Don’t Let the Military Own “Service”

November 12, 2009

Last night I learned that a Quaker Conference Center near me was having a symposium entitled: “Life in the Service.” I originally thought that the program was about volunteering, but I was wrong. Instead it is an opportunity for young Naval Academy students to come and explain to Peace activists why they are doing what they are doing—a chance for people who often see the military as the “enemy” to hear the genuinely noble intents of most of the members of the military.

I wrote to the group that I had a problem with the program and many immediately assumed that I objected to talking to the students. I finally wrote the following to explain my concern.

I object to have a program entitled “Life in the Service” which is exclusively about the military. I do not object to programs with the military in the least. I often speak about the pure motives of people in the military. I speak with people in the military every day and I even help some of them stay in.

But language is important. Early Friends understood this when they rejected calling the days of the week by pagan name and refuse to use titles such as Lord and Lady. You will never hear me confuse being in the military with being in THE SERVICE. It is this mindless acceptance of the military’s self characterization of being in the military as being in THE SERVICE to which I object. There are many forms of service including police work, teaching, politics, and working for NGOs. We must not allow the military to lay claim to that word as though the military is the only place for service to our country, to find discipline and honor.

Just last week, a friend brought me a present of a tye dye bag with a peace sign on the side–that she bought at the West Point Military Academy Store. The gutting by the military of the concept of Peace with Peace Keeping (a military tactic) and other language raids is going even further than the average person can imagine.

If we are committed to Peace rather than military tactics, we cannot abdicate the use of words such as Service, Honor, Discipline, and Duty.

So have your program but entitle it “Life in the Military”

I hope my point is now clear.

Yes, it would have been easier to let this language issue slide, but I believe that part of the reason we are such a militarized society today is for language usage exactly like this. The young people in school who want to “give back to the country” are given no other option than the military as viable. If we want our children to understand that war is wrong, we have to begin with the concept that service—not necessarily military service—is essential.

A program about “Life in Service” would be truly valuable.

J.E. McNeil
Executive Director