Nov 14, 2012 0 Share

Being All that We Can Be

Picture of solider from behind saluting American flag.

This past weekend included the 237th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps, and also Veterans' Day/Armistice Day/Remembrance Day (celebrating the end of World War I). Like many Americans and others, I recognize these dates—especially Veterans' Day, as Emily works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

But also, I follow these things because I've liked the military since junior high school. 

In part, I suspect my interest in military affairs comes from an interest in physical power. Being bullied from sixth grade onward can do that to you. Different people respond to things in very different ways. For example, Carol Gerber in Stephen King's “Hearts in Atlantis” gets seriously beaten by some bullies, and reflecting on that, becomes an anti-war radical in the 1960s. She apparently felt that she would never want her own country to do to others what had been done to her. On the other hand, I feel that in a world where naked force all too often reigns supreme, it's much better to be strong than weak. 

In any case, from eighth grade onward, I became a strong military (especially Army) fan. In fact, in ninth grade, when in Business Dynamics class we were asked to research and present information about two occupations, I chose Army helicopter pilot and Army mechanic. Neither of which, by the way, I had any desire or aptitude for. I don't know how I picked those particular Military Occupational Specialties. On the other hand, later on I got a pamphlet in the mail offering Air Force mechanics training. Maybe I come off as someone who's good with tools. Heck, I certainly used to be much better with tools than with people! 

I even wanted to apply to West Point, which trains Army officers. (As my one concession to common sense, I chose the Army because I commonly get seasick and motion-sick.) So, a kindly retired colonel arranged for me to visit West Point the summer after ninth grade, to see a soccer game. (It helped that I lived on Long Island; he set it up so I could go with a group.) 

All this despite the fact that I had serious problems getting along with people, especially authority figures. 

Finally, in the fall during 11th grade, I saw the light and decided the military was not for me. Just in the nick of time, too! 

(Incidentally, the closest my family has to a veteran is my paternal grandfather, who served in the Merchant Marine.) 

Many Aspies, in fact, do well in the military. After all, the armed services highly value technical expertise, attention to detail, procedure and precise directives. Depending on which autistic traits dominate in a given Aspie, the military may be the best place for him. 

On the other hand, even more than in the civilian world, a military member must not only take orders very well but also get along in very close quarters, with minimal privacy/decompression space, with a wide variety of people—possibly including people from other countries. Also, much more than in the civilian world, conditions may change with no notice or time for detailed explanation. 

Finally, much more than in civilian life, people work, live and sleep interdependently. In “A Few Good Men,” U.S. Marine Colonel Nathan Jessup pointed out, “We follow orders or people die.” There's a reason why in basic training or boot camp, and often beyond, an entire unit can be punished for a single person's mistake: That's how it works in combat. One missed maintenance, one sleepy sentry, one unauthorized light on after dark in a combat zone, can mean everyone in the squad, platoon or company dies, a plane gets shot down or a ship sinks. 

Perhaps for this reason, after due deliberation the U.S. military has decided that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are incompatible with military service. This does not mean that every single Aspie, or even almost every single Aspie, is unfit for military service. It means that while some Aspies are fit, enough are unfit—in ways that cannot be easily detected in time—that just like with many other disqualifying conditions, the lesser of two evils is to exclude all of us. 

I know that some Aspies, their families and others question this action. I believe the military knows what they are doing in general, and having no reason to seriously doubt their decision here I support it.