please take a few moments and read it.

When you join the U.S. military, you must be prepared to kill or be killed. You only have one life. All other humans only have one life. Will you be prepared to take the life of a man or woman who you do not even know? Think about why you would go to another part of the world and put a bullet in the head of a total stranger. Because he is "the enemy"? Because he is a "bad" man? Who says? How can you know he is bad if you have never met him?

Would you be willing to give your life? If the answer is yes, then I ask "for what are you willing to die"? If your answer is to really defend your country, then I say that is a good reason. However, if you join the military, what are the chances that you will kill or be killed to really defend your country? In the example I gave above, where you are killing a man in another part of the world, the chances are that you are in HIS homeland, and he may actually be defending HIS country. Hmm. Something to think about. All of the U.S. wars in my lifetime have been fought in faraway lands.

Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about the "military-industrial complex." He was saying that the new industries and money that were rapidly growing to supply weapons were (and are) influencing U.S. leaders. In other words, he was telling us that U.S. decisions to fight wars may not be motivated just by defense of the United States. Think about that. Can the U.S. start a war that is NOT truly in self-defense? Has it? If the U.S. then kills innocent people because of such a war, is it murder? What about the brave U.S. men and women who would die fighting such a war? Did they give their lives for nothing?

Some other questions for you to think about, please. Why does the United States have over 700 military installations around the world (and growing)? Does it have THAT many enemies? Of course not. Then why? Why are U.S. military expenditures year after year equal to ALL other military expenditures of ALL other nations in the world? A very important question. Try to get an answer that makes sense to you. Why has the United States been the number-one arms dealer in the world for the past decades? Is it possible that Eisenhower’s advice regarding the military-industrial complex was more serious than anyone thought?

If you decide to join the U.S. military, you will take a solemn oath. You will then be required to take orders from other people. Those orders may require you to kill or be killed. Once you are in the military, it is very difficult to get out. If your commanding officer orders you to blow up a house that has innocent women and children in it, you will be under tremendous pressure to follow that order.

In war soldiers see and experience things that are TOTALLY against everything they have learned in life. This is what causes so many soldiers to come back from war "changed." Their war memories haunt them, and they are never the same. Many use drugs or alcohol for the rest of their lives to escape from these memories and the awful feelings that go with them. You need to be prepared for that possibility if you join. I believe that war is the ultimate human insanity. It causes men to do insane thing to themselves and other people.

I think that this letter is long enough for you! If you want to ask me questions about anything in this letter, please feel free to write an e-mail to me (your Mom can help if you need it). Again, talk to other people that you respect. I am giving you this letter not just as your grandfather, but as a man talking to a man. I want you to make the right decisions in your life, especially having to do with this very important subject.

The best advice I can ever give you is to think and question! Do not allow yourself to be influenced by other peopleā€¦ ever. Question and demand answers, and think for yourself.



[Editor’s note: A rough draft of this article was initially posted Monday. Our apologies for the error.]

Author: Don Robertson

Don Robertson served in the U.S. Army Special Forces. He now lives in Costa Rica.