"My children are in the service"

Tony Gustafson agustafs at NIU.EDU
Sun Aug 12 06:50:27 UTC 2001

Douglas G. Wilson wrote:

> I think maybe the change is in the environment more than in the language.
> It seems to me that a person who is drafted or who enlists for a short
> hitch to "fulfill his obligation" is more likely to be referred to as "in
> the service", while a career soldier/sailor/airman/etc. is more likely to
> be referred to as "in the military" -- although I think either phrase can
> be applied to either case. At the time of the Vietnam war (or of WW II)
> relatively few of the many US servicemen were contemplating an extended
> military career; now, with no draft and no large war, I think a higher
> proportion are in the Armed Forces by "free choice", many of them with
> long-term military career prospects.

The choice of which term to use, for some, depends on the audience.  I
remember describing to a master sergeant of mine how, occasionally,
people's attitudes toward me would cool instantly, sometimes becoming
rather hostile, when I would announce that I was in the Marines.  His
suggestion, based on his then 22 years serving Uncle Sam, was to replace
"Marines" with "service" when speaking to people whose attitudes I was
unsure of.  He went on to explain that "military" could be used as well,
but was less safe than "service." To this day, six years after being
discharged, I still base my choice of terms on how I believe the
audience will react.

As far as general use of "service" and "military" by society at large is
concerned, I agree that the change is likely a result of the
environment.  I was raised to believe joining the military was one means
of fulfilling your duty to give back to the nation, an honorable service
to your country.  Thus, when enlisted you were "in the service."  Now,
joining the military seems to be a popular means of advancing in the
work world.  Mom and Dad can't afford college tuition?  Come work for
Uncle Sam for a few short years, and he'll give you enough skills and
financial aid to guarantee your later  success in the real world.  An
example of this change in attitude is the Army doctor who refused orders
to travel to the Middle East during the Gulf War.  Her explanation was
that she joined purely as a means to pay for medical school, not to be a
participant in a war.

Tony Gustafson

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