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If you were going to enlist in the military, which branch of the armed forces would you choose? And why?

The choice would have great consequences. The simple fact is that despite their similar charters, not all branches are created equal. Your choice will influence countless aspects of your life, including your post-military employment options and even the likelihood of whether or not you’ll survive your enlistment.

Gallup recently completed research into which branch of the armed forces most Americans would encourage someone to join. The Air Force came out on top.

Americans hold all branches of the U.S. military in high regard, but that does not necessarily translate into a desire to see their loved ones enlist. Fewer than half would be likely to recommend joining the Coast Guard (48%), Marines (43%) or Army (41%) to their children or grandchildren, while a majority would be likely to recommend the Navy (53%) or Air Force (64%).

As a chaplain, I heard some amazing reasons for people’s choice of service. One Army NCO told me, “I was leaning toward the Air Force until the Army recruiter pulled out this huge poster covered with every imaginable weapon, and said, ‘we’ll teach you how to use all of these.’” Not a bad technique for persuading testosterone-fueled eighteen-year-olds to sign on the dotted line.

One young woman who had served a tour in the Marines told me she didn’t even consider another option. “It was the Corps or nothing,” she said, before shouting “Semper Fi!” The USMC has the advantage of requiring fewer recruits and has brilliantly fostered a reputation as “the most prestigious of the military branches.”

A common motivator for Navy recruits seems to be the exotic locations of many of their installations. Can’t argue with that. Most of them are located on or near coasts, while the Air Force strategically places its bases where a falling aircraft would have the smallest chance of injuring someone on the ground. Places like Lubbock, Texas, where I served my first active duty tour at Reese AFB. [The people in Lubbock are amazing patriots.]

The Coast Guard, a sometimes-military organization, attracts people interested in their search and rescue ethos. This despite the fact that most of their mission involves enforcing laws and protecting the nation’s borders.

The Air Force draws lots of recruits who are interested in pursuing technical fields. The other services have similar career paths, of course, but the clear perception is that the Air Force offers the most. Still, it’s a bit embarrassing to share here the reason one friend of mine chose the USAF. Actually, it was his reason for choosing the chaplain assistant career field in particular. “I told them at basic training that I would take any job where I worked in a climate-controlled environment.” He was serious, but the last laugh was on him. When we deploy to the field, chaplain assistants are not only responsible their own safety, they have to protect their noncombatant chaplains as well (in any weather).

The different branches of the military go to war against their nation’s enemies—but they also maintain intense rivalries with their sister services. This competition is usually fun to observe . . . as long as alcohol is not in the vicinity.

C.S. Lewis’ Military Service

In the United Kingdom, the Navy is the senior service. Seems fitting for an island nation. That doesn’t mean that the Army traditions, which date back to historic militias, lack prestige.

During the First World War, C.S. Lewis was exempt from the draft. This, because he was from Northern Ireland. Despite this, he followed his brother Warren into the Royal Army.

Warnie was a career officer, graduating in 1914 from an expedited course at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Jack, in contrast, was one of many young college students who were subjected to a far more rapid training regimen, commissioned, and shipped off to the front.

In 1918 C.S. Lewis was severely wounded. One writer summarizes this event quite effectively.

The Lewis who crawled away from the carnage was not yet the C.S. Lewis of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. Then, he was like so many others who fought in World War I—just another wounded soldier desperate not to bleed to death.

Eventually Lewis would wear another “military” uniform during the Second World War—that of the Home Guard (originally called the “Local Defence Volunteers”). But that is a curious story for another day. Lewis patrolled Oxford in a uniform similar to those portrayed in the photos on this page.

Lewis did not have formal personal ties to the Navy, although his maternal grandfather, a Church of Ireland priest, had served as chaplain in the Royal Navy.

During WWII Lewis developed a warm relationship with members of the Royal Air Force. He offered lectures at a number of installations and taught at the RAF Chaplain School. Although his first lecture began rather inauspiciously, his work with the airmen proved extremely fruitful.

Lewis is a fine example of the man of gentle demeanor who “does his duty” when called upon by his country. Had his lifetime not overarched two global conflicts, he would have been utterly content to remain a civilian and wear the “uniform” of an Oxbridge professor.

