By Jim Glennon
A quote attributed to Plato, is as follows: “It does not matter if the cobblers and masons fail to do their jobs well, but if the guardians fail, the democracy will crumble.”
The Guardians, our protectors, in the United States, are those who serve in the military and law enforcement professions. People we have needed and counted on since the country’s inception.
From the lens of today, 2023, is Plato’s warning of the crumble, imminent?
I love history. I read it, study it, am amazed by it. I’m especially drawn to the stories about those who put themselves second. Who willingly put their lives at risk. Who are driven to support principles, that to them matter so much, that they devote their lives to the protection of others.
My wife always asks me, “Why do you watch so many war movies, with all the shooting and death?”
“Sacrifice,” is my quick reply. But it is much more than that. The camaraderie among a group of people with like-minded values is another reason. Human beings pushing themselves beyond both their physical and emotional limits is still another. The literal love they have for a greater good. Their drive to be a safeguard for our way of life and be a shield that protects the innocents from the world’s evils. All of those impact me on an emotional level.
I’ve watched Band of Brothers dozens of times. Read most of the books. Met several of the actual men who were part of that company.
I’ve read about D-Day, Pearl Harbor, the American Revolution, etc.
I’m always amazed that these men (and women, who are often overlooked) sacrificed, dropped everything, jeopardized everything and risked their lives in order to preserve our world and protect the populace as a whole.
And though we’ve always needed and relied on them, we’ve also taken them for granted. Worse, too often, we’ve abandoned them when their fight has been won, when their tours have been completed.
Perhaps, it’s simply the taking of their collective sacrifices for granted. Out of sight out of mind so to speak.
Other times the abandonment can be motivated by political opportunity.
Often it’s the optics of the struggle, the fight. Battling evil and the criminal minded is an ugly business. It’s witnessing a cause of discomfort for the unprepared and fragile minded masses.
Whatever the reason, from the beginning of the Republic, this has been a consistently sad reality.
Dismissing the sacrifice of those who guard and protect.
What About Today?
Our society has always assumed – as in we never actually think about it – that there will always be people to fill the Guardian role, defend our democratic principles and be the protectors of those who need protection.
It is taken for granted that “somebody will show up and handle the crisis.”
Somebody will show up and handle…
In 2020 I wrote an article titled, What’s It Going to Look Like When Police Protection Dries Up?
In it I asked the pertinent question, “What if no one was willing to answer the call anymore?”
What if there were no Guardians? What would happen to our society?
Three years ago, those questions bordered on the hypothetical.
Today, those questions are pointed, calculated, necessary and beyond alarming.
It’s alarming because it goes beyond finding those “willing” to serve, which is a major problem. The military and law enforcement are having unprecedented problems filling their ranks. People for a variety of reasons don’t have the motivation to join and serve others anymore.
A survey Calibre Press conducted in 2020 exposed this reality. We found that of the over 10,200 police officer respondents, only 7% would recommend the job as a profession to family members. That is terrifying. I mean if we don’t advocate for the profession, who will?
Now consider the military. Recently the armed services admitted that the “number of military personnel and veterans who would recommend joining the armed forces has dropped in the past two years — a waning enthusiasm that could threaten national security, according to new research…”
As alarming as that lack of advocacy is, another interesting and frightening reality has brought up a new question: How many are even capable of filling the role?
According to Military.com a new study from the Pentagon “shows that 77% of young Americans would not qualify for military service without a waiver due to being overweight, using drugs or having mental and physical health problems.”
Seventy-seven percent are not physically qualified!?
I recently had a conversation, one of many throughout the country, about the problem with recruits being physically capable of passing rudimentary physical tests.
Generally, what this Chief of Police told me is summarized here, though obviously not verbatim.
“We had 1,000 take out applications. We had 500 show up for orientation. We had 150 take the written test where 75 passed. Of those 75, only 45 participated in the physical power test. Of the 45 who had to run a mile and a half in less than 12 minutes, bench press 75% of their weight, bend, stretch and drag a dummy, only ten passed! Ten! Then we conducted our drug tests that they know they have to take and five flunked! After the background, one was left, and he decided not to join because he didn’t want to work night shifts.”
I spoke to a training director of a major Midwest city just last month. She told me that ten years ago they would have two academy classes running simultaneously with about 65-75 recruits in each class. The dropout rate was about 5%.
They began their one academy class with 20 recruits and within ten weeks, only 9 were still in the course. Some were forced out, but most quit. Some had their mothers drop off their gear without any warning or explanation.
I talked to another training director and she told me that one recruit showed up to the first day of the academy with an emotional service cat that he insisted needed to be next to him throughout the four month course.
