Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why I am not now nor will I ever be a part of the U.S. Military

Why ask why? Because it might be a lie.

In the fall of 2001 everyone alive then can tell me what they were doing when the towers went down. I was working in a candy factory, preparing some items for a photography session, and we had the radio on all morning. I can remember the sense of desperation, of speechlessness, in the voice of Peter Jennings when the towers fell. You just couldn't believe it. Time to kick some Middle Eastern ass!

In the days that followed the outer trappings of patriotism became evident everywhere you went. The flags flew out of the stores, the bumper stickers couldn't be printed fast enough, wherever you went someone was going to tell you how much they loved this country and how much they hated the bastards that did what they did.

We began the assault on Afghanistan in October, almost a month after the attacks. The assault on my sensibilities began that very same day. The glee in which people wanted to see those "ragheads" or "towelheads" get theirs was very troubling to me. Mind you, I wasn't against the need for retaliation. What I was against was the almost party-like atmosphere surrounding the rush to war. War is a tragic necessity sometimes. It should never be entered into cavalierly, but soberly, knowing that the life of an enemy combatant is still a human life.

I was a pretty conservative Christian then, but like that one kid in class who always asked "why?", I began to get under people's skins. The church I attended had patriotic services in which the Pledge of Allegiance was recited and military fight songs were sung. I heard a pastor pray that our bombs would find the right targets. After the Iraq War started, a friend of mine prayed for the death of Sadaam Hussein's sons. A young man's decision to join the military was announced in Sunday services, and was met with uproarious applause, a standing ovation.

All of this was troubling to me. Why were people making this connection between service to one's God and service to one's country? Why was it seen as the Christian thing to do? Why did normally sane Christians demonize those who opposed the war with language that would have earned a child a trip to the corner and a mouth washed out with soap? Didn't anyone care that Iraqi Christians were dying too? It was too easy to just call all the Iraqis "terrorists"; it was a little more difficult to realize that those labelled "insurgents" by the press were fighting for their country and loved it just as much as our soldiers loved theirs.

A seismic shift in attitude was happening in my life, but it had its roots in a different time and a different war, one which took place before I was born. Allow me to turn the blog over to my grandmother, in a letter responding to a question I had about my grandfather during World War II:

"He was a pacifist from way back so when World War II came along, he was planning to register in the classification for ministers which would have exempted him from the draft. many people accepted this as they felt ministers would naturally be against fighting. But the CO's had a special derogatory classification. We had three school teachers in our church in Exeter - (a small, very conservative valley town) - two men and one woman. She didn't have to register but she was the wife of one of the men. They were very firm in their CO beliefs and registered as CO's. Grandpa, in order to identify with them, registered as a CO also, rather than as a minister. (Later, they were assigned very demeaning alternate service.)

"The three teachers were fired from their jobs. I was asked to resign from the YWCA leadership for girls in the high school. The minister of the Presbyterian church who had only been there a few months was fired as he registered as a CO also. His organist, a leading socialite in the town, led the crusade against all of us - she was responsible for my being asked to give up the YWCA leadership. One funny thing - in that town everyone went to the post office to get their mail. Often Grandpa would go in the evening or after dark. The word spread that he was meeting with "the enemy." When he saw the lady coming down the street he would purposefully greet her with "good morning Mrs. Clawson!" If she saw him coming she would cross to the other side of the street.

"We had been at Exeter for 2 and 1/2 years when the war was declared so our members knew us pretty well and were very fond of Grandpa. But he told his board of deacons that he was placing his resignation in their hands and if they ever felt they should accept it, he would understand and leave. But we didn't leave for another 2 plus years - and then for him to pursue his doctorate."

The need to question the party line is in my genes and goes way back. But I digress.

As the war in Iraq proceeded, it became apparent that the weapons of mass destruction that we went over there to find just were not there. Didn't matter to the Christians I met with, however; of course they were there, it's just that the liberal, biased mainstream media doesn't want this country to succeed! They want us to fail! They hate this great land of ours! And on and on it went as the brush cast a wide stroke.

I asked myself this question- if we as Christians claim to follow a savior that says he is the way, the truth, and the life, how can we support a position that is obviously untrue? How can we keep on saying, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that this war is just? How can we support the claim that "God told President Bush to go to war", when the reasons President Bush gave for going to war were false? Was God's intelligence faulty? If God counts every hair on our head, would he not know what cave Osama Bin Laden was hiding in? And speaking of Bin Laden, why were we even attacking Iraq? Why not bomb the hell out of Saudi Arabia, since most of the 2001 terrorists were from that country?

