March 04, 2005

The Trouble with Being Everything to Everyone

by PG

My interview for a summer internship with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps was short and sweet: it lasted about ten minutes, and the interviewer complimented my resume repeatedly. The program sounds tremendously interesting, though more non-academic responsibility than I want to handle in the summer after 1L year (I'm actually enjoying being a complete geek after two years out of school).

Doing it next summer probably wouldn't work either, however, as that's traditionally when one works somewhere that would also be a potential post-graduation employer. The already dim possibility of becoming a JAG attorney vanished completely with page 18 of the recruiting guide, which says that "You will also participate in physical fitness training and an overnight field training exercise." Oh hell no. Out in the woods, I'll be an army of one looking for the nearest Barnes & Noble.

Later in the day, when people asked why I was dressed up, I replied, "JAG interview." Responses varied: nods, "cool"s, raised eyebrows. One person pointed out that I could have interviewed off-campus without being obnoxious about it, by calling the week after On-Campus Interviewing and asking to visit their offices for the interview.

Another person, involved in the issue of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and their presence on campus, questioned me more thoroughly. He seemed displeased that Career Services appeared to be facilitating JAG's interviews more than those of other employers. A staff member greeted me when I came in and told me the interviewer was "very nice," although I figured this was just to balance the sign next to the interviewer's door that re-stated the disclaimer from the OCI website, which gives a rather ogre-ish impression.

His annoyance made me a little uncomfortable, since I'm not accustomed to being on the side of the oppressor. As I've mentioned before, I disapprove of "don't ask, don't tell," and think that colleges should be able to exclude employers from on-campus interviewing if they find the employers to be violating policies the university attempts to promote.

At the same time, even soldiers serving in a discriminatory military need legal services, especially when they're bearing the whole responsibility for the practice of torture, or being targeted by predatory lenders. Military lawyers also represent Guantanamo Bay prisoners who are challenging their detention. Or maybe even when servicemembers are fighting criminal charges and a court martial for "conduct unbecoming" -- i.e. when the military is trying to push out a gay or lesbian servicemember -- though I wouldn't want to romanticize the extent to which JAGs work for individual soldiers as opposed to the military as an institution.

I'm not sure there's really a point to this post, beyond expressing my ambiguous feelings about how to deal with being both pro-equality and pro-soldier. As I'm not seriously considering the Judge Advocate General's Corps as a future career, it's not even a big problem for me, but I wonder how other people may be dealing with similar issues.

A Foggy Bottom friend who opposes the war in Iraq simply compartmentalizes her own political views away from what she does in her State Department job. Some anti-war folks would consider this impossible, or a cop-out, but I don't see why all the people who don't march in lockstep with the current administration should have to leave their jobs -- or why all the people who oppose "don't ask, don't tell" should have to be on the outside of the institutions that make the policy. (And spare me the argument that Congress decides this. If the military said "We'd love to have homosexuals!" even a GOP Congress is unlikely to continue an absurd practice that's created a lot of trouble.)

March 4, 2005 05:41 PM | TrackBack

That Barnes & Noble thing cracked me up!

Posted by: Renee at March 4, 2005 08:00 PM

As a co-blogger seriously considering JAG as a career option, I strike the balance by simply asking (anyone), "Who'd you rather have working for JAG, me or someone who likes to shoot at people?"

Posted by: Armen at March 4, 2005 09:06 PM

I think it's great that you went to the interview and did so with an open mind. To be sure, going to the field can be a challenging experience -- and going downrange can be moreso. But a stint in the military can also be incredibly rewarding. I know that 30 years from now, I'll still be recounting the stories of "There I was..." from the Army. I doubt I'll be regaling my friends with stories like that from my law firm, as much as I like my current practice.

Posted by: Phillip Carter at March 5, 2005 10:06 PM

Were you really surprised that the Army required physical fitness training? In any case, you should consider the Navy JAG Corps. Most of the billets are on shore. And even at sea, life is pretty good. Exotic port visits... and you can order a copy of the Bluebook on and have it flown in in a few days with the next mail drop.

I respect your reasons for wanting to try out JAG, but I don't really understand why you think it's hard to be pro-equality and pro-soldier. Plenty of people in the service are. Plus, there are so many other dumb things that the military does to get frustrated about besides 'dont ask, dont tell'. For example: M-16s that jam up in the sand (and have for years), contracting to buy today's technology years into the future, the Bradley fighting vehicle...

I guess my point is that the shortcomings of any institution can only detract so much from its larger purpose. With the military, that purpose is defending the constitution. I think I'd choose to serve.

Posted by: Navy 1L at March 6, 2005 06:22 PM

Navy 1L,

I was a little surprised by the fitness requirement because I assumed that people who provide legal services don't really need to be able to carry lots of equipment and supplies. How many trials take place out in the field? I figured that I could be the same out-of-shape slob in JAG that I would be in civilian life.

I guess my point is that the shortcomings of any institution can only detract so much from its larger purpose. With the military, that purpose is defending the constitution.

You hit upon the crux of my problem: I believe that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is violative of constitutional principles, just as the pre-1948 racial segregation of the military was (even if the Supreme Court in both cases found the practices to be constitutional). To me, this is a much bigger shortcoming than the kind of impractical dumb stuff that any institution will do. I'm annoyed by my law school's stupid way of assigning housing, but I see this as small potatoes. If my law school excluded people based on sexual orientation, however, this would not be something I could dismiss easily.

Posted by: PG at March 7, 2005 02:44 PM

I think you're right. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" probably is violative of constitutional principles. That policy can be changed, and likely will be in the long run. I accept that this is something that you cannot dismiss easily. But it seems like you are trying to imply that, because of this policy, the Constitution shouldn't be defended (against all enemies, foreign and domestic). Is that true?

Posted by: Navy 1L at March 7, 2005 03:42 PM

Navy 1L,

I certainly am not implying that the Constitution shouldn't be defended; on the contrary, I rather thought I was saying that the dilemma arises due to the conflict of what the military is supposed to do, and what its internal policies are. Do I think my concern over those policies should supersede the necessity of defending the Constitution and (what the military really is doing) defending the nation? Certainly not. I would not have abandoned the Union army in 1861 in a snit about its racial segregation, nor the WWII military in 1942 over the same. At the same time, I would have distinguished the racism as a deeper problem of bad principle than the practical issue of poor military strategy.

This is devolving even further from law into politics, but when the military mostly is addressing threats that, in my opinion, are not likely to destroy the U.S. (as opposed to the threats of secession or German/ Japanese militarism), boycotting the military until its policies change is a defensible action. Joining the military and agitating for change from the inside is also a worthwhile course, but not the only legitimate one.

Posted by: PG at March 8, 2005 10:12 PM
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