As my children and their friends have grown older, I’ve witnessed an interesting phenomenon: some of the sons are going into the military. Maybe if you live in the South, this is ordinary, but here in Marin it’s extraordinary. Polite post-9/11 lip service aside, most Marinites, if asked to dig deep in their soul to say what they think about the military would echo John Kerry or Stephen King, which is to say that they believe the American military is for illiterate losers.
The boys who have chosen the military are all pretty much the same: they’re fundamentally decent kids, average students, and don’t know what to do with themselves. They’ve all tried junior college and found it lacking. They were also all old enough to enlist without parental permission but, because they have good relationships with their parents, parental approval mattered.
In each case, the boys have thrived in the military. No matter how Obama tries to feminize it, the military is still the last bastion of traditional manhood in America. No longer are the boys trapped in English classes where they have to talk about their feelings, or forced to listen to their feminist classmates insult them as male chauvinist pigs (even as the boys understand that to respond in kind is a way-one ticket to suspension). Instead, the boys are physically fit, proud, accomplished, and living with the type of camaraderie that transcends race, color, creed, and sex.
To give my Progressive friends’ credit, they’ve supported their boys. More interestingly, each has had to come to terms with the fact that the American military isn’t a sadistic, backwards, uneducated bastion of baby killers. Instead, it’s made up of kids just like their sons: old-fashioned boys, with old-fashioned manly virtues, who need a place to be true to themselves. Suddenly, instead of just paying lip-service (“We support the troops”), these Progressive parents are saying things like “Why shouldn’t our military have the best and the brightest? It’s there to protect us.” “The military sure teaches young people to be hardworking and responsible.” “He’s really found himself in the military.”
Incidentally, this observation has dawned on me only slowly, while watching other people’s experiences. Back in 1998, though, Frank Schaeffer experienced the whole thing first hand:
In 1998, Frank Schaeffer was a bohemian novelist living in “Volvo driving, higher-education worshipping” Massachusetts with two children graduated from top universities. Then his youngest child, straight out of high school, joined the United States Marine Corps. Written in alternating voices by eighteen-year-old John and his father, Frank, Keeping Faith takes readers in riveting fashion through a family’s experience of the Marine Corps: from being broken down and built back up on Parris Island (and being the parent of a child undergoing that experience), to the growth of both father and son and their separate reevaluations of what it means to serve. From Frank’s realization that among his fellow soccer dads “the very words ‘boot camp’ were pejorative, conjuring up ‘troubled youths at risk'” (“‘But aren’t they all terribly southern?’ asked one parent”) to John’s learning that “the Marine next to you is more important than you are,” Keeping Faith — a New York Times bestseller — is a fascinating and personal examination of issues of class, duty, and patriotism. The fact that John is currently serving in the Middle East only adds to the impact of this wonderfully written, timely, and moving human interest story.