At my daughter’s high-school graduation a decade ago, one member of her class was singled out for special notice. He would enroll in the United States Naval Academy that fall, and a Captain, in dress whites, had traveled all the way from Annapolis to hand him his diploma and publicly praise him. He was by all accounts a very good guy and is now a Marine officer who has more than earned the Captain’s commendation. So why did singling out a young man committed to serving his country bother me? There are many paths to service, and the graduation ceremony elevated one, that of warrior, above the others. In doing so, the school tacitly acknowledged a troublesome trend in America: the evolution of a separate caste of men and women we send to fight our wars so we won’t have to. We praise their courage and send them again and again into battle while we go about our business. In exchange, we let them board airplanes early and enable politicians to demagogue their gratitude. Last week, for example, only three senators – Republicans Dan Coats and Jeff Flake and Democrat Tom Carper – had the courage to vote against reversing a one-percent reduction in veterans’ cost-of-living raises already approved by the military.
I believe two things: (1) there are many ways to serve this country, and (2) everybody should do so. There is so much to do, not least of which is instilling a sense of community that only universal service can provide.