Would You Allow Your Child to Join the Military? June 11, 2009

Would You Allow Your Child to Join the Military?

In response to the post Would You Allow Your Child to Join the Boy Scouts of America?, many of you said no because you disapprove of their discriminatory ways.

Plainfieldrob raises an interesting point, though. If you say no to joining the Boy Scouts, what about the military? They also discriminate against gays, and while they don’t openly kick out atheists, they definitely make it difficult for non-religious people to serve.

Rob won’t let his child join the Boy Scouts, but…

… I’m a veteran and the US military has a policy against letting gays & lesbians serve openly. Yet, I will absolutely ask that [my son] consider serving his Country regardless whether that policy remains in force in 12 years.

I will do this because I think service to Country outranks joining a social organization for young boys & men. However, it raises the difficult question — Am I being morally inconsistent? I don’t think so — but I would like to hear some other thoughts…

What do you think?

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  • Calvin

    Yes. While it does outrank the boyscouts. You are still being morally inconsistent.

  • Josh BA

    I agree. It is definitely morally inconsistent.

    It’s a bit like claiming that “meat is murder” but saying that eating bacon is fine because it tastes so good.

  • Polly

    I would think that IF anyone considers themselves a humanist, or even ethics-driven then it would be inconsistent to serve in the military due to the fact that most (if not all) wars are unethical either in ultimate end or in methods. Usually both.

  • Alan E.

    Other moral questions are raised by the military as well. If you are religious, following the Commandments to the letter, and join the army, wouldn’t you be breaking the commandment to not kill? God approves it all the time in the bible, but when is killing good and when is it bad? Who decides? The same questions can be used with the death penalty.

    Humans are chalk full of moral inconsistencies. I think if you supported him to join the army, then asked him to be accepting and supportive of his gay comrades, you would not be inconsistent. There are some things we cannot change, but there is more hope of changing the rules in the army than in scouts.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Well, you have to be 18 to join the military. So you can’t keep your child from joining. Nevertheless, I would strongly discourage any child of mine from joining the military, not just because it is a discriminatory institution, but also because it is a tool of US empire that has very little to do with protecting our nation and a whole lot to do with projecting US power around the world. I would not want my child to risk his or her life to take over Iraq’s oil fields.

    Let’s face it: for all the talk about soldiers “defending our freedom,” you can’t actually show me a concrete example of how a soldier, or the Armed Services, actually, literally defends our freedom today. The terrorists never had the power to take our freedom away, nor did Saddam Hussein or any of America’s other enemies.

    That doesn’t change the fact that soldiers do make real and selfless sacrifices when they serve, but to me that compounds the tragedy of these sacrifices even further. By now we know that the invasion of Iraq was built on a house of lies, and the soldiers that died there died in vain. It is a terrible tragedy.

    So no, I hope that no child I ever have chooses to serve in the military. I would prefer that he or she seeks out service that does not involve killing people and risking being killed.

  • flatlander100

    As LLC above notes, the question you asked — Would You Allow Your Child to Join the Military? — is largely meaningless. Once your child is 18, you couldn’t stop him or her from signing up. It wouldn’t be your choice.

    Encourage/discourage, sure. But “allow,” no.

  • Revyloution

    Mmmm. Bacon.

    That side tracked me Josh.

    I don’t see it as being morally inconsistent.

    The Boy Scouts is a private club, sure they seem like a national entity, but in reality they are just a collection of private clubs. They serve no national purpose. If they become so attached to an anti-atheism/anti-homosexuality agenda that they become marginalized from the larger society, it will not have a drastic effect on the larger US populace.

    The US military is directly responsible for the security of the US. If we discourage secularists from joining, then we cede the duty of defending our republic to the theists. That is surely the road to disaster.

    If Scouting can be changed from within, then approving your secular childs decision to join could help educate other kids. If the organization is too far gone, then its time to divert your kid to other clubs.

    But government, at all levels, must never be ceded to theism. We need to encourage atheists to join in participation at every level of government, even the military.

  • If we discourage secularists from joining, then we cede the duty of defending our republic to the theists

    Totally true! That is a fantastic point and I can’t add more, really.

    but, since I can’t stop talking, here’s a religion/military anecdote: I served as a SAR helo crewman in the USCG. There was never any over religiousness. However, at my last station, USCGAS Traverse City, MI, there seemed to be a large number of born-agains (as we called them back in the 90’s); four or five on the day shift alone.

    Maybe that’s not a lot, but maybe it just struck me compared to my previous station on Kodiak. There, the only guy whose religion I ever found out was a Mormon who once told me that as a male he should have no opinion on abortion.

  • As previously noted, you can’t prevent your adult child from joining the military. I would encourage my child to seriously consider his/her motivations for wanting to join. I would present my views on the subject, encourage them to do research and come up with a reasoned decision on their own. However they choose at that point, they will have made their choice as an educated, thoughtful, rational adult, which is the best thing I can wish for my children to become.

  • Richard Wade

    Rob, thank you for your courage to put yourself out there for such a discussion, and to be open to other’s feedback.

