Nuclear Options – Some courses of action should not be on the table.

It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, one I would make again in a heartbeat. But when someone told me he planned to do the same, I almost tried to talk him out of it.

A young man at church told me he plans to enlist in the Air Force.

There was a momentary battle in my mind. Do I tell him how I feel? Do I warn him what he should expect if he ends up making this a 20-year career? Should I let him know that the promises he hears along the way are only as good as the government deems them to be?

I stepped into Basic Training in December of 1994. I heard about “the drawdown” after Desert Shield / Desert Storm. I heard people get mad about changes to retiree medical care, a supposed “breach of trust” with those who served.

But I was a 17 year old two-striper who planned to get out after my six year term.

Funny how plans, and deals, can change without advance notice. “I’m married with a newborn baby… this is job security… I can’t get out now.”

Then “I’m at the 10 year point, I’m already half-way there.”

Later, “What’s five more years? Retirement pay and benefits are really going to help if I can’t get a great job.”

Then Congress decides that over the next 20 years of my life, I can stand to lose about $84K of the money I’ve been promised as an eventual benefit and a carrot motivating continued service. It will be gradual, but if evened out over that timeframe, it’s someone taking about $350 out of every month’s paycheck.

I’m mad, but I can live with that. I’ll grin and bear it, like a few million other servicemembers do every day.

Then I see stuff like this proposal from the Congressional Budget Office.

The article starts by talking about some savings the government could glean by increasing enrollment fees and co-pays on retirees’ medical care. $18.4 billion here, $24.1 billion there. Then they add:

But banning working age retirees from the Pentagon’s HMO-style Prime plan could save $89.6 billion — an amount difficult to ignore, budget experts said

Wow. That amount is difficult to ignore! Well, that makes it perfectly okay then, doesn’t it? Whatever breach of trust, whatever shattering of faith, whatever display of dishonor is necessary, let’s just make sure the numbers justify it.

Less than one percent of the American population has served during America’s longest war ever. So maybe that’s why the public doesn’t seem to comprehend what this feels like.

Everyone’s up in arms over NSA spying on them because it might affect them personally. Well imagine the IRS taking $350 a month from you over the next 20 years. Suck it up. Times are hard, we all have to give a little, right?

Or imagine the medical insurance provider you’ve paid for telling you that – while they are going to keep your money – you can’t use their service until you turn 62. Suck it up… and pay for another medical provider.

You can’t blame them, really. The numbers are difficult to ignore.

Maybe the government can save some money this year by not sending anyone a tax return. When you fill out your 1040 variant and end up with a chunk of money you might get back, consider that a donation to Uncle Sam to keep things running smooth. Come on, suck it up.

My point is, no matter how difficult the numbers are to ignore, some possible courses of action should never be viable options. These are the “nuclear options,” desperate choices whose detrimental effects equal or outweigh hoped-for benefits.

We have less than 1 percent standing up and volunteering to serve during the last 12 years of war. And we rely on the hope that  young men and women will continue to raise their right hands, swear an oath, and join ranks to defend our nation in the future.

Not if our nation can’t be trusted. Not if Uncle Sam’s promises become worthless.

When that happens, and another conflict arises, our choices are imposing a draft, or suffering an unacceptable degree of defeat.

The costs of both those options ought to be difficult to ignore.

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