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Gates calls on students to serve, to 'take a risk'

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates took time to relive his ivory tower days with a visit Wednesday to Duke University, where he reflected on what he described as a growing divide between the all-volunteer armed forces and the rest of American society.

Gates, a former president of Texas A&M University and the holder of a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University, noted that veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often receive a hero's welcome from the public at large, in contrast the often chilly reception given to Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.

"It is also true, however, that whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the war remains an abstraction," he said. "A distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally. Even after 9/11, in the absence of a draft, for a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do."

Gates emphasized to his audience on the Durham, N.C. campus that he wasn't calling to reinstitute the draft, an idea he termed "politically impossible" and also "overwhelmingly opposed by the military's leadership."

But he asked for recognition that a narrow sliver of the U.S. population has carried the burden of fighting two drawn-out wars, a burden that has resulted in a growing suicide rate among the armed forces and accumulated strain on their families.

"It begs the question: How long can these brave and broad young shoulders carry the burden that we - as a military, as a government, as a society - continue to place on them?"

To relieve that burden, Gates called upon students in the audience to consider a career in the military or other forms of public service.

"Think about what you can do to earn your freedom," he said. "I would encourage you and all young Americans, especially those at the most selective universities who may have not considered the military, to do so. To go outside your comfort zone and take a risk in every sense of the word."

By Craig Whitlock  | September 29, 2010; 6:50 PM ET
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Why should students take the ultimate risk to fulfill right-wing philosophical dreams?

Let the right-wing GOPer version of the Cheney Youth take the risks to fulfill the militaristic dreams of such stalwart world conquerors as Rumsfeld, Bush, DeLay, Gingrich and other Napolean-wannabes.

Posted by: BigTrees | September 29, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I would suggest those students first visit the Vietnam memorial, and ask themselves, was their ultimate sacrifice it worth it then, and is my life it worth it now?

Posted by: llawrence9 | September 29, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

BigTrees is dead-nuts on.

No student in his/her right mind should make a commitment to "serve" in the military. The military will not in any way enter into a reciprocal agreement be equally committed to serving the server, especially injured and disabled veterans. The military will just dispose of them as "expendable" material. "To Serve" is a "one-sided" commitment. All win for the military and all-lose for the server.

Posted by: MrZ2 | September 29, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

No way would I encourage anyone to join the military. So their lives can wasted to satisfy the whims of politicians bent on starting ill-conceived wars? Those in the military are cannon fodder, used by insecure and overcompensating Republicans desperately trying to show how tough they are, and cowardly Democrats, afraid to vote no and be labeled unpatriotic. Oh, and I can't forget the clueless sheep known as the American public, who will enthusiastically support going to war, only to lose interest when the next season of
"American Idol" starts.

Posted by: ecjmom | September 29, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Hey! Why not? A chance to kill foreigners without penalty, and maybe even bring back body parts as souvenirs! Who could pass it up?

Posted by: thrh | September 29, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

The day our country is attacked, my entire family will enlist. Until that day, if one of my kids tries to join the military, I would kick them the hhell out of my house.

Posted by: peaceandprotest | September 29, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

I stand with peaceandprotest! I cannot believe this guy has the gall to ask people having at least half a brain to join up and fight oil wars. OUTRAGEOUS! Out of all foreign wars now!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: johng1 | September 29, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

He doesn't seem like it, but I think Robert Gates is an evil man.

Posted by: glenmayne | September 30, 2010 1:25 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Mr. Gates, we should not place all the burden on "these brave and broad young shoulders" - just get the Hell out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And then put President Bush, President Obama, and their Defense Secretaries on trial for war crimes.

Posted by: LeszX | September 30, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

The country is good enough to enter illegally and suck it dry financially but not good enough to serve in our military? Thankfully we knew that and that's why the Dream Act failed to pass. Hispanics are cowards. Millions of them hiding safely in the US while Mexico is torn apart by violence. Not willing to go home and help fight for their own country. So why would I expect them to suddenly develop the cojones to stand up for mine?

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | September 30, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Let the rich man's kids fight the rich man's wars.

Until then I'm staying home and getting rich so I can profit from the current and future wars too.

Unless there is a universal draft with no exceptions so everyone has "skin in the game" I say let the suckers and the desperate join the military.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | September 30, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

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