But that's what a good military does, find ways to make even terrible soldiers into good soldiers. At least you hope it does. So maybe the more accurate thing to say is, the way I was when I was 18, 19, or 20 years old, I'd've been a terrible soldier. Of course, I've never had to find out if I'd be a good soldier. Never was particularly interested in joining.
I appreciate that my dad, who served 26 years in the Navy, didn't force it one way or the other: didn't insist on either my trying to join the military or say No way in Hell you're joining. He was willing to let me figure out if I wanted to be any closer to military life than by being a Navy brat. The way he was when he was 18, who knows if he had the makings of a good soldier? But soon after he and Mom got married, Dad joined the Navy's officer school, and wound up making a career out of the service. (And making their marriage work. As Mom cracked at Dad's 1994 retirement ceremony, "By now they're normally exchanged their 40 for two 20s.")
But Dad's been tested in ways I never have. Would I think quickly enough to serve? Would I work quickly enough to serve? How well would I follow orders? How well would I strategize, figure out the most productive way to follow orders? Would I have much ability, or any ability, to move up through the ranks?
Would I believe in the work?
Would I overthink the work?
The thing is, I just had a reminder of (duh) how huge an issue war is, by reading Tom Clancy's early war novel Red Storm Rising. The book came out of discussions Clancy had about what a land war in 1980s Europe between Soviet forces and NATO forces might look like, and how such a war might come about. The novel begins with the Soviet Union losing a major oil refinery to a terrorist attack, and being so desperate for oil that it decides it needs to seize the Persian Gulf's oil reserves. To be able to do so and not be flattened by the West, the Soviets divert attention by attacking Europe (after a few months spent trying to set the West politically off-balance; the Soviet government even bombs a part of the Kremlin and claims other terrorists did it, as a way to generate both outrage from their citizens and sympathy from people in the West). Hundreds of pages of thousands or tens of thousands of people dying, in West Germany and in Iceland (which the Soviet military seizes) and in subs in the North Atlantic, and the fabled fog of war descends. Is either side winning? Are both sides making mistakes? How much luck is involved? Clancy's clearly on the side of the West winning; had a Russian writer written this, the novel's ending would've been different. (Had a Ukranian, Estonian, or Kazakh writer written this, the novel's ending would've been different still.)
I don't have Eighties-Tom Clancy's grasp of the military capacity of both sides, so I don't know how fair the book's portrayal is, except for how well it shows the difficulty of either side winning. Does a win feel like a win while you're in the middle of the fight? Of the battle? Of the war? I'm sympathetic to that worry. I'd be worried about it, too. I was worried about it just as an observer of some of the armed conflicts of my youth, especially those that involved the U.S. when Dad was still serving: our bombings of Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, and of course Desert Shield/Desert Storm. (I remember walking through our house the night the air war started, hearing a TV on where someone said "Desert Storm" and thinking to myself "No, it's Desert Shield," because obviously I wasn't in on the chain of command.) What if those conflicts went bigger than they had? Or an even more immediate example: the second Gulf of Sidra incident in 1989, which pitted two U.S. F-14s against Libyan MiG-23s, and those F-14s were from Dad's ship, the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. Each time, mine was a personal reaction: How will this affect Dad? I could've thought wider, wondering how the conflicts would affect the people Dad knew, or the wider military, heck, both sides. I should've thought wider.
And as I've grown older, I think I've gotten worse at processing the possibility of wars, and the cost of wars. Not that I was ever that good at that to begin with; I've never had to think like a soldier, or like a commander or anyone higher-ranked. I honestly feel, in my gut, that we're past the most likely chances of nuclear weapons ever being used again in war, but that's just one way we have of huge-scale fighting. I'm glad we've avoided World War III for 60-plus years -- do people even use "World War III" as a term anymore? -- but I know I can't wrap my mind around all of the conflicts that have happened since or are happening now. Maybe I need reminders of war every once in a while, whether in fictional form like Red Storm Rising -- describing circumstances that likely could never happen again -- or in science-fictional form like John Scalzi's space war novels, or in THE NEWS OF REAL CONFLICT THAT I SHOULD FOLLOW MORE.
This entry feels like a cop-out. I should count myself lucky that I can afford a cop-out.
In other news, I probably should not see Lone Survivor. Maybe something funny should be next on my list.