Rosenbloom ’13: Shielded from the costs of war
On Sept. 11, the University hosted a service commemorating the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against our country. While none of us will ever forget the tragedy of that day, I’m afraid it’s all too easy to feel disconnected from the war on terror that ensued. Like so many Brown students, I have very few direct connections to the military or to the war on terror.
The majority of the Brown community has been shielded from the costs of war. We have not been asked to serve in the army, and it’s likely that many Brown students do not even know anyone in the military. We do not have to live with the rationing of any goods or other material sacrifices.
The U.S. taxpayer has yet to even pay the burden, as taxes have declined on most income brackets over the last decade.
Previous American wars have all required a higher level of shared sacrifice than the war on terror. Soldiers could look back to the home front and see that the battles they were fighting required shared emotional and material sacrifice from civilians. Today, citizens still rely on our armed forces to protect us, yet we do not have to give the military anything in return. The connection between citizens and the military has evolved into a one-way relationship, in which citizens gain great advantage from the armed forces without being forced to make any personal sacrifices.
From one perspective, this new relationship between the military and civilians can be seen as a positive development. College students no longer face the possibility of being drafted to serve in a war that they do not support. Fewer Americans live with the fear that their loved ones will die in combat. War no longer disrupts everyday economic decisions for citizens. As a nation, we can defend our interests abroad without making too many direct, immediate sacrifices at home.
Yet the current relationship between the military and citizens also has tragic components. It is fundamentally unfair that such a small percentage of our population pays such a high price to defend us. The distribution of sacrifice and suffering is far from equal. A minority of our population must risk their lives and leave their homes while the rest of us live in comfort.
This realization inspired a rush of guilt. Some men and women make a conscious decision to place their country above their own dreams in life. While I profess to love my country, my life decisions have rarely been motivated by a sense of duty to it.
While many Brown students have undoubtedly helped their nation through their regular academic and volunteer pursuits, this service to country is normally incidental. Students usually attend college and become active community members for reasons other than national service. Patriotism can certainly be taken to an extreme, but the concept of civic duty should still play at least some part in our decision-making.
There are many ways to serve our country outside of the military, and I’m sure that Brown students will make great citizens. Some young men and women devote their entire lives to civic service. As students at an elite institution, we should be mindful of the extent of their sacrifice and be willing to use our education to serve our country in at least some capacity. When the immediate guilt subsided, I was left feeling immensely grateful. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to spend my formative years in a college setting instead of in a war zone. We should all be grateful for the chance to pursue our own self-fulfillment in college. The realization that some people our age are fighting battles should make us even more thankful for all of the academic and social opportunities available to us at Brown.
One way to express our gratitude to our armed forces would be to build a stronger connection between the military and the academy — at least on an emotional level. I doubt I am alone in feeling guilty about the disconnect between my life as a student and the lives of college-aged soldiers.
There are many possible ways to bridge the divide between the University and the military. Reinstating the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps may accomplish this goal, but this may conflict with University academic and discrimination policies. There are many less controversial ways in which the community could open its arms to the military. For example, we could sponsor more lectures given by soldiers and generals, offer courses on military history and become stronger advocates for veterans’ rights.
Regardless of our beliefs about the war on terror, we should all acknowledge that some Americans have paid a much higher cost in this war. The community should express gratitude to the young men and women who spend their youth in combat zones. We should also work to learn more about the military and forge a deeper emotional connection to it.
Oliver Rosenbloom ’13 is a history concentrator from Mill Valley, Calif. He can be contacted at email@example.com.