Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it. This adage rings true in all aspects of life, but in some cases the idea of unintended consequences is more serious than in others.
Take, for instance, the previously often-heard wishes, usually from Congressional Democrats, that the United States should drastically cut its defense budget. In the weeks after the terrorist attacks, this request has disappeared from the discourse, and rightly so. Instead of wanting less investment in the military, the former opponents of defense spending call for more; instead of asking for reductions in armed services recruitment, they wish for increases.
This sudden change may be hypocritical, but in a more favorable interpretation it is an instance of rationality, of people coming to their senses, of following our suggestions to their logical conclusions. That is, the new eagerness to expedite the passage of spending legislation for the Department of Defense indicates that many who once wished for military cut-backs now realize that reductions would bring grossly undesirable side-effects.
As an example, imagine the situation today if defense-trimmers had won the day and managed to diminish substantially our military might. Not only would the nation have been subjected to a heinous attack, but it would also have then been left without recourse to respond and without the resources to ensure that justice prevailed.
To say, as some unfortunately do, that the military strength of the United States in fact invited the terrorism is misguided and places blame on the victim rather than on the attacker. It is far better to possess and deploy military instruments for the cause of freedom than to disown them completely, withdrawing from the fight for justice and leaving weapons only in the hands of rogue nations.
Yet, the United States armed forces offer more than mere protection from harm and weight to our diplomacy. Indeed, our military is an important component of the American dream itself, offering upward mobility to those who seek to expand their skills and learn leadership and discipline. It provides access to a wide variety of opportunities, from travel to education, that few other programs can offer to such a large number of participants — all of this, of course, while providing an important service to our country.
It is, therefore, important that we avoid issuing blanket criticisms of our military forces. These are the people who are willing to sacrifice everything for the good of their country and its citizens, and our appreciation and respect must be unwavering. Likewise, we must be supportive of those who choose careers in the military because they are its greatest assets.
This sentiment must be especially present at universities like Yale. A military career is not, of course, meant for everyone. But if we are not willing to encourage the participation of intelligent and talented people who seek military careers, then we are opening ourselves to the risk that military leadership will be less inspired than it could or should be. We should have the most capable people available making the United States’ most important defense decisions.
A well-prepared, well-equipped, and wisely-funded military is a remarkable resource for our country, increasingly so in a world where many refuse to play by the rules of reason and civility. The United States is fortunate to have the defensive strength and offensive ability to protect its people, to assist its allies, and to support freedom and democracy around the globe.
However, the military’s worth is not simply derived from its usefulness after the recent tragedies in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania; instead, its value was there all along, even when being discredited by those who wished it reduced.
Fortunately, in this time of uncertainty, America remains blessed with a strong defense.
William Edwards is a senior in Pierson College. His columns appear on alternate Mondays.