At work today, I had a unique, fly-on-the-wall experience related to our nation's armed forces and the recruiting practices of one branch in particular - oorah! After finishing with a student, we were standing together on the threshold scheduling our next meeting when a pair of young guys strolled by followed closely by another pair, the second set in neatly pressed uniforms, belt buckles shining even under the institutional, fluorescent glow of the hallway.
The conversation, or rather interrogation, that ensued started off inquisitively enough, with a fair degree of politeness. The dapper, uniformed recruiter, no more than a few years older than the young men he was addressing, commenced with the typical line of questioning: "So, what's your major? Oh, you're not sure. What kind of stuff are you interested in? Leaving your options open...okay." All pretty much routine. Then things began to change and the tone became more aggressive and actually fairly insulting, from my perspective. The message to one of the young men in the serviceman's sights was that he would never make it in the Marines and that he shouldn't pursue enlistment. "Yeah, you're definitely not cut out for it. You don't know what you want to do in life? You couldn't handle it. Don't even try."
This tactless effort at intimidation through reverse psychology seemed at best hacky and at worst seriously pushy. Listening to the silence of the guys listening, I could tell the approach had backfired. One of the young men seemed to lose interest, rightly sensing that this was the type of crap, the type of condescension that he'd have to look forward to in his fledgling military career. The other of the two targets was less fortunate and maybe had given some signs of interest, although most likely he was just feigning early enthusiasm out of courtesy.
The persistent recruiter understood he was waging a losing battle and it was only a matter of time before his window of opportunity fell shut with finger-crushing force. So, his last salvo was to try to arrange another time when they could meet to "exchange information". This last attempt at closing was what led me to make my comments. The well-groomed, well-spoken young Marine was acting like any two-bit salesman pitching a faulty product to the wrong potential buyer. His obviously worn and tested schtick had come to a fruitless end. I was strangely proud of the kid who didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. Maybe he'd figure it out along the way, but even from my sidewards vantage point, one can quite safely assume that won't be happening after any species of masochistic, state-sponsored indoctrination.