    The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is an ethical dodge. It is a cowardly evasion of the issue, hoping that they won’t have to face it and take a firm stand. So far, it has still resulted in 13,000 skilled, suitable people being involuntarily kicked out, saying in essence that they are not worthy to serve their country. The atheism issue is similarly disingenuous, having a policy and a practice that are entirely different.

    The Scouts, on the other hand, are straight forward about their attitudes. They don’t hide it and don’t hope that others will hide the truth from them.

    As backward, reprehensible and indefensibly bigoted as both organization’s behaviors are, the Scouts are at least honest about it.

    Yes, if you say no to the Scouts but yes to the military, you are morally/ethically inconsistent, because you are tacitly approving of the same discrimination in one group and taking a strong stand against it in the other. It is only a rationalization to draw a line between the two groups because you say that one provides a more important service than the other. That does not negate the principle of equality of treatment for person’s rights, a principle that is universal in ethical systems.

    Allowing the military to continue an unethical practice because they provide an important service is an “end justifies the means” process, a process that is notorious for justifying many forms of terrible oppression and abuse.

  • Plainfieldrob

    I can actually taste bacon – thank you not Josh.

    I just want to add that I think that all citizens should have to serve (in some capacity – hospitals, mental health, etc), even those with a clown fetish. I wish the military were not necessary, but it is. And for the record, my girls better give it serious consideration too – it ain’t just a boys club anymore.

    I think Revyloution and Alan hit it on the head so far. But we’ll see what others have to say…

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Hear, hear. As a USAF veteran and outspoken atheist, I was never discriminated against, and certainly our last few wars have been political, not existential; but if we do face an existential threat, it is an obligation for us atheists too to defend our rights. Not that I think this is likely, but hey, it’s my two cents.

  • Sackbut

    I don’t think it’s morally inconsistent. Things are not black and white here. If your child wanted to learn, say, archery, and the only organization in your area that taught archery was the Boy Scouts, letting him join for that reason, even while you disapprove of some of their policies, is certainly understandable.

    There is only one military in the US. You either join and deal with their rules or don’t join. If the desire to serve your country in that manner is strong enough, it may be more important in your priority list than opposing discriminatory policies.

    There are a couple of other issues here, though. First, the question asks if I would allow my child to join the military. That presumes that the child is still of an age where my permission is needed. There is no way in hell I would allow my minor child to leave high school, certainly not to join the military.

    But assume that the child is asking for my advice and approval, not permission, and is an adult. I would not be happy with my child joining the military, and I would say so. My reasons have pretty much nothing to do with discriminatory policies, though. I do not like the kind of unquestioned obedience and submission to authority that appears to be fostered by the military, I don’t like the way the military is used symbolically by certain factions in the US as a sort of “might makes right” banner, I am bothered by the emphasis on fighting and warfare, and I am very bothered by the attitude of some that supporting the country means supporting the military.

    If someone wants to serve the country, go into municipal government, or join the Peace Corp, or become a school teacher, or something. I don’t automatically admire people who go into the military. It’s a job. There are lots of jobs.

  • Abbie

    The fact that the military discriminates against gays would be pretty far down the list of reasons not to want my kid in the military.

  • JT

    I served 10 years in the military and would whole-heartedly support my son if he wanted to join, if he comes to that decision. If he’s 18 he can make that choice anyway – however, during my time in the service, there was no pressure from the Xian element to pray, go to services, etc.; but things may have changed. I didn’t call myself an atheist when I was in either, I just knew it was all BS and probably tuned any of it out.

  • Lacuna

    My son wishes to join the military. As an agnostic, he’s going to face some issues. However, he’s got a thick skin when it comes to religion. Really, he just doesn’t care what others think about his agnosticism.

    As he’ll be 18 when he finishes high school, I won’t have any control over his choice. While I’d rather he NOT join the military, I’ll support him regardless.

    I hope that by the time he joins (in a year), the attitude towards gays in the military will be better. Unfortunately, it will be a very long time before the attitude towards atheists/agnostics will change.

  • Shane

    Sure, I would allow them. Hell, I am even considering joining the military. Of course, I am Canadian and so the situation might be a little different. Possibly very different.

    I am not a pacifist nor a proper “humanist” so I have no ethical problem with military service. Any sovereign nation needs a competent military.

  • TK

    We not only need the non-religious to join the military, but to achieve extremely high ranks in the process. The officer population in the military is insanely religious and it would be great for everybody if that percentage can drop.

    The same goes for the government. We’ve already had huge boost from Obama’s references to us in his past speeches. We need to make sure that our increasing acceptance continues to rise and the best way to do that is by rising in the government. As an earlier post implies, if we keep away from government organizations due to their discriminatory regulations, they will never change.

  • At some point you have to let you child make a decision. With either of these institutions I would clearly state my beliefs about them, but ultimately I would leave the decision up to them. My oldest son has always been an atheist (until he chooses otherwise) yet he has been to church with friends quite a bit over the years. He knows my feelings about churches and religion, but he also knows it’s something I leave up to him. I can only hope that my kids feel comfortable enough to ask me about such issues when they encounter the inevitable ethical quandaries.

