The Real Reason People Join the Military and Go To War

Veterans day is my least favorite holiday.

Maybe it’s because we live in a culture that glorifies the military, maybe it’s because I wish we thanked cops as much as we thanked soldiers, or maybe it’s just because I get uncomfortable when people thank me for my service.

I didn’t join for my country, I didn’t join to fight evil and I didn’t join to protect American soil. I would even be bold enough to assert that these aren’t the real reasons anyone else joined either. I think it’s much more simple, much more un-patriotic and may not make sense to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.

The reason people join the military is for the brotherhood.

Mark Twain said “go to heaven for the climate, and hell for the company”. That’s the reason someone with a nice life and a nice family would choose to live in a pop-up tent in Afghanistan where it’s 140 degrees with a chance of getting shot. They don’t do it for the sunsets.

They do it because there is no greater feeling than turning to the person next to you and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would take a bullet for you, and that you would do the same for them.

Now contrast that with the life of an average person living in America. We have become more and more detached from the communities, tribes and families we once lived in. Instead of block parties we have chat rooms, instead of neighbors who watch our kids we have apps that order babysitters. We raise kids in nuclear families then wonder why they make us feel trapped, we don’t bother to make friends at work and wonder why we feel separate, and we go weeks without a hug and wonder why we feel depressed.

How many of your friends would take a bullet for you?
How many of your friends would you take a bullet for?

140 degree weather and 91 pounds of gear doesn’t sound so bad anymore.

This is the reason soldiers fight like dogs to never leave anyone behind, even if it’s to recover a dead body. It makes no sense when you run the numbers, but it makes all the sense in the world once you live it. Giving a shit about other people is what makes life worth living, but most of us have forgotten that in a quest for ephemeral pleasures and the accumulation of things we don’t need.

It’s also the reason why veterans stick together, because when you go through hell you form unbreakable bonds with the people around you. My four years at the Naval Academy weren’t the most comfortable years of my life, and at times the first year was akin to torture. But you know what?

When life was the worst, relationships were the best.

I had several close friends at the academy, and even though we now live on opposite sides of the country, I still feel close to them. In fact, I have a special bond with anyone I knew at the Naval Academy, because we all went through hell, and that connects us in a way that no amount of comfort and bliss could ever do.

So does that mean we have to get shot at to experience real intimacy with other human beings?

I don’t think so, but it might be worth asking ourselves why we won’t take a bullet for our friends. What might happen if we took more risks with these people? What if we let ourselves fall so they have the chance to pick us up? What if we really let other people see how much we need them?

Deep human connection is simply our greatest unmet need, and it comes from people seeing you at your worst, your most vulnerable and when you are clearly outside of your comfort zone.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. In going to hell for the company, we might find that the only heaven worth seeking was the one we find in the company of people we love.

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This is part 4 of a 4-part series entitled “The Naval Academy Experience & Beyond

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