And at that point I broke free. The more the Christian Church in America pulled to the right, the more I swung to the opposite position. While conservatives sang the praises of Bush I supported Howard Dean and John Kerry. Michael Moore became a hero of mine. When the Pledge of Allegiance was offered in church, I refused to stand. You won't be seeing a flag fly from my doorway, you won't be seeing me wear any kind of a patriotic t-shirt, and you certainly won't be seeing me congratulate someone for making the decision to join the military during wartime. That decision could very well be a suicide mission. Chances of dying may be slim, but it's more of a chance than I want anyone I know to take.

The actions of Christians who should know better just sicken me these days, to the point that I could very well have titled this blog "Why I am no longer a part of the Christian church." This country has begun a disturbing trend of responding to disagreement with pure venom and hatred, and Christians, who should be known by their love for one another, are now leading the pack. And I can't stomach it anymore.

But that isn't the subject here. I can't support the military because their actions overseas are based on false information; I also can't support the military because they are luring young people in with pure propaganda. Look at the commercials that are abundant these days. The young woman wants to be a part of something bigger than herself, so she is joining the military. Her mother is cast as someone who is uncomfortable with the decision, but is at a loss to explain why. Well, here's a good reason Mom- your daughter could die. Enlisting during wartime, in my opinion, is one of the most godawful decisions a person could make. And the fact is, most young people are not joining the military to be a part of something bigger than themselves, they are joining because it's a job. They are joining for the benefits. They are joining because military life has been painted as a glamorous, noble, brave thing to do; I guess suggesting that you may very well have to take a person's life and watch your friend's brains leak from their head doesn't draw many recruits. How do we bring a person to the point that they can take a person's life, when they have been brought up believing that "thou shalt not kill"? The military does a mighty good job of brainwashing. And when a young person returns home, how do they flip the switch back?

And to the daughter or son that wants to be a part of something "bigger than themself", I say, join the Peace Corps! Volunteer for the Special Olympics! Go to a retirement home and devote yourself to a group of people who need their lives to be as comfortable as possible as they live their final days. You can be a part of something bigger than yourself without killing someone about the same size and age as yourself.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably tell you that I grew up in a military family. And that alone was enough to make me swear off ever joining the military.

My father made the decision to join the Coast Guard right out of high school. We have never talked about the reasons why he came to that decision; doesn't really matter, the die was cast in 1961. When I was born, in 1966 in Oswego, New York, he had been in for five years. We moved to Oakland, California before I was a year old. My siblings were all born in Oakland.

Kindergarten- Oakland. Gone. Kindergarten through third grade- Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Gone again. Roughly every three years, around the time I might have been able to make some friends, we moved. One time, our second time in California, we were there less than a year before the Coast Guard decided that my father's talents were better served in New Baltimore, Michigan. In New Baltimore I had some horrible experiences (which have been blogged about already- just search for "Anchor Bay High School"), but in 1981 I was finally starting to recognize that not all attention was good attention, I was cleaning up my act, and I was formulating a plan to attract the attention of Beth and Kim, when the orders came down. Gone again.

Now you tell me. How in the hell is a young person supposed to form any kind of self-confidence, any kind of identity that is uniquely his/her own, when they are yanked from their surroundings every three years and sent back to square zero again and again? Answer- they can't. At least, it is very hard. I can only imagine how different my life may have turned out without the influence of the Coast Guard hounding my every step.

The military did a good job of f***ing up my life. For that reason alone I am anti-military. But I also have no desire to see any young people giving up their life for an illusion. If my son wasn't autistic, and he expressed the desire to join the military, we would have a fight on our hands. I would lie down in front of the bus if I had to in order to save his life. That's just what fathers do. Or are supposed to do.

Why ask why? Because it might be a lie.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Notes on a lost civilization (or: How I learned to stop worrying and love grocery shopping)

Grocery shopping has long been a male ritual in my family. I think my mom has been grocery shopping three or four times, and only because my dad was recovering from surgery each time. Otherwise, my father does it. He has turned the drudgery of grocery shopping into a sweet science. One cart- that's all he needs, no matter how many groceries he is buying. Many a time I've been regaled with tales of his grocery shopping exploits, usually involving the phrase "If I can fit groceries for a family of six into one cart...."

I've always said that if a man wants to eat, he needs to learn to cook. Well, if a man wants to cook, he has to get the groceries. So I took a trip to Wal-Mart today to pick up some things. These are my reflections on the journey.