  • Todd

    This is no more morally inconsistent than having and respecting a friend that doesn’t like the idea of gays.
    And as repeated already,

    If we discourage secularists from joining, then we cede the duty of defending our republic to the theists.

    So you might as well have someone with the “more correct” view on the inside.

    I, like Shane, am also considering joining the military right now (US, they’ve got a hell of a good nuclear officer program in the navy). Religion is not their purpose. Though while it is prevalent, we shouldn’t abstain our voice from the the lion’s den, letting it take over on its own.

    Imagine and atheist in a position to stop handing out bibles to Afghanis before it even got started.

  • Well, although I would never join the military or advise anyone I know to do so (at least in countries like the U.S. where the military typically is the enforcer of foreign policies I find reprehensible), and although I’m a big queer… I’m not sure that it is morally inconsistent.

    Almost any moral choice consists of balancing multiple goods, or multiple evils, or both. I think it’s valid to say, “In X case, this evil is not balanced out by the good; in Y case, however, the good is greater than it is in X, and therefore it balances out the evil.” I may not agree with someone’s assessment of these goods and evils… but I don’t think it’s automatically inconsistent to reject a particular evil in some cases and tolerate it in others. I think we all do that. Life is morally complex, and the scales don’t always balance out exactly the same in all cases.

    Also: As others have pointed out, the choice for your son to join the military is different from the choice for your son to join the Boy Scouts… because in one case the choice is yours and in the other it’s his. In the Boy Scouts choice, you’d be sending a young child the message that you approve of discrimination, or at least that you tolerate it… and since he’s not making the decision, you’d be teaching him that he should tolerate it, too. In the military decision, your adult son would be making that decision on his own. You can counsel and guide him and share your own opinion of the moral balance scales… but it’s his choice, and his moral balance to strike. You can openly discuss the pros and cons, rather than forcing your own judgment on him.

  • Davin

    Perhaps I’m no discussing this in the spirit of the question – but what parent has the right to “allow” a child old enough to join the military anything? They can only accept it.

    EDIT: Ahh, others have made this point already – I apologize for adding meaningless static to the conversation…

  • absent sway

    I don’t have children, so it’s easier said than done, but I would like to think that I would be supportive of the choices my adult children make. I disapprove of the military’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy, as do the enlisted folks I am acquainted with, and have my reservations about combat; however, I accept that a nation needs a military and that there is much to learn from the experience of serving as a soldier. I am uncomfortable with the thought of taking advantage of the protection afforded by our military so long as it’s somebody else’s family members serving. I doubt our nation’s military problems are well addressed by boycotting the military; perhaps I am wrong in this assumption but that’s where I stand at the moment. It would feel self-righteous to say that I won’t have anything to do with the service because of their discrimination, but that it’s alright for a friend’s underprivileged son, for instance, that of course I’m not judging him…

  • Easy. Whether or not your son joins the Boy Scouts is your choice; whether or not your child joins the US Military is their choice. So it’s not really morally inconsistent because it’s a moot point.

  • Miko

    War is a crime committed by the government of one country against the citizens of two countries.

    And as Shane points out, having a strong military may lead the government into believing that it is sovereign over the (not ‘its’) citizens. Our founders realized the danger of this, which is why the United States didn’t have a standing army for much of its early history and why the creation of a standing army is unconstitutional (Congress dodges this by periodically “reauthorizing” the army). Unfortunately, right-wingers have fueled the fans of fear and paranoia to the extent that the average citizen now thinks that we’re safer with a military than we would be without.

    Note that the military functions by taking the young and impressionable away from their families, grouping them together in communes, and systematically breaking down their wills in order to mold them into fervent believers absolutely loyal and willing to give their lives in the service of a father-figure often identified not by name but by glorious sounding titles such as a “commander in chief.” In other words, it’s a cult.

    I’d say that a parent has a moral duty to stop his/her children from joining a cult.

  • Randy

    LLC, I can think of a certain freighter captain who is happy our military returned his freedom.

    I see your of the type that thinks just because your safe and cozy we have no need for the military. Watch the news, read a bit of history.

  • I’d be even less likely to let a child join the military (or army cadets I suppose if we’re talking about an age at which I can still control their actions to some extent). The reason being that both have abhorrently discriminatory policies but only one is involved in the business of killing. Compared to the destruction and suffering caused by wars, homophobia seems a mere trifle.

  • Plainfieldrob

    Several have noted that the choice is clearly his to make at 18 but mine while he is 6.

    This is a rational observation – but it doesn’t account for the fact that I have enormous influence on his world view. Even at 18 I am pretty sure I could influence him in whatever direction I wished (no disrespect to his future independence and intellect) and then again, maybe that the naive belief of a parent of young children.

    So what I guess I’m asking is how can I justify this outright inconsistency(which I admit it is) to others who may not be so nuanced as I am? I’ve seen some excellent answers and I really am enjoying this thread. Glad also to see so many vets here at FA.

    Thanks Hemant.

  • When they are old enough to join the military, they are outside of your power to control (if you ever could).
    Strongly disagree with them, yes. I am afraid that choices children make once they are on-their-own are choices/mistakes that they have to make for themselves.

