Why you should care
Because, ultimately, war is a human endeavor.
How do you think about the U.S. military? As the foundation of liberty and protector of the country — or as global aggressor? As an honorable duty or an inescapable Catch-22? In his TED Talk, above, the actor Adam Driver provides a different view of the military, one disconnected from geopolitics and driven by the bonds between soldiers. “Firing weapons was cool, driving and detonating expensive things was great, but I found I loved the Marine Corps for … the people.” In time, he recounts, the “Marine Corps became synonymous with my friends.”
The American military: bastion of friendship? It is strange to contemplate for outsiders, given the moral risks servicemen and women willingly take on. Yet in many ways, the U.S. military is a fairer and more egalitarian workplace than almost any you’ll find in America. It was integrated in 1948, almost two decades before the Civil Rights Act. Salaries are transparent — a male and female private with the same specialty on the same base earn the same pay. Paid paternity and maternity leave are mandated in the armed forces; not so under federal law. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — the strange compromise law that allowed LGBT people to serve as long as they remained closeted — was repealed well before the Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage.
At least in the letter of the law, soldiers are soldiers above all else, no matter their race, gender, sexual identity or religion. And while the risk of groupthink is ever present, so is the collaboration, service and sacrifice that veterans like Driver describe. “How in civilian life are you put into a life-or-death situation with your closest friends and they constantly demonstrate that they’re not going to abandon you?” he asks.
To be sure, the military is far from a perfect workplace. Retention has become a problem, with some observers arguing that rigid structures fail to adequately recognize and reward high achievers. More than 6,000 service members reported sexual assaults in 2015, according to the Pentagon. The Department of Veterans Affairs is a mess, and it’s fair to argue that those who put their lives on the line must be rewarded more handsomely.
Yet the military, unlike many other workplaces, invests in its people in ways that, we argue, promote friendship, collaboration, loyalty and trust. After all, how many of your colleagues would throw themselves on a bomb for you?