Sunday
Jun272004

« Cannon Fodder »

I was having an instant message chat with my sister last night. She has three boys, two of them at prime military draft age, and one that is about five years away. That alone is scary, but so is the fact that for the most part, they are not highly educated, and are basically poor kids from a harbor town. Classic working poor. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore shows us a super aggressive pair of Marine recruiters scouring the poor neighborhoods in his area in Michigan, willing to talk anyone out of their jobs at KFC and other similarly dead end jobs. Many are black, all are convinced that the military is their ticket out of a certain doomed life in a depressed community. Hey, my nephews could fall for that, conceivably. My brother did.

My brother was a solid student but no high achiever in high school. He had no plans to go to college, but instead signed up for the Marines. Ten years ago, almost to the week, he went into boot camp here in San Diego at MCRD. Twelve weeks later, he went from a slightly flabby, relaxed-postured, mama's boy to being slim and straight as a rail and full of discipline and control over his expressions. Quite a transformation, really. He went in for the usual Marine image—real clean cut, and almost as soon as he got out of boot camp, he got a huge "USMC" and insignia tattoo on his arm. He was IN. He drank harder too. But Steve is a good guy, really. He isn't one for politics, he is quiet, he tries to avoid conflict. I suppose he thought the Marines were a good place to firm up and be a man. I don't know exactly. I haven't talked to him since shortly after 9/11. For a guy not about to embark on an academic life, I suppose the military was a good ticket up to something. He got out sometime in the late 90's. I guess he only served four years. I sort of harassed him about getting the huge tattoo, and then not staying in for 20 years. I thought he would have been a career man in the Corps.

But it is just as well he got out when he did. Now he is a service man for Verizon, is married, and generally stays to himself and his wife. Better that than say, the soldiers now in Iraq, or worse, the ones in army hospitals with amputations, nerve damage, missing eyes and blown out ears. Yes, that is a Fahrenheit 9/11 reference. I wrote to my sister last night, and in the first message, told her to worship the god that got Stevie out of the military before our fuckup president stole the presidency. By the time Iraq was launched, Steve would be almost nine years in—a little past the age of the average soldier depicted in F911. But my nephews, at ages 20 and 22 now, if they were in the war, would be cannon fodder. Over the discussion (if I can even call it that) with my sister, I told her to march down to see this movie, and since she has not only her boys to look after, but also a circle of their friends, I told her to beg any of these kids to not go into the military now, should any of them be entertaining the idea. My sister didn't want to hear it. Didn't want to hear me preach to her. Okay. Fine. But that is the sort of attitude too many Americans have. People, it is time to WAKE THE HELL UP. As long as young men think war is noble and just, we are fucked. Michael Moore closed his film with a heart rending sentiment: don't send these trusting and loyal kids in unless it is absolutely necessary. Just because they are willing to give all doesn't mean they should need to if it is avoidable.

I read Dalton Trumbo's 1935 anti-war book, Johnny Got His Gun. It was released in September 1939, right after WWII started. At the time, the most gut wrenching book about the world's previous war-to-end-all-wars was ill received at the start of the so-called "last good war." No one wanted to hear about how a soldier's life is not his own, and that fighting and dying does nothing to ensure the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for the one who died. No dead man ever enjoyed freedom. No dead person could ever enjoy sunshine, laughter, sex, good food—but yet, thousands of men sign up to be cannon fodder (though they are told they will get money for college, earn respect, learn to be a team player—all fine stuff, but missing that one critical detail), in the name of principles we all value. And, like Moore pointed out, the ones who parade on and on about these principles and what great need there is to defend them, they are hardly the ones who would go fight for them in person. So, do you think something is wrong here? There may be no future in fast food and Wal Mart, but hey, there isn't any future in death, either (unless there are some new developments in that field). Going to college, even for free, can be a drag if you don't have arms to hold books and write, or eyes to read. Just a small detail, really.

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