  • J. Allen

    The main difference here is that the question is ‘would you join the military?’, because if your child is old enough to join the military it’s no longer your decision.

  • Real life is far more complex than a formal logic system where you can have internal consistency. Life is messy. Life is full of contradictions and inconsistencies.

    I see no fundamental problem with taking one stance for scouts and a different stance for the military.

    I do have a higher standard, though, for passing laws that others must adhere to.

  • Kayla

    I would be as vehemently opposed to my children joining the military as them deciding they want to be cops. I don’t want my children in danger!

    But while I can control whether they join the boyscouts (they won’t) there’s nothing I can do about the military when they turn 18.

    I’m hoping guilt works. Lots of it.

  • If they are 18 they can make the decision for themselves, but otherwise I would adamantly encourage them to refuse military service. As a practicer of non-violence, for me it is a moral issue for me and I find it absolutely unjustifiable.

  • Richard Wade

    Plainfieldrob, I answered only your question of whether or not you would be morally inconsistent if you were to not support your son’s entering the Scouts for the reason of discrimination, but you were to support his entering the military even though they practice the same thing.

    Others here have raised other issues which are valid, but do not bear upon this strictly theoretical question of ethics, which, as I said, I think turns on the principle of equal treatment for persons. How you should handle that is an entirely different matter.

    As Jeff and others have observed, life is complex, messy and full of moral dilemmas and inconsistencies. In saying that technically you would be being morally/ethically inconsistent, I am not saying that such inconsistencies are always avoidable or always bad. We are subject to the pragmatics of daily life, and often we must find a moral balance, as Greta Christina puts it, rather than a perfect solution.

    If the issue of anti-gay and anti-atheist discrimination is important to you, and if you want your children to have similar awareness of those issues, then when and if the time comes for your kid to consider the military, the very least you should do is to discuss those issues with him or her, and to share the dilemma you faced when earlier you disapproved of their joining the Scouts. That way, you have planted an awareness in his or her mind, and then the decision, which, while heavily influenced by you, is still ultimately his or hers, will be a more informed decision. If we must make compromises with our moral/ethical stances and bow to the pressure of pragmatics, we at least should be completely conscious of those compromises and able to take full responsibility for them.

    I think your kids are very lucky to have so conscientious a father.

  • CybrgnX

    I greatly discouraged my kids from joining the ‘military’ although my daughter did join the navy.
    Her adventures with ‘navy misogyny’ are a riot but that’s another story.
    I was in the USAF for 20yrs and I did so because there was NO WAY I was going into the ‘military’ during Vietnam. I was never shunned because of my athiestism and in fact had great discussions with a number of Unitarians. But the reason I tried to get my kid into the USAF is because it IS NOT REALLY military. In the military you train very hard so some political hack can order you to take the hill. You die, he gets promoted…Bull Shit!!!!
    In the USAF you train very hard to get the aircraft flying so some political hack can shoot stuff. I live, He?????

    I’ll join the real military-(kidding too old)- when the political hack gets out in front and leads me up that hill…if it is so damned important!!
    So I discouraged my kids from joining…I will discourage my GrandKids.
    If they show interest I will try to get them into the more intellectual USAF, Yes other services have their intellectual parts too but they tend to go to the ‘bullets flying’ places too.

    WWI & WWII could be considered a real war, MAYBE Korea, BUT NOT ANYTHING since then. If this country is actually attacked by a force I will be out there shooting back.

  • Brent

    As an open atheist currently serving in the U.S. Navy, I would like to clear up what I feel are a few misconceptions(at least based on my experience). I personally have never experienced discrimination or mistreatment based on my atheism, nor witnessed any sort of religious discrimination. The Navy has a very clear policy in regards to discrimination of all types, and commands are routinely surveyed (anonymously) to determine compliance. Discrimination of that kind is happening on an individual command basis, and should be reported by any service member seeing or hearing about it to the Command Equal Opportunity Representative.

    As far as gays in the military, most actual service members that I have asked about it are in favor of gays, or any other qualified citizen, serving. We just want people who will be good at their job working with us. It’s Big Navy, Congress, POTUS, and you folks at home who make the decisions about don’t-ask-don’t-tell.

    Which leads me to my opinion on the moral inconsistency of this issue. I think saying yes to the military is only as morally inconsistent as remaining an American citizen or a resident of California, since they both have policies that discriminate against homosexuals. The best option is to raise rational thinking children who can make their own informed choices once they are of age. And for ourselves, we can remain aware and involved on issues like this, and pressure our lawmakers to change things like the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy and federal funding for BSA(unless they change their discriminatory little tune).

  • I served in the Navy during the cold war and desert storm. Sundays were particularly bad for Atheists in boot camp. Sailors who refused to attend church services, such as myself, had to clean the barracks, while the christians received refreshments and snacks at church. This rewarded attendance and punished those who did not while pointing out who the non-believers were for harassment.

    I suggest the peace corps.

  • ssns

    I asked my husband how he could possibly bring himself to be a part of the military, long before he was my husband. His answer: How can I complain about an institution from the sidelines when I can be there on the inside fixing it? I didn’t fully agree with him, but I respected that position. He is a diplomacy guy, and he would rather he be there, arguing for diplomacy, than someone who loves the “kill kill” mentality.

