Friday, July 28, 2006

An Obligation to Serve

"I hope it’s a girl so I don’t have to experience the anguish of seeing my son on the front line," said a pregnant young mother-to-be in Israel on my recent visit. Every time there’s a new conflict I think about the obligation that Israeli children (both boys and girls) face to serve in the military. I think about it from the standpoint of the child and from the standpoint of each of their mothers.

As Israeli students graduate from high school, they understand that their next 3 years will be spent in the military unless they are ultraorthodox and are thereby excused from service. After that, there is a requirement for reserve duty for several weeks a year for something like 20 years. A rather hefty commitment to one’s country. When we were in Israel in April, I spoke at length to a brilliant young boy who would soon graduate and who was so ready to begin his university studies. He was resentful of the requirement that he serve in the miliary first. For many teenagers, military service is a time to figure out what they really want to do with their lives. For many, it is a time to meet their future spouse. For some, it is a death sentence.

How would I have felt? As a girl, I would not have been required to serve on the front line. Probably a good thing, since I can’t even kill an insect. Instead I would have been relegated to a support role. I would have had to go through the same training as the boys, learning to use a gun and explosives. I would have hated this part. I would have been devastated every time my unit was placed in harm’s way, constantly praying that no one was hurt and mourning any casualties that were inflicted.

How would I feel today if I were living in Israel and my two children were serving in the military as they most likely would be? I would constantly be afraid. I would be demanding that they call me on their cell phones multiple times each day. I would be hoping that they weren’t sent to Gaza or to the current conflict in northern Israel and southern Lebanon. But invariably they would probably end up in either or both of these places. I would just have to hope that they were the lucky ones who survived.

Since the early 70s in this country, no one has had to fear the draft. In my college days, boys stayed in school longer, developed new-found health conditions, even went to Canada to avoid the draft and be sent to Viet Nam. But since then virtually no one that I know has served in the all volunteer army, largely made up of African Americans and Hispanics and others for whom the armed forces provide the best paying job possible with opportunities for training that would otherwise not be available. Do I feel differently about casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing that they are not the children of my friends? Unfortunately, probably so. It is definitely not the same as the situation in Israel, where everyone serves.

As I look at those young Israeli soldiers carrying their lethal weapons, I don’t see children born to kill, but rather I see children doing what is required of them to guarantee the existence of their country. It’s not their choice, but their obligation. They are living a patriotism of which we have been spared in this country. May God be with them, with their mothers, and with everyone who is a part of the current conflict.


Blogger Kristin said...

So many countries have mandatory military service. I'm glad I was born a girl in the United States. I do respect people who serve - voluntarily or otherwise - but I cannot imagine not having a choice in the matter, especially not in a country prone to violence.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

Its a sad fate to be born in a place of a race where people just miles away are very intent on parting you from your life.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

All of this is very tragic and heart rendering. I feel impotent!
I scream in my brain "STOP!!!"

9:28 AM  

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