Don’t Listen to Me Again about the Military

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For those contemplating military service, or if you know someone contemplating military service because he can’t find a job, is patriotic, wants to follow a family tradition, etc., here is the sane and sober response of a Navy veteran to a young man contemplating attending the Naval Academy and subsequent “service” in the Navy who asked about his experiences. He sends it along so that it might help others who have similar thoughts.

I’m glad you wrote. Let me start by saying that seeking a life or career in the service of others is a good and noble calling. However, in my opinion, the military does not offer that life of service (at least not in the way Christ intended). I know that may run contrary to what you’ve always believed, so I’ll try to explain. I went to the Naval Academy straight out of high school, as an idealistic, enthusiastic 17 year old. Both my father and brother were graduates and they are both good men, so I was confident in my choice to follow in their footsteps. I quickly learned that the Academy does not teach service-oriented leadership, but rather was indoctrinating future officers to blindly follow orders. Arbitrary edicts and inconsistent applications of discipline and authority were used to corral midshipmen into the approved mindset. Those with creative minds and innovative thinking were not celebrated, rather they were viewed as troublemakers. I was stubborn, however, and I continued to apply servant leadership, which I learned from my father and it stuck with me despite the Academy’s efforts. That dedication did not come without a price. I was depressed for most of my four years. I was openly critical of fear-based authority, which often resulted in my being punished. I began drinking alcohol heavily and acting out in defiance. It soon became extremely difficult to maintain my faith and to trust in God’s Will. I had serious misgivings about continuing but was sure that things would be different in the “real” Navy. By my senior year, I had learned to “go along to get along.” I still held my principles of leadership and couldn’t stand the obvious hypocrisy all around me, but I’d learned to internalize those feelings in order to avoid making waves. I’d also met my future wife and had already committed to my 5 year term of service, so I accepted the officer’s commission upon graduation.

In all fairness, the fleet Navy is different than the Naval Academy, but not by much. As a new Ensign, you are entrusted with the care and management of a division of sailors and associated equipment. Servant-leadership produces efficiency and effectiveness, while officers who “lord it over” their sailors flounder. You can succeed based on your merits rather than false perceptions. However, following orders still dominates as well as an unsettling desire for war. I fell prey to that in 2003. I was in Division Officers School when my ship deployed early for the Iraq invasion. I was so disappointed, even to the point of anger, to be missing the war. I gave no thought to its illegality, and especially not to its immorality. Even while JPII said that there was absolutely no moral justification for the Iraq war, I wanted to go and kill. Now, looking back, I’m disgusted with myself and my desire to kill people for no other reason than that’s what I was trained to do, and I thank God that he spared me from having those deaths on my conscience. I continued on with that mindset, choosing to commit to more time in exchange for a monetary bonus, until about 2008 when my eyes were truly opened to the nature of the military and our government. Through study, research, prayer, and thoughtful reflection, I realized that we had entered a period of perpetual war. Our government was using the military to invade foreign countries that had never harmed us and were never a threat to us. Not only that, but the wars were/are in violation of the Constitution (which I swore to uphold) and were certainly in violation of the Catholic principles laid out in the Just War Theory. Yet, no one in the military was objecting. There were no Admirals or Generals resigning. There were no mass desertions. No increase in Conscientious Objectors. The military was obediently following orders. While I had entered the Academy and accepted a commission with the noble ideal of serving my country, I realized that I was truly serving an immoral organization that was using death and destruction to profit financially. It was using force and violence, destroying peoples lives, for money. In good conscience, I knew that I could no longer continue to be a party to such things. I will be resigning my commission at the end of my current tour.

I would strongly discourage any good man from joining the military. In the Navy, particularly, it is extremely difficult to remain faithful to Christ’s teachings. You live day in and day out in the company to immoral people. Drunkenness is extremely common, as is theft, pornography, fornication, and adultery. Brothels in foreign ports make their wages for the year when American ships arrive. The Navy is also extremely damaging to family life. 6-month deployments as well as numerous other underway periods steal a man’s time from his loved ones. Even while in port, 12 hour work days are the norm. I missed about 9 months of my first born daughter’s first year because I was out to sea. The stress and strain that puts on a spouse is, in my opinion, irresponsible of a husband. Please realize that joining the military is not serving a “greater good.” At best, the military serves the special interest groups that manipulate the government through lobbying and campaign financing. At worst, it is the international enforcement arm of a criminal and immoral mafia-style organization that completely ignores the Constitution, the law of the land. It will jeopardize your principles, your marriage, your children, your life, and likely your soul. There are plenty of service-oriented pursuits for an eager and conscientious Catholic. What do you want to do with your life? What gets you excited? If you’re interested, I’d recommend reading articles at The archives of Laurence Vance deal with the christian perspective on the military. Please don’t hesitate to respond with any other questions or concerns. God Bless.

12:15 pm on March 5, 2014