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A Multiplicity of Polls

November 4, 2012 — 3 Comments

Here in the United States, our presidential election season is nearing its end. This is something people on both sides of the political spectrum are anticipating with joy. It’s been a grim process, grimmer than usual. The nation’s financial woes appear to have ramped up the vitriol. Christian values, especially, are maligned by many candidates and the partisan press that ingenuously professes objectivity. Yes, it will be a relief when it ends.

One of the features of modern elections that continues to grow in importance is polling. Scores of different pollsters—with widely varying results—compete for the public’s attention. Some of it is quite interesting, but the dizzying whirlwind of contradictory results creates confusion about their accuracy.

That, however, doesn’t slow their multiplication. Polling as we know it today is a fairly recent invention. It was 1958, when George Gallup gathered all of his nascent polling operations into a single organization. Gallup founded the American Institute of Public Opinion, the precursor of The Gallup Organization, in 1935. Gallup has maintained its reputation for integrity by refusing to accept any funding from political parties or candidates. Today, the company conducts opinion polls in more than 140 countries around the world.

As I was pondering the surplus of polls, I grew curious as to whether or not C.S. Lewis had ever commented on their like. I’m no expert on British politics, but I imagine they had occasional surveys, projections or prognostications. C.S. Lewis and his works have been the subject of innumerable contemporary polls . . . but did the Oxford don ever discuss such matters?

Desiring to avoid superficial attachments that might prove distracting to his literary goals, Lewis maintained a distance from political issues. It was for this reason he declined the well-deserved honor of becoming a “Commander of the British Empire.”

Lewis’ thoughts about politics reflect those of all who have grown tired of empty promises and venomous threats related to the election of “the opposition.” He would have longed, like many of us, for a reasonable and respectful conversation about charting the best course for his country.

Lewis longed for peace, in the spirit of Paul’s exhortation in his epistle to the young pastor, Timothy: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (I Timothy 2:1-2, ESV).

In that spirit he wrote to his brother Warnie in 1940 about the tragedy of living in an epic era, wracked by not one, but two global conflicts.

Lord! How I loathe great issues! ‘Dynamic’ I think is one of the words invented by this age which sums up what it likes and I abominate. Could one start a Stagnation Party—which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place? (Maundy Thursday, 21 March 1940).

Lewis’ collected Poems include the following delightful reflection on political campaigning.

Lines During a General Election

Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear

All that; it is their promises that bring despair.

If beauty, that anomaly, is left us still,

The cause lies in their poverty, not in their will.

If they had power (‘amenities are bunk’), conceive

How their insatiate gadgetry by this would leave

No green, nor growth, nor quietude, no sap at all

In England from The Land’s-End to the Roman Wall.

Think of their roads—broad as the road to Hell—by now

Murdering a million acres that demand the plough,

. . .

And all our coasts one Camp till not the tiniest wave

Stole from the beach unburdened with its festal scum

Of cigarette-ends, orange-peel, and chewing-gum.

Nor would one island’s rape suffice. Their visions are

Global; they mean the desecration of a Star;

Their happiest fancies dwell upon a time when Earth,

Flickering with sky-signs, gibbering with mechanic mirth,

One huge celestial charabanc [tour bus], will stink and roll

Through patient heaven, subtopianized from pole to pole.

As I mentioned above, there are an abundance of polls about Lewis and his writings. It’s fitting to close this post with a related discussion from the introduction to The Quotable C.S. Lewis.

A quick survey of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s great books of the Western world reveals that an average of approximately three authors per century have been included in that august collection. This being so, what authors from this century will be read in the next? Of course, we can no more than guess; only time will tell. If votes are going to be cast, however, the name C. S. Lewis ought at least to be on the ballot.

The influence of his pen can hardly be overestimated. One observer noted that Lewis “is read with enormous affection and loyalty by a wide and diversified audience today. . . . In fact, more of his books are sold today than those of any other Christian writer in history.” Indeed, with over sixty of his books in print, Lewis has for many in this century become the dominant exponent and champion of thoughtful Christianity. Lewis wrote on a wide variety of subjects in many literary forms.

These words were written during the twentieth century. A decade into the new century they ring just as true. Lewis’ contributions to literature and faith are passing the test of time. And I suspect that will remain true at the close of this century, whether polls anticipate it or not.

Those of you with extra time on your hands may wish to participate in Mere Inkling’s nonscientific poll, below.