    Now, I’m contemplating joining, as a nurse. It’s not through any “change the world” mentality, but rather a pragmatic one that as long as they employ my husband, they’ll most likely employ me anyway, as they’re the only employer in many locations. So, I might as well get the benefits (and it’s a really good career move, anyway). I still have major problems with their religious and homophobic attitudes. The way I console myself is that I’d be in a position where I could be affirming to atheists and gays, not only subverting the system from the inside, but really advocating for a change. I’ve seen my husband do this. It is actually illegal to discriminate against gays in the military, unless you’re kicking them out. He’s taken people to task for making anti-gay statements. He’s reported overt proselytizing. We’ve both been involved with the gay straight alliance started at the base high school (the first on a military base anywhere in the world). It’s in this way that I think you can join the military and not abdicate your morals.

    As others have said, the BSA is different in that they’re a private group. If you don’t like a private group, go join another. But you can’t just let the military be the way they are (unconstitutional) and complain about it. It’s our military, representing our country, and while I may vocally disagree with so much about it, I’m not about to abdicate it to the fundagelicals.

  • Alex

    I wouldn’t disallow my kids to do anything if they are over 18. I can give reasons why I may personally agree or disagree with military service, but I would hope by the time my child reaches adulthood he/she would recognize that my job as a parent isn’t to make moral decisions for them.

    So essentially you are asking us what we think about military service. I may disagree with the discrimination in the military, but that doesn’t mean anyone who joins the military agrees with the policies of the institution as a whole and should be seen as a monolithic block. For exmaple, the California Constitution now prohibits gay marriage, but that wouldn’t prevent me from working as a public official at city hall.

  • Thilina

    Morally inconsistent? Yes. But that depends on where your priorities are (If you consider standing up for the civil rights of all people and standing against discrimination more or less important than “Serving your country”).

    And the issue of discrimination in the military should be fairly low on the list of why you won’t join the military (I’d consider other reasons to be much more important, like killing and dieing simply because you’re being told to by a few politicians most of whom: have never seen combat, wouldn’t let their their own children join the army, or would ensure their kids are in the groups that never sees combat).

    And to clarify, serving you country is in quotes above because (as many people have already mentioned) the US military hasn’t served anyone but the major corporations since WWII (and they’ve killed a lot of people to do this).

  • Since s/he’d be an adult I couldn’t forbid it. However I’d make it plain I considered it a bad idea. Not only is the military a blatantly discriminatory organization (DADT and the increasing issues with evangelical Christianity taking over, for example) but I am a conscientious objector as well. I simply don’t approve of harming and/or killing unless it’s completely unavoidable (primarily self-defense in acute situations).

  • Demetrius Of Pharos

    For those with children, I have to ask: is it even up to you? If my hypothetical child wanted to join any group that I happened to disagree with I would probably disagree with him or her, I would certainly engage them in long discussions about why they wanted to join said group, but I could hardly forbid them from doing something they wanted to and I would hardly shun them for following their beliefs (this includes religious groups, if you are wondering.)

    While I absolutely disagree with the position the Boy Scouts take on many issues, and it was a deciding factor in me not joining after cub scouts, I couldn’t stop my child from joining if they wanted to. I joined the military myself (and later hurt my knee) but I would not do so today if I had the opportunity, but I wouldn’t be able to stop my child even if I wanted to. I am not religious, but I couldn’t stop my child from becoming religious if it made them happy, I could merely pass on my knowledge and experience as best I can and let them decide for themselves.

    Apologies if someone else already pointed all this out.

  • AnonyMouse

    That’s a good question. As mentioned above, it wouldn’t really be my place to tell my adult child whether he/she can join the military. But would I approve of it?

    Quite possibly. In my observation, there is a difference between joining the Boy Scouts and the military. Generally, a child wishes to join the Boy Scouts for his own enjoyment, whereas a young man or woman chooses to join the military for the benefit of others.

    But if my child was interested in joining an organization for the benefit of other people, the military would not be my top choice. I would suggest one of the organizations who help other countries without request of reciprocation, not blow them up and then “rebuild” in exchange for billions of dollars of debt.

  • To be consistent with my previous response, I’d say that there are better, non-discriminatory militaries out there. Join the foreign legion or something. 🙂

  • Jen

    This will not be a problem for me, for any children I birth will be locked up in a closet as soon as they hit 18. However, if I did let them out, I would say that disallowing a adult child (and let’s face facts- not all 18 year olds cut the apron strings and parents can control their kids long after they reach the age of majority) is not a matter of one policy the military has. One has to consider many different, complex issues before making either choice- I might not want a kid to join the Boy Scouts, because they are morons- on the other hand, if the kid lives in one of those really small towns, that might be the only option available for socializing. The army is infinitely more complex.

  • atomjack

    My CHILDREN, as the original question is posed, have passed the age where I can dictate their actions (unless they still live at home, in which case I am supreme emperor of the household…hah!). As a child, meaning under age 18, if one of my spawn asked for me to sign, I’d do it…subject to a rational discussion. My youngest was talking about joining the Navy, but the recruiter was selling him a line of shit, which I had to counter. He can join if he wants, but I’ll educate him on a little bit before he goes (he’s 19, now).