Old Guy Talking About the Past
When WWII broke out we had citizen soldiers. Drafted civilians with no military training. They went to boot camp. Most, the vast majority, were able to physically handle the training.
Because they were naturally in physical shape.
As throughout all of human history, they played outside for 8, 10, 12 hours a day between the ages of 7-13. They learned how to create games, make up rules, build stuff, argue and resolve conflict with zero assistance from mom and dad.
They all played sports in high school, most multiple sports. Then, they all had part-time jobs.
They started doing some type of work to earn money at 10, 11, 12 years of age. Sometimes younger.
That type of adolescent behavior continued through the 1980s.
If you’re over 40, think about the age you were when you did anything to earn money. Paper route, cutting grass, shoveling snow, babysitting, caddying, etc. How old were you? 12?
When I was in high school virtually everyone I knew had some type of part time job. Every single one of my college friends worked their way through those four years.
Every time I bring up this issue, anywhere to anyone, family, friends, in a classroom, I know that some, including my own kids, roll their eyes because, “The old guy’s gonna tell a story about, what it was like when he was a kid.”
I get it. I did the same to my dad.
What is going on?
According to the CDC the average adult in the U.S. is 15 pounds heavier than in 1990.
In 1970, 12% of the population was considered obese. By 2016, that number rose to 37% based on the exact same criteria.
Teenagers play less sports, walk less, ride their bikes less, converse less, create less, build stuff less and sit on their collective buttocks staring at screens for, according to a 2023 study, 7.5 hours every single day!
They are, overall, and I know I am generalizing, certainly less autonomous than any prior generation by a significant amount.
According to Common Sense Media, 42 percent of kids have a phone by age 10. By age 12, it’s 71 percent. By 14, it’s 91 percent. So they are, essentially, never out of contact with everyone in their lives for any moment of time.
They need something, feel something, desire something, their brains are programmed to push a button that will serve to satisfy.
Want to be emotionally validated? Go to social media, call mom, call a friend.
For those born after 1995, at what age do they seek out their first form of payment for a task completed? 12, 14, 16, 18, 21?
Do they babysit? Cut grass? Shovel snow? Caddy? Get up at 5am and deliver newspapers and then once a month walk the neighborhoods collecting money from argumentative adults?
We had a decent amount of snow one day last winter. I went out with my snow blower and hit the driveway. Then, it snowed a couple of more inches. The snow was flaky, light. No big deal.
Two kids, maybe 12 years old, showed up at the front door of my house snow shovels in hand and asked if they could “do the drive and walk.” I have a pretty long driveway. I asked them how much they would charge. One of these kids said, “Well, let us do it and you pay what you think it is worth, maybe ten dollars?”
I said “Deal.”
They spent no more than 30 minutes on the drive, did a great job.
I gave them $20, a piece. My wife got mad at me for being cheap and handed them another $10 each.
Those are two kids who will make something of themselves. They took the initiative, a rarity today, saw and seized an opportunity to make money, dealt with adults – on their own – bargained, delivered, and were rewarded.
Today, we are hiring some to be police officers who have never, ever had any type of job. I asked an applicant if he ever received a W2 and this college graduate responded with, “What’s that?”
So, what are we doing as a profession and a society to meet the critical need of attracting and hiring Guardians?
Are we rethinking the profession, training, salaries?
Are we championing those who show initiative at an early age?
Are we, collectively and as a political class, honoring and advocating for those who are members of the military and law enforcement?
In way too many corridors of society we are not.
I ranted somewhat, but here are my points.
The law enforcement profession is complicated and eclectic in nature. We have to be in shape for the rare times we need our physical beings to handle the dangerous, the noncompliant, the violent.
That said, the profession is actually a human behavior business. We exist because of other people’s behavior which means, we have to be specialists in that field.
I took four years of psychology in college, earned a BA. But I also worked as a bartender for three years while in school. I’ve said this countless times; I learned more about psychology, human nature, reading people and conflict resolution behind that bar than in the four years I was taking psych courses.
So, we need people with people skills. And you can only acquire said skills from having a lot of experience with other people! People who are different, from different cultures, who are experiencing angst and confusion, who look at the world differently than you. Again, proficiency in the human behavior field is attained from dealing with human behavior, which implies we desire people who spend most of their time off their asses!
Finally, we need Guardians. Always have, always will.
The world is not what it was just a few short years ago. Society and the Guardian professions have to rethink who they are and how to attract and cultivate choice candidates.
Note I said society has to be involved. For the path we currently walk as a societal collective will result in not only less people willing to be Guardians, but less people capable of the challenge.
This is playing out in real time.
Where will we be in ten years if nothing changes, and the reality ignored?
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org