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Something Worth Dying For
The Military and the Stories we Tell About it
There’s a video going around of something called “Alpha Bootcamp.”
It’s an $18k caricature of military basic training that ostensibly will make the attendees more manly or something.
The scorn is near-universal, but it’s loudest detractors are actual military veterans. You know, people who went to real boot camp?
The reason for this sneering has nothing to do with the physical rigors of the “Alphas” and their pretend boot camp. It has to do with the purpose of their little excursion—which is largely self-aggrandizing.
It’s Not About You
In the all-volunteer service since the end of Vietnam, all of us who served did so with purpose. And our training was conducted accordingly.
Drill instructors don’t yell at you for fun. They don’t nitpick how you hold your canteen just cuz. They scream at you to get you accustomed to functioning in stressful environments.
They demand you hold your arm in a perfect 90-degree angle to foment muscle memory for holding your rifle properly. It has a purpose. And while you’re there, you feel like YOU have a purpose.
Even while you’re being punished with pushups, mountain climbers, and high-knees, your DIs make you say things like “Teamwork, discipline” or “Honor, courage, commitment” over and over again.
Why? So you know why you’re doing all this. So you tell yourself the right story and keep yourself going.
The story is two-fold: Everything you do is to serve and protect the greatest country that has ever existed on earth. And every trial you go through is to honor and protect the men beside you.
You are a member of a team. This is your family. If you fail, you endanger your family. That is the story.
And it’s a good one.
Showing Bravery and Honor
The kind of bonding that happens during military service has been capably shown in many movies and books. Aside from the tech, the whole genre of military scifi can be said to be devoted to this very phenomenon.
But for me, the best representation is from the movie Glory.
Based loosely on true events, Glory tells the story of the Massachusetts 54th, the first “colored” regiment to fight in the Civil War. There’s a scene toward the end where the men of the 54th, many former slaves, come together to worship and to share time together, reflecting why they are going to walk into almost certain death for the very country that enslaved them.
Because it’s not about the country. It’s about the men beside them, the families they left behind, still in slavery, and the absolute knowledge that they are men. Not animals.
They are men. And they will die to make sure everyone knows it.
The entire framework of military training and its culture exists to foment these exact types of sentiments. It is set up to reward honor, duty, and self-sacrifice. Like religion, military service does not make you a good person. It reveals whether you are or not.
So this Veteran’s Day, honor the men and women who served before you, everyone who took up that banner of duty, risking their health and safety for the ones standing beside them, and for the ones they left back home.
This week I did a livestream reviewing BookBud, a program that purports to produce AI nonfiction books with the press of a button. How did it do? You can find out here.