    I served in the US Navy, ’72 to ’76. I was a fallen-away catholic at the time. I really didn’t see much religiosity, but then I didn’t go looking for it, either.

    There are a few things a rational person should consider:

    1. You might be asked to kill. You better be sure you want to deal with that BEFORE you get in the situation.

    2. Homosexuals. Well, I don’t give a damn about their sexual orientation, just like anybody else should, unless one tries to rape me. Which never came close to happening. Other than that, enjoy life, guys, I’m just not your type. There are two issues with the military and gays as I see it- a, haters (who I suspect are really closet gays looking for an outlet) and b, the alleged medical issues. I say alleged, because I haven’t been in a combat situation where I required a transfusion. Generally speaking, blood donation is a given for comrades in arms. Blood typing is done and is on your dogtags for expedience. The military uses the excuse that there may be life-threatening diseases in the donated blood, and I can sort of make the case AFTER AIDS became rampant, but not before.

    I was a Boy Scout leader for 15 years, and don’t do it any more, since my boys got older and/or dropped out, but on the subject of homosexuals, we didn’t bring up sex lives in the leadership, in any way shape or form. Our adult sex lives, or casual conversations about them, are nobody else’s business. That’s an adult treatment of the situation.

    It WOULD be nice if the BSA (here in the U.S.) would acknowledge the difference between homosexualtiy (which is treated on hygenic grounds) and pedophilia, which is an entirely different animal, though treated no differently, really.

    Almost stepped off the soapbox:
    If any of you think a military is unnecessary, you have no clue what a violent species we are, and you WILL be killed by those military people who land in your country if it doesn’t have a strong military. Feel good all you want, when other people lay their lives on the line, but don’t say mutual disarmament is required, because it will. never. happen.

  • Gabriel

    Yes, I am a veteran and was openly libral and atheist while I served. I felt much more comfertable about being an atheist in the military than I do in the civilian world. I encourage everyone to join and serve. It is much easier to discrimnate against a quiet minority than against a vocal majority. The religious realized that if their kids joined the military they could gain power. If we want to be a part of this country we have to be a part of all of it’s important institutions. Military service is a good place to start. Then we can parlay that service into other positions of power and influence.

  • SarahH

    I’m currently considering joining the Navy Reserves, and I’m an atheist. I agree with those who have said that, if we boycott our country’s military, we’re ceding the job to those who, in many cases, will gladly continue to enforce and support injustice. The Boy Scouts are a private institution and, IMO, perhaps too far gone to change. There are other great alternatives.

    The military, OTOH, is the only one our country has, and I’d like to think that we’re slowly headed towards change. My generation is slowly gaining power, and eventually the sheer population statistics are going to eliminate the discrimination against people we consider equals in every sense of the word. As a citizen of the US and of my home state, I’m technically already aligned with organizations that actively ban gay marriage, but I’m fighting to change that, and I don’t think it’s inconsistent to boycott private organizations that discriminate while serving government organizations with similar policies.

  • Since my hypothetical child would be an adult the decision wouldn’t be mine to make. My brother and his wife are in the Air Force and DADT really bothers me but as other’s have said the military has it’s flaws but it’s the only one we’ve got and it’s role is pretty important.

    As for being an atheist in the military (or any minority religion). The problem isn’t the military but some believers in the military who think it’s okay to disobey military rules when it’s against people who don’t believe as they do. The military needs to do a better job enforcing their own policies on this as well as atheists not keeping quiet about it.

  • If my child wants to join the military then really, they are no longer my “child” as they are 18 and an adult and can make that decision for themselves. I would hopefully have raised them to seek information and reason and not be as susceptible to dogma. I would voice my apprehensions but if this what they truly wanted, knowing all the angles, then I’d support them. To not do so would be damaging to my daughter and I love her too much to see her off to war and not show her I love and support her.

  • Randy


    Which leads me to my opinion on the moral inconsistency of this issue. I think saying yes to the military is only as morally inconsistent as remaining an American citizen or a resident of California, since they both have policies that discriminate against homosexuals

    Well said.

  • K

    First of all, it seems that many of the Atheists here are anti-military and a few are anti-American (“…it is a tool of US empire…”) and it’s a shame. I’d rather see Atheists who have actually thought out their choice rather than a bunch of dimwitted West Coasters who are Atheists because it falls in line with their anti-meat, anti-war, hippie mentality. Ooooooh, you are so very anti-establishment, man. Peace.


    My 13-year-old is in the Civil Air Patrol and we are openly Atheist. No one cares. By the time he reaches 18, and if I’ve raised him right, he will make good decisions for himself. If that means joining the military, then off he’ll go, into the wild blue yonder. I’m more worried about him getting killed, than him being an Atheist in the Air Force. Also, considering that mother dated countless military personal, and they were all non-religious fellas, I don’t see the problem. At all. Their superior officers never forced anyone to pray or go to church.

  • Plainfieldrob

    Thanks for all the well thought out and reasoned comments. I really appreciate them.

