Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Jumping from the Ivy League to olive drab (II)

This trend doesn’t involve just elite men. The note below is from Jessica, who raises a couple of interesting themes. First is that joining the military seems to be almost a form of rebellion for these children of the elite. Jessica’s mother and father are “fairly appalled at my decision.” The difference between this and ...

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This trend doesn’t involve just elite men. The note below is from Jessica, who raises a couple of interesting themes. First is that joining the military seems to be almost a form of rebellion for these children of the elite. Jessica’s mother and father are “fairly appalled at my decision.” The difference between this and other rebellious activity is that many peers don’t seem to get it, either.

I am using this with her permission, and have deleted her last name at her request:

This trend doesn’t involve just elite men. The note below is from Jessica, who raises a couple of interesting themes. First is that joining the military seems to be almost a form of rebellion for these children of the elite. Jessica’s mother and father are “fairly appalled at my decision.” The difference between this and other rebellious activity is that many peers don’t seem to get it, either.

I am using this with her permission, and have deleted her last name at her request:

I am a recent college graduate-certainly not of an Ivy League school, but a respectable one I think. I’m female, have a degree in Political Science, I’m 23, and I too am seeking a commission in the US Marine Corps. I don’t come from a military family (they are, in fact, fairly appalled at my decision), I don’t have college loans to pay off (it’s come to my attention that this is a motivator for a lot of people), and I haven’t had trouble finding a job in the recent economic turmoil, I reached my decision long before Wall Street went to hell. Usually when I tell people what I am doing I get the usual looks: disbelief, skepticism, puzzlement, sometimes disgust. And I’m always asked “why?”.  I can’t speak to the motivations of others; I think your comments were pretty spot-on. But, I’d like to add mine to the mix.

My decision was almost reactionary. As you said, those of us who are in or just graduating college have lived in a Post 9/11 world for almost half of our lives and this had severely changed my perspective on the world and my relation to it. When I look at my peers — watching the Hills, drinking away their weekends (and sometimes weekdays), and just burdening society with their existence…I am disgusted. It seems like some of us feel we are owed something just because we’re born American. The sense of service is gone. We’ve become so selfish and lazy that we can scarcely do anything for ourselves. It bothers me. I don’t want to be grouped in with a generation who only knows how to hold their hands out. 

As Nate Fick wrote in One Bullet Away (I paraphrase, I don’t have the book with me) “I wanted to do something so hard no one could ever talk shit to me, something that might kill me.” Seeking out hardship puzzles people but luckily there will always be those, like the Ivy Leaguers you’ve talked to, who will run headlong into and only look back to scream “follow me!”

I am seeking a commission as a Marine Officer because I believe that nothing in this world is free. I want to serve my country and I want to make a difference in the lives of others…however small. We have all our lives to make money and seek easy living…but while we are young, healthy, and intelligent don’t we owe it to our country to be more?

I’d also like to say that I read Making the Corps during my decision-making process (I was torn between the Corps and the Navy). The book and it descriptions of the esprit de corps and the brotherhood (and hopefully sisterhood, ha) awed me. The Marine Corps seemed like the last Spartan society in the world and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. As of right now, my application is at the selection board for OCC-201, with a little luck I’ll be shipping to Quantico in May. So thanks.”

Also, if you haven’t been studying the responses that have been posted to this item, you might have missed this interesting observation from another reader that the trend might have been reinforced by recent changes in the government and the military:

I agree with many of the comments made in response to your post. Going to a liberal New England prep school and then an “elite” university, I was surrounded by friends who were for the most part against the war in Iraq, somewhat indifferent to the war in Afghanistan and ridiculed the Bush administration. The only thing I might add to previous comments is that since a lot of us 20 something’s graduated, many of the military leaders who supported the invasion of Iraq have been replaced by men who were against the war at its conception. Rather than wash their hands of a war they were against, they have taken responsibility for arguably the hardest parts of both engagements. For a generation who grew up reading about scandals in the White House and watching politicians do everything possible to avoid accountability, at least personally, seeing General Petraeus before Congress asking for a surge and taking personal responsibility for the result made quite an impression.”

Finally, check out this comment from last weekend, which to my mind  reinforces the sense that the new administration is attracting a new sort of officer:

I’m a college sophomore who has worked in Sudan and as a Field Organizer for the Obama campaign. It’s Marines PLC for me.”

Reader comments on these three? Is there something new and different going on here?

Angela Radulescu/flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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