My June 29 guest column in the Times-Call generated a variety of responses via email and on the Opinion page, leading some respondents to ask for a follow-up, so here goes.
I often use personal stories to make a point, connect the dots. These stories are true. I don’t make them up and readers tell me they appreciate them. I was appalled during Army basic training to have my sore feet questioned and see many trainees pummeled into submission with challenges to their veracity. But at least I had boots and the times were different. Our military needed more fighters in Vietnam and petty excuses were not acceptable. I do remember receiving much better medical treatment as an officer, though. I hope that has changed over the past 47 years since I went through training.
One respondent cited a New York Times article claiming more than 50 percent of assaults were to men. Another referred me to Marine Capt. Lindsay Rodman’s Wall Street Journal column, which concluded the statistics on sexual assaults were based on a bad survey resulting in bad math, with projections, not actual assaults that others have hyped out of reality.
Per Capt. Rodman, “The actual number of reported sexual assaults in the military in 2012 was 3,374, up from 3,192 in 2011. Of the 3,374 total cases reported last year, only 12 percent to 14 percent were reported by men. … We in the military justice system want victims to come forward, and to seek accountability through the system. We want them to feel empowered to report, and to know that their command will take the allegation and their recovery seriously. An increasing number of reported sexual assaults, at least in the next few years, should be viewed as a positive sign that this message is being heard.”
Another respondent, a retired Navy public relations officer, described having written a report on sexual assaults that was covered up by the chain of command. And a grandmother wrote concerned about a grandson who might be making a bad choice by enlisting in the military.
All of these perspectives, including mine, are valid. Our military is a huge amalgamation of people. In many ways its members are characteristic of society, yet military service is not the romanticized life portrayed in enlistment commercials flooding TV. Previously on this page, I applauded a young Marine recruit who signed up for the possibility of receiving valuable training while serving his country. Yet he also understood the dreaded alternative of being sent into combat and being killed. Anyone seeking military service must weigh these alternatives.
Personally, I believe everyone should serve this country for at least two years. There are many alternatives to serving in the military and I’ve described some on this page before, especially AmeriCorps. But public service of some kind is necessary to gain a commitment, an investment, in our country.
Over the last half-century, military spending has gobbled up resources that should have been used for education and health care. Yet, doomsday spokesmen tote up the national debt and find no way out of rapidly increasing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending other than to reduce benefits and raise taxes.
Our political leaders are looking at the wrong issues. Incrementally, we have drifted into a fighter-nation mentality. Our priorities are out of whack and we now equate bloated military spending with adequate defense spending. Statistics show we have had enough defense for a long time. We must have a paradigm shift of priorities, a change that puts people first.
Bill Ellis is a local author. Reply to him at firstname.lastname@example.org,