    Seems to be a lot of Navy vets (including myself) reading FA which I find interesting. And oddly, as Gabriel pointed out, the military can be equally welcoming to those who are different (skin color, religion, etc) while at the same time pushing the Christian agenda in subtle ways. It’s very odd – but in many respects the military is more socially advanced than ‘out here.’

    In my opinion, I’m not sure not wanting someone to not join the military equates to being un-American – I rode my motorcycle into work today against the wishes of my family and I don’t think they are anti-motorcyclists. They just don’t want me to get hurt. And really, varying opinions is what we vets/active duty folks fight to protect in America. When not occupying other countries and such…

    Have a great weekend everyone…

  • Chakolate

    Hey! Shane’s got the answer! Have your kid join the Canadian military. 😉

  • theslat

    I don’t Know if anyone is still reading this thread but I am actually in the field right now serving in the military (US). My parents had severe reservations about me joining the military. As a headstrong non-believer liberal they feared I would be miserable and spend my time getting oppressed and discriminated against. That was compounded by the fact that I decided to be an enlisted ground pounder instead of going to college as planned. But like so many have already said I was an adult and it was the path I chose, and even then I hoped to make good changes from the inside.

    7 years later I have been deploying back to back since 2003 and I can honestly say I have never run into any of the problems that I hear so much about. It may have to do that I am in a somewhat more specialized career but through 3 units religion has ALWAYS been a very private and personal issue for everyone. How good you are at your job makes or breaks you here, and half the religious people I worked with last tour I didn’t even know until halfway though because I was too busy sleeping in on Sunday. In boot camp I spent Sunday mornings writing letters home not doing extra work. I have never seen any abuses overseas, Prostletizing, or undue violence. I attribute those problems to ONE thing, and that is poor leadership. I’m not going to claim that I stopped it from happening, but I can say I have been a good influence in all my teams. I can also tell you with the utmost certainty that if I ever catch anyone trying to pass out bibles, doing something inhuman to another human being on a patrol I will put a stop to it immediately. I see these stories about innocent people being shot, bibles being passed out, etc and sometimes I wonder if i’m getting the whole story. EVERY time I think “where were their Sergeants?” Because I can tell you what if I was there I would have lost my S*** and any violator would be fired and sent to the rear so fast his head would spin.

    With all that in mind I will reiterate what a few here have said already. The military (and polotics, police, courts, etc, etc) need to be more representative of our country as a whole. The only way that is going to happen is if we get involved and take an active part. with so many liberals, free-thinkers and atheists avoiding service (not just military) we really are leaving it to the uneducated, overly-religious, overly-aggressive population. Even with the lack of stereotypical problems I’ve encountered most people I have worked with are fox-news loving conservatives. I can count the left leaning educated people on my fingers and toes. I respect and love all my co-workers but only in an environment like this can a middle of the road liberal such as myself be called a “tree hugging hippie”. that should make you all stop and think.

    One more note before I sign off. Like I said religion is private here at work. But consider how I described how conservative my co-workers are, then realize that anyone here that knows me well at all or for any period of time knows what I believe. I’m not “Out” but I don’t hide it either. But reading through some of the comments on this post and their blatant anti-American(assuming those posters are american) and anti-military nature kind of adds to the worry in my gut. the worry that is why I am not “out” at a larger scale and have not been to a local humanist meeting. Not because I fear being rejected at work, but because I fear being rejected in the larger humanist community due to peoples secondary beliefs.

    Sorry for the long comment but seeing this title on my phones RSS feed I knew it would hit a nerve.

  • Charon

    I wouldn’t let a child of mine join the Boy Scouts, but the military isn’t my choice. By the point they can join the military, they’re 18 and they can make their own decisions.

    I’d certainly try to dissuade them, though. Less about the discrimination (although that’s bad) and more about the whole point of the military being to kill people and follow orders unquestioningly.

  • Charon

    Since there are vets etc. on this thread, I should point out that I understand that they think they’re keeping the US safe. It’s possible this is true, at least sometimes – that’s a very complex issue. I certainly don’t think the vast majority of people in the military like killing people or anything. However, you have to admit that the point of the military is to keep the US safe by killing people. The State Department, etc., are the ones who try to keep us safe by other means.

    I don’t think the following orders unquestioningly bit is very arguable. Again I see how you could support it, for the sake of efficiency etc., but it’s antithetical to everything I stand for.

    So I get upset when everyone, everyone, left, right, and center, always has to say that we support the troops. I don’t. I support them as people. I support their civil rights, I respect them as people, etc. But I certainly don’t support them as troops. I disagree with their choice of profession. They are hitmen. Hitmen for a good cause perhaps (sometimes, anyway), but hitmen nonetheless. How do they reconcile this ethically?

  • Charon

    Further pet peeve: don’t you dare call me un-American. The military does not equal America.

  • Prowler67


    Since there are vets etc. on this thread, I should point out that I understand that they think they’re keeping the US safe. It’s possible this is true, at least sometimes – that’s a very complex issue. I certainly don’t think the vast majority of people in the military like killing people or anything. However, you have to admit that the point of the military is to keep the US safe by killing people. The State Department, etc., are the ones who try to keep us safe by other means.

