The attraction of a military life


A Two-Up game aboard the troopship “Cape Alexander” taken at Lae, New Guinea, on November 2, 1944.

“Travel the world, meet interesting people….and kill them” goes the old joke.  What is the attraction of a life in the military.  I’m not asking about those who join the military in times of war.  I’m asking about those who choose the military as a career.

In most countries the military advertises itself to young applicants.  They adopt a variety of strategies.  There is the old Jesuit saw, give us the boy and we’ll give you the man.  They claim to train you in skills that will equip you for a civilian life, should you choose that later.  Some of these promises are real.  Become a military pilot, or diver, and you can transition into a well paid civilian job.  Making the transition into civilian life from the artillery or from a Sniper team is a bit more tricky.

Some military advertising suggests that a stint in the armed forces is the equivalent of a college degree.  Others stress the very real opportunities to attend education programmes which include college graduate and post-graduate training (although more for the Officer track).

There is the famous “Be all you can be” campaign in the USA which presents the military as a vehicle for self-actualisation.  It suggests that the military life can give you more than just the work skills.  For disaffected youth facing life in a ghetto there is potentially an attraction to the structure and discipline of military life, a sense of purpose, a regular paycheck and a community of peers.

“No Ordinary Life” is another strategy, which stresses the opportunities for adventure sports and to play with toys for big boys.  It focuses on the attractions of life in the Service, rather than on potentials when you leave.

Belonging is another clear motivator.  You see this very strongly with US Marines, French Foreign Legion and in a variety of Elite or Special Forces.  Along the lines of “Once a marine, always a marine” or simply the motto “Semper fi”.  Some people are highly attracted to membership of a “clan” and are motivated to become an insider.

My personal favourite is the quote below.  It has biblical connotations, so should appeal to the “God, King, Country” advocates.  Sadly  I have never seen it in an advertising campaign.  I wonder why?


“The Bible legend tells us that the absence of labor – idleness – was a condition of the first man’s blessedness before the Fall. Fallen man has retained a love of idleness, but the curse weighs on the race not only because we have to seek our bread in the sweat of our brows, but because our moral nature is such that we cannot be both idle and at ease. An inner voice tells us we are in the wrong if we are idle. If man could find a state in which he felt that though idle he was fulfilling his duty, he would have found one of the conditions of man’s primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is the lot of a whole class – the military. The chief attraction of military service has consisted and will consist in this compulsory and irreproachable idleness.”


Leo Tolstoy;  War and Peace, Book 7, Chapter 1.