While it seems everyone and their cousin is trying to make historical comparisons between the War On Terror and previous conflicts (myself included), there are many ways that it is unique in human history. For example, two stories struck me this week.
First up, we have a little news on just how the military’s raising of the maximum age of new enlistees is working out. A lot of war opponents have cited it as evidence of how unpopular the war is, as they have to accept more and more people who it would normally not do so.
But as this story indicates, that’s not the economic factors at work. It’s not so much a problem of demand, but supply. The military doesn’t seem to be actively recruiting older enlistees, but rather is simply accepting those who seek them out and want to serve.
In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been seen as that much of a surprise. In general, the “vital” phase of Americans’ lives have been expanding on both ends. Children are physically maturing faster and faster, and the aging process has been slowed enough that certain age milestones have been pushed back. Women are having babies later in life, people are living longer and longer, and there is frequent talk of pushing back the retirement age. So the thought that people as old as 42 might not only wish to begin a military career, but actually be physically capable of keeping up with 18-year-olds, should not come as much of a surprise.
On the other hand, though, we see that the other side is also reaching out beyond young men. It seems that women, while making advances in serving in our military, are getting more and more involved in the other side. There are increasing numbers of women terrorists taking a more active role in terrorism and support for terrorism.
While one theme is common among both stories — groups of people feeling “left out” seeking a chance to play a role in a major conflict — there is another, far profounder difference. In America, the older new recruits are choosing one way of many possible choices they could make. In the Middle East, the women are finding that this is pretty much the only way they can escape the harshly restricting roles their societies force them into. In America, the opportunity for advancement for the new recruits is pretty much unlimited. In the Middle East, the women’s only hope for glory is to give their lives for their cause.
The older recruits are choosing a new way of life. The new female terrorists are choosing a way of death.
While I think that the historical comparisons between the War on Terror and prior conflicts can be very useful in some ways, these two stories should help us remember that in many other ways, it is also unlike any other.