Young Warriors

Print More

(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange regrets that the people who start wars don’t have to fight them.

(LANGE) Each year in September, young people about to matriculate at Dartmouth College spend several days in small groups, hiking, canoeing and kayaking, and cycling. Then they gather at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a huge log building, to banquet, dance, and swap experiences. I often go, too, to tell a few stories and chat with the kids about what they’ve done.

One night, which I’ll never forget, some of the undergraduate leaders began beating on pots and pans and shouting, “Snake dance!” and in moments the students were weaving through the building, up and down stairs and around the outside, stomping and shouting all the way. The heat and energy they gave off were almost frightening. The whole building shook. As they stomped past where I stood, it came to me why armies recruit young people to do a nation’s fighting.

Not only are they as fit as they’ll ever be, but they’re given to enthusiasms that don’t as easily infect those of us beyond middle years. They’re less inclined to have second thoughts, and more inclined to see only one side of an issue, and embrace it completely. And they’re more easily led by authority figures who appear to be sure of themselves coaches, professors, officers.

My son spent several years in the Coast Guard, the most peaceful of the four branches of our military. At the rifle range at the Academy, each cadet was given a target to shoot at. The transfers from West Point, however, had a mantra for target practice: “Get the gooks! Get the gooks!” Clearly, some people at their academy had been messing with their heads. The enemies they were being trained to battle had been demonized and dehumanized, to make killing them an act of virtue.

You can see where this is headed. There are those of us who buy the government’s arguments for war, and reckon almost any cost well worth it. And there are those of us who wouldn’t buy a used car from anybody working in the West Wing, who feel that a case for war is only rarely made.

I have no hope of changing anybody’s mind. Opinions, no matter how informed, are colored by preexisting ideology. Your opinion is every bit as good as those of the guys wearing dark suits, tailored uniforms, and sober expressions. But it does no good if you don’t express it. Don’t be cowed by so-called experts. As the late William Coffin has said, “In a democracy dissent isn’t disloyal; what is unpatriotic is subservience to bad policy.”

So our children continue to fight our wars. It’s said that when the ancient Romans removed the scaffolding from a newly constructed arch, the engineer who designed it had to stand under it. Most of those old Roman arches are still standing. I often wonder how much our imaginations might improve if the people who formulate our foreign policy had to prosecute it personally.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Comments are closed.