    I don’t think the following orders unquestioningly bit is very arguable. Again I see how you could support it, for the sake of efficiency etc., but it’s antithetical to everything I stand for.

    So I get upset when everyone, everyone, left, right, and center, always has to say that we support the troops. I don’t. I support them as people. I support their civil rights, I respect them as people, etc. But I certainly don’t support them as troops. I disagree with their choice of profession. They are hitmen. Hitmen for a good cause perhaps (sometimes, anyway), but hitmen nonetheless. How do they reconcile this ethically?

    I think you might misunderstand what people do in the military. I served in a war zone twice and served in two branches. I was never asked to kill anyone, nor was it assumed that I needed to. Sure, I was asked to fix aircraft and set up communications, but never kill. Now there are certain jobs the military that do require you to kill, if you look you will find that they are in the minority.

    I also think you do not understand how the military protects this country. Imagine a police force with no guns, tickets or ability to arrest. How effective would the police be? Same with the State Department. Words only go so far and violence is sadly a necessity sometimes. And without any deterent from attack, we would be open to any force that wanted to take over.

    I find your last paragraph pretty offensive. It is made out of ignorance. I would suggest you look into what different types of jobs there are in the military. The vast majority of them have civilian counterparts, and very few are focused on killing. The military is an easy target, and many take a shot at it, yet forget or even praise other professions that do harm to people.

    I won’t call you un-American, just ignorant on the military. I am glad that you can exercise your free speech though, even if it is used to slander the people that defended that right.

  • Chakolate

    I also think you do not understand how the military protects this country. Imagine a police force with no guns, tickets or ability to arrest. How effective would the police be? Same with the State Department. Words only go so far and violence is sadly a necessity sometimes. And without any deterent from attack, we would be open to any force that wanted to take over.

    This is a valid point, IMO.

    I find your last paragraph pretty offensive. It is made out of ignorance. I would suggest you look into what different types of jobs there are in the military. The vast majority of them have civilian counterparts, and very few are focused on killing. The military is an easy target, and many take a shot at it, yet forget or even praise other professions that do harm to people.

    This seems to me a bit disingenuous, although I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean it that way. When you fix planes in the military, what are the planes used for? When you push paper in the military, what’s the ultimate goal?

    I think the main job of any military should be intimidation – as in, don’t attack us, because we’ll fight back. But the ‘fight back’ part means killing, whether you’re the one to pull the trigger or fire the grenade or plant the landmine, or not. If you’re part of the chain that supports the gun/grenade/landmine, you do kill. As part of your job.

    I’m deeply conflicted about that. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to hope for a world where no one needs to fight, and I hate the idea of wars, since most of them are completely unnecessary, and all are wasteful. But I also think it’s too unrealistic to say we don’t need a standing army, with all that implies.

    Nevermind, it’s just me waffling again. Waffling seems to be my favorite sport.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “Unfortunately, right-wingers have fueled the fans of fear and paranoia to the extent that the average citizen now thinks that we’re safer with a military than we would be without.” — Miko

    If you have money and no weapon and Joe Blow has a weapon but no money, who do you think is safer? Remember, robbery victims often get shot after turning over the dough [cf. Czechoslovakia, 1938-39 — or Kuwait, 1990].

    And Chakolate, there is indeed a moral responsibility on non-combatants as well. I served as a fire-fighter in Desert Storm, and consoled myself with the fact that I didn’t kill anyone. Then I started thinking, regs require fire trucks for air ops, so them B52s, why, I was helping them drop bombs. Knowing that I helped kill people over oil is one reason I didn’t re-up.

    There are times when war is morally justifiable. Those times are very very rare.

  • Randy

    When the country is at war the end purpose is to engage the enemy without question.
    There are those like Charon who do not realize or care to realize the human relief operations (remember the tsumami Charon?), rescue missions (I forget how many SOS’s we responded to), law enforcement ops and just plain humanitarian help (helping to build a school in the Phillipines and donating books). So yes, the military is far more complex Charon.

    I also seem to remember that Desert Storm started because Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwiat.

  • Bryan

    I was a US Marine infantryman and came away from the experience an atheist.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Randy —

    From the better-late-than-never department, you’re right about the proximate cause, but wrong to ignore the ultimate cause.

    Iraq demanded a valuable stretch of desert with oil deposits from Kuwait. After years of unsuccessful negotiations, Iraq invaded.

    We wouldn’t have lifted a finger had oil not been at issue. The evidence for this assertion lies in the Balkans — 8 years before we recognize a genocide and act to stop it? — and Rwanda.

    Thus, we went to war over oil.

  • JustinPM

    I think to me it goes like this.

    I cannot wait for the day when homosexuality is punishable. I cannot wait for the day when religious preference leads to understanding rather than being outcasted.

    Those days may happen soon, or they may not. But in order to arrive at that day, people will need to serve America in a military capacity. My family has been involved with the military at least since the civil war, and I’ve been proud of my service and my family’s. While it is disappointing that everyone can not serve, the fact of the matter is that someone has to serve. If I am the stopgap for that, the humanist that supports the changing policy, so be it.

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