Barack Obama's Cross in the Sand

During a wide-ranging interview with George Stephanopoulos, one of the best of the campaign season, Barack Obama revealed that he gave military service serious consideration.

Mr Obama was asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” programme whether he’d ever thought about military service and replied: “You know, I actually did. I had to sign up for Selective Service [a means of conscription in case of war] when I graduated from high school.

“And I was growing up in Hawaii. And I have friends whose parents were in the military. There are a lot of Army, military bases there.

“And I actually always thought of the military as an ennobling and, you know, honourable option. But keep in mind that I graduated in 1979. The Vietnam War had come to an end. We weren’t engaged in an active military conflict at that point. And so, it’s not an option that I ever decided to pursue.”

A few quick thoughts:

(1) Would Obama have been more likely to join the military had the United States been engaged in the Vietnam War? The answer appears to be yes — but why? Is it because he felt that all American should serve in a time of war? That seems plausible. But of course the US has been engaged in a number of military conflicts since then, and Obama’s skills would presumably have proved valuable had he joined the Reserves. It is worthy of note that Obama was attracted to serving only during an active military conflict — what does he think of peacetime military service? Is it less valuable? Or does he have a hunger for participating in combat?

(2) Lest we forget, 1979 was the year President Carter promulgated the Carter Doctrine, and it was the year the Soviets invade Afghanistan. Many Americans were convinced the world had become a more dangerous place. What did Obama think of America’s military posture at the time? Did he refuse to join the military because he believed in a policy of Soviet-American friendship and mutual understanding?

(3) Is there any way to verify Obama’s interest at the time, e.g., did he speak to any military recruiters, or to the parents of friends serving in the military about the possibility of signing up? Surely someone would recall such a conversation. Isn’t it right and appropriate for news reporters to comb the streets of Hawaii in search of Obama’s youthful acquaintances, to get some sense of the depth and seriousness of Obama’s interest in joining the military.

(4) Why haven’t we heard about this before? Or was it discussed at length in of Obama’s two memoirs? Is this a naked and cynical appeal to American Militaryists?

(5) Wait a second. Isn’t everything I’ve said above a bit silly? Yes it is.

For the record, I believe that Barack Obama gave joining the military serious thought. It sounds plausible to me. And I think that young people have lots of contradictory thoughts and that they are subject to lots of complicated cross-pressures. I don’t think Obama should have to answer for this, and I think that we ought to take his statements at face value.