Obama may not know “what it is to walk into battle” but he does understand sacrifice

I’m a confessed political junkie. As such, I have a perhaps unhealthy addiction to the CNN Political Ticker blog. This entry discusses a part of a Memorial Day speech that Barack Obama gave earlier today in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The full speech, about 9 minutes long, which is linked on the left, is worth a look if you’ve got time to spare. It’s probably not his best speech, but it is quite moving and I find it to be refreshingly genuine.

However, this entry isn’t really about this speech, but about the perceptions regarding presidential candidates and military service, and the mistaken idea that only a leader who has served in the military can do what is best for our servicepeople and their families and can understand the meaning of service and sacrifice. Many seem to forget that there are more ways to serve one’s country than being in the military. Serving one’s community as Obama did after earning his undergraduate degree, or serving others in the capacity of volunteerism or working for a non-profit philanthropic organization is an alternate path to joining the military. These alternatives should be encouraged among young adults who are not drawn to or are incapable of military service.

As I understand it, part of Obama’s plan for making college affordable for all is strongly focused around service, whether it is to one’s country by joining the armed forces, to one’s community through any number of charitable or philanthropic organizations, or to people in other communities throughout the country and the world through organizations like Teach for America and Medécins Sans Frontières. Just like the U.S. Armed Forces will pay for a student’s college education in exchange for four years of service, Obama seeks to create a system which will do the same for students in exchange for four years of service in civilian capacities.

Civilian service does not usually entail the same types of sacrifice as military service, but it still instills a necessary sense of what sacrificing one’s self for others means in a generation that has mostly grown up with a sense of entitlement in a society that usually does not demand better of them. In the commencement address that Obama gave at Wesleyan University yesterday, he emphasizes service as “an obligation to yourself…only when you hitch your wagon to something bigger do you realize your full potential.”

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