A New Psychology for the American Military


In 2024, America’s military is projected to reach its smallest size since 1940. One often-cited reason for this contraction is the requirements that must be met in order to join the military. Different branches of the military have different baseline requirements, including clean drug tests, no criminal record, passing a certain score on the aptitude test, and no visible tattoos. Currently, according to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, 71 percent of American youth are unqualified to serve in the military due to health problems—both mental and physical, low aptitude scores, misconduct, drugs, or obesity. As a result, many branches have moderated the tattoo rule, lowered scores needed on aptitude tests, and some branches are even considering waiving the drug test. Despite concessions like these, recruiting numbers continue to drop. To find a meaningful answer as to why the American military is shrinking, one needs to look deeper: into the new American psyche and how it is affecting Americans’ relationship with the military. This new psyche is instilling in Americans a certain complacency, even laziness, and a sense of apology, as well as a general ignorance of the global threats that abound.

This new psyche includes complacency at best and laziness at worst. As America has prospered, American workers have increased their productivity, but instead of using this heightened productivity to secure national aims, it has been used to produce more leisure for the individual, which is not always well spent. In fact, obesity and mental health issues can both be caused by an overabundance of free time. Just a generation ago, children and teenagers grew up outside. Today, both America’s youth and adults are spending more time inside, frequently on the couch, eating unhealthy foods, on electronic devices, or engaging in other unstimulating activities. This frequent sitting and eating contributes to the obesity epidemic. While the prevalence of mental health struggles is also connected to frequent sitting and time spent indoors, there is growing research connecting mental health struggles to electronic devices, both because of the lack of real human connections being made and because of the unrealistic comparisons that social media makes inevitable. Obesity and poor mental health are both large contributors to why Americans are not qualified to serve in the military, i.e., the carelessness inherent in the new American psyche is shrinking the pool of potential military candidates. 

The second, and no less harmful, aspect of the new American psyche is that America has become an increasingly apologetic nation. The America of old viewed herself as a moral light unto the nations of the world. Freedom-seeking peoples around the world looked to America as the highest point of righteousness, justice, and godliness. But today that view has changed. Today many work to rewrite America’s history as a force for good in the world into a story of an inherently flawed country unable to atone for its original sin of slavery. Who would sacrifice their blood for a country they are ashamed of? Who would let their sons and daughters fight for a country of colonizers and oppressors? The answer, as it turns out, is that very few would. The mindset of America has been tainted, and not only in regards to the prevalent, flawed view of her history, but also in the current understanding of the purpose of her military. 

Some might argue that Americans’ relationship with the military has been deteriorating ever since America has felt safe as a world power and even hegemon. Originally, the militia (America’s army during her colonial and early republic days) was a perfect balance of give and take: many joined, giving their time and safety in return for the safety of their shared values. They fought for their own freedom and for that of their children. They felt very clearly the repercussions of acting versus what might happen if they did not fight for their country. Nowadays, Americans barely see a need for their own protection; they have become so used to being free that the concept of fighting for their freedom or of a world without freedom is practically nonexistent. An understanding of what we are fighting for or against has become far removed from reality, and at our peril. For example, after 9/11, there was a spike in military recruits in America, because everyone could identify the threat and most Americans felt that their freedom was in danger. For better or worse, America’s military became personal to many, as a significant number of Americans had either friends or family who volunteered to serve in the years following 9/11. Less than 1 percent of Americans currently serve in the military, and 50 percent of America’s youth admit that they know little about it, according to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. Thus, the connection that Americans have to the military has become effectively non-existent.  

So what can America’s leaders do to increase military recruiting numbers and bring back the pride that the country needs to inspire and even thrive? If the U.S. government were to require military service, or some version of national service, America herself would reap the benefits, and it might go a long way towards restoring Americans’ relationship with the military. This could include a variety of types of jobs to ensure that all—or at least the majority of people—can be admitted, not just those with the right physical skill, weight, and mental aptitude. First of all, this revamped service could bolster American pride, which according to numerous recent polls is at an all-time low. Few things make a person respect something more than when they expend their own efforts and time on it. This would almost certainly lead to a healthier citizenry, both physically and psychologically. Physically, serving in the army is tough work, and the body benefits from it. Psychologically, Americans are suffering from a lack of purpose, and the army is a reputable institution that leaves people feeling purposeful. Military service also provides subordinates with skills that will be helpful long into the future, whether it be self-defense, responsibility, teamwork, discipline, and/or practical medical or technological knowledge. Having a shared experience would also serve to unify Americans, creating a sense of comradery to be carried with them beyond the military and into the workforce and civilian life.

It is clear that the new American psyche, which includes a general malaise, an apologetic nature, and a disconnect with American ideals and institutions, is contributing to the low military recruiting numbers. Today, Americans are in some cases unable, and in others unwilling, to join the military. By implementing required national or military service, these three weaknesses of the American psyche could be greatly diminished due to the transformative nature of serving one’s nation.

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