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This Memorial Day, a Modest Plea for More Honest Military Recruiting Ads

Memorial Day is not a time for politics, but it is a time for remembering that military service is not about acquiring marketable skills, but about defending our country.
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Visiting my local cemetery, I walk quietly through the serried ranks of identical military gravestones, all adorned with American flags, a few adorned with flowers or religious figures or other mementos left by friends or family. For me it's a moving reminder of the debt we owe to America's veterans, especially those who gave their lives in the defense of this country.

Contrast this somber sight to the upbeat Army recruiting ads I'm bombarded with as I cruise the MLB and ESPN websites. There are no graves in these ads; no combat scenes either. Instead, you see soldiers running or jumping out of planes, or learning a profession such as welding or fixing engines. You hear brief appeals to service to country and the importance of teamwork and being "Army strong," but no references to the wars we're actually fighting and why we're fighting them.

What disturbs me the most about these ads, in fact, is the complete lack of any rationale for "why we fight." It's as if our military has concluded there's no attractive or saleable rationale for these wars that young American men and women will accept, will find worthy of risking their lives for.

Of course, there's nothing new about this "It's not just a job, it's an adventure" sloganeering. When I was a teen, the Army told me I could "Be all you can be." The Air Force invited me to "A great way of life" and told me to "Aim high." Not surprisingly, recruiting ads have never been about rubbing one's face in the horrors of war.

That said, today's ads are bloodless, one-sided, sugar-coated. Watching these ads, you'd think we inhabit an alternate universe in which the military is a fun-filled and challenging jobs program, one where everyone achieves self-actualization while being applauded by one's loved ones as Old Glory waves proudly in the breeze.

Memorial Day is not a time for politics, but it is a time for remembering the deadliness of war and the bravery of our troops who went off to war, knowing full well that military service was not about flags or acquiring marketable skills or becoming "Army strong," but about defending our country while helping one's buddies to survive in whatever hell-hole the military in its infinite wisdom sent you to.

We don't need more fairy-tale-like images of military service. If our wars are truly worth fighting, let's advertise them as such. Let's appeal to young men and women by telling them why we fight in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

And if we can't tell them in our ads why these wars are worth fighting, or if we're afraid they won't join if they know the full price of military service before they enlist, isn't that a very clear sign for us to reconsider these wars?

Professor Astore currently teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, PA. He writes regularly for and can be reached at

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