No, Sir

I have a lot of respect for our troops. The United States' Middle Eastern campaigns have not worn well with public opinion at home or abroad. It's bad enough to do your job around people who don't trust you, but when your own countrymen question what you're doing…well, let's just say that I imagine the "welcome home" parties are not as grand as they were in the 1940's.

Part of me has always wanted to join them, to be a part of this band of brothers valiantly defending the cause of freedom. There's honor and respect in being a soldier. And not to obscure the ugliness of war, I think many men are drawn to the glory of victory. But I've always known that I'm not cut out for it. It's not that I fear being unable to pass basic or losing my life or even having to take the life of another. For me, it all comes down to the "Yes, sir."

When I was in school, I was a diligent and disciplined student. However, I was also the student who wondered about the value of the subjects I was expected to study. My mother will tell you that the phrase she heard most from me during my high school years was, "What's the point of this?" In fact, I once made such a stink about the curriculum we used that they were forced to rewrite portions of it based on the inconsistencies I pointed out.

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Of course, it was also around this time that my family was falling apart. Perhaps it was the combination of circumstance and a naturally inquisitive mind, but I came to be a cynic at a young age. And as much as I see the world hierarchically and respect the chain of command, I don't trust easily.

I don't think many people realize it, but trust isn't just something found in marriages. Without trust, there is no loyalty. Soldiers understand this. They're expected to follow orders. They're expected to be loyal to their leaders and their country. And in order to do this, they have to trust that their leaders have their best interests and the country's best interests at heart.

Now imagine how hard that would be if your leaders gave cause not to be trusted? This isn't a political statement; this is a cultural observation. Because trust won't last where questions abound. Trust has to be earned, and it is easily lost. So wouldn't it follow that loyalty abides by the same protocols?

Today's generational divide seems to bear this out. Boomers lived during an era when America was a reputable power, a force to be reckoned with. We were the leaders of innovation, titans of industry, and kings of economy. We harnessed nuclear weapons, we reached the moon (allegedly). Any hard questions could seemingly be dismissed by the success of American pride and ingenuity.

Now I wouldn't blame it all on Nixon, but somewhere along the line America came to trust in itself less and less. And today, young people are dealing with corruption on all levels from the oil companies to the pharmaceutical companies to federally-endorsed practices that violate human rights in immigration and even nutrition. Not to mention Monsanto. Can anyone blame the cynicism of this generation?

You can see what I mean on this very medium. A few of my friends are frequent bloggers as well. Yet you won't see all of us retweeting or promoting all of the posts that the other does. We only promote the topics we find valuable or provocative. There is no loyalty to promote every single thought that each of us have simply because we're friends. That's an earned privilege.

Yet too often it's subsumed under the articles of respect. Like a soldier to an officer, an employee to a boss, even a layman to a pastor, loyalty is expected—just like respect. But life is not like an employment application where acceptance is determined based on your answer for "How Long Do You Plan on Working Here?"

We can choose to quit when we want, we can choose to retweet whom we want, and we can choose to go to church where we want. If nothing binds us, we get to determine the extent of our loyalty. Because if trust is in jeopardy, who would actually want a "Yes, sir?"