-Note to all women- when shopping for a pair of pants, take special note as to whether your butt crack is visible whilst bending or crouching. There are certain things a man does not need to see. "Pervert!", you cry. "If you can't keep your eyes to yourself, you're the one with the problem!" All very true. If a man has to go through head contortions to take a peek, then he has a problem. If your ass chasm is hanging out for even the smallest child to see, the problem is yours.

-The rules of the aisle way should be just like the rules of the road. Drive on the right, pass on the left. Do not stop your cart in the middle of the aisle and just stand there. I need to purchase soup too, and in order to do so, I need to see what is available. On a related note, if I am obviously perusing the selections of Chunky and Progresso, do not pull right in front of me and stop. Simply say "excuse me", and I will move out of your way. My life will not end if I can't grab that delicious can of Hearty Tomato in the next 60 seconds. Neither will yours.

-Don't just barrel your way from the end of the aisle into the clearing on your way to the next. Stop, look and listen. That's all I'm saying.

-Pink labels are everywhere. For good cause. Do we even have to ask if people are against breast cancer? Is anyone answering "no" to this survey? But here's some food for thought- men get it too. It may "only" be one man for every hundred women, but men get it too.

-If I am with my child and he or she begins to make unusual noises, perhaps flapping his arms while doing so, or even laughing hysterically over nothing at all, do not stare and do not gawk. Smile if you have to do something, and then be on your way. If my child is throwing a wicked tantrum, I do not need your condescending glances. My children are autistic. What's your excuse?

-There is one aisle I DO NOT DO. I am not going to tell you what it is, but if I was mountain climbing on snow and ice, I might need my crampons. Let he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

-Every grocery shopping excursion ends with the mad checkout hunt. You know you have more than twenty items, but you count anyway to see if you can squeeze through. I have news for you- you aren't the only one who is counting. If you try to slip 35 items past, I can guarantee you more than one person behind you knows how many you have.

-The cashier is a man or a woman simply marking time until they get to go home. They aren't your friend; they aren't your therapist. They don't want to know that pinto beans give you wicked diarrhea; they could care less that you really need those Trojans tonight. And I don't care either. I just want to go home. Remember: you are NOT the only one shopping today.

-In aisle number 6, amidst the Red Lobster gift cards and the Lifesavers, they are selling a product called Soft Lips. The slogan for Soft Lips reads: "Soft Lips... because lips should be soft." Oh boy.

If laughter is the best medicine, then the checkout aisle provides the next cure for cancer in the form of the supermarket tabloid. Let's take a peek at the Pulitzer Prize-winning material on display, shall we?
-"What He Thinks During Sex!" Umm, I think I can answer that for you. We don't.
-"Foreplay Men Crave! Touch His Secret Erotic Spot (Surprise: It Doesn't Rhyme With Shmenis)" Maybe not. Smart money is on shank, shunk or even schtick.
-"The Crazy, Dirty, Worried and Yes, Sweet Stuff That Goes Through His Mind When You Two Get Naked!"
Crazy- "I wonder if we can do it on the roof this time."
Dirty- "I wonder if we can do it in the mud this time."
Worried- "I wonder why she doesn't want to do it in front of the camera this time."
Sweet- (visions of creative uses of strawberries and whipped cream)
-"The Gosselin Kids To Jon and Kate: Stop Wrecking Our Lives!" The Gosselin viewers to Jon and Kate: Stop wrecking OUR lives!
-"Khloe Kardashian Slams Critics: Stop Calling Me Fat!" Umm... who the hell is this woman?
-And speaking of all things Kardashian, how did these women get famous? What did they do? Did they win an award? Do they run a children's hospital? Or do they just have big boobs? Monty, I go with door number 3....
-"Elizabeth Smart: Her Fight For Justice!" Her fight should also be with the tabloid writers and "news" personalities who continue to make her front page material. Here's a thought- this girl has been through hell and back and through hell again. Just leave her alone already.

And once my food is paid for, I am on my way out the door. But wait: there's more. Because sandwiched between each set of exit doors is a wall which contains other vendors. A bank. An H&R Block office. Customer Service. And a place where people are getting pedicures. Oh my. Why? When I am hungry and on my way to my car so I can break into the Junior Mints, why, oh why do you want to put your fat, ugly feet on display like that? And I can only peer into the abyss and wonder what those poor workers are thinking. They are probably cursing the events of life that brought them to this point, and praying for the sweet release that only death can bring.

And off to my car I go, visions of the chicken paprikash I will be making for dinner tonight dancing in my head.