Stop Marketing the Military as a Way to Pay for College

By James Maier

In my job as a part-time janitor at a public high school, I’m exposed to many forms of government indoctrination I didn’t necessarily notice when I was in high school, even though I’ve self-identified as a libertarian since I was a sophomore in high school in 2009 after learning about and reading books authored by Ron Paul. Admittedly, prior to my discovery of libertarianism, my childhood in the Midwest taught me that military service was honorable. I had family who had served in the Second World War and during the Cold War, and as late as my 16th birthday, I was considering joining the Army Reserves upon completion of high school, largely for the same college benefits touted to students who may have come from the similar lower middle class background I did.

The starkest of these forms of indoctrination, I’ve begun to realize, is how the military is treated not so much as a vocation, but as a socially acceptable, encouraged, and adulated social program. Students are urged to consider a stint in the National Guard or Reserves of any service branch as a means to pay for school or earn extra money, just as they may by working landscaping or cutting grass in the summer, for pay under the table, thanks to modern labor law. The promotions are in a sense, no different than McDonald’s or a retail establishment advertising job openings to high school students, but they are painted with a sense of adventure. The same students urged not to go their own way outside the traditional path of college are more than encouraged to risk their lives and can legally enlist prior to being able to vote, buy cigarettes, legally enter into contracts, and drink a beer.

By promising various post-service benefits, the military also acts in a semi-fraudulent way, as if the jobs the military performs, especially in active warzones or parts of the world prone to blowback driven terror attacks (embassies, forward operating bases, various “peace-keeping” missions in ethnically-charged flashpoints) aren’t anything life-threatening or fatal. Tuition assistance is great, provided you aren’t crippled or dead as a result of your stint. The rising levels of PTSD that we see amongst active duty troops could also very well nullify any desire or ability to engage in post-service education or vocational training.

My objections to these means of marketing the armed services are manifold in nature; for one, why is a job where a student could potentially be seriously maimed or killed merely discussed as just another way to afford school? Is this how desensitized the military marketing has become to over 15 continuous years of wars on multiple fronts? Is this resultant from the high costs of education caused by intervention of the same entity that wants more cannon fodder?

Another objection is that it seems the civic religion on every single holiday tied to the United States- from Presidents’ Day, to Memorial Day, to the Fourth of July to Veterans’ Day (once known as Armistice Day), paints everyone who has served in the military as deserving of praise for making such great sacrifices- however in contemporary times, the military’s own marketing paints service as just another bullet on one’s resume (when most of the touted “in-demand” job skills learned in the military will not be endowed by the MOS of the average ASVAB scorer) and an afterthought, and not a vocation that at one point in this nation’s history men and women devoted their lives to.

Perhaps if the military wants to market service in such a way, we should be more objective when discussing such job paths and not merely give them a blanket pass in actions they take overseas, which arguably are antithetical to many founding principles, especially as Republicans who were critical of Obama’s foreign policy of destabilization in the middle east find themselves in control of an executive branch which magically makes them mute to entertaining any criticism. Doing so may result in fixing a foreign policy largely based on the ability of the United States to field volunteers who were arguably fooled into fighting in conflicts ongoing in some cases since they were toddlers.