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.


Blogger ChristoperRoscoe said...


10:16 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Jesse said...

I just found your blog on joining the military. Your words echo the way I feel, almost exactly. We aren't a popular breed, are we?

After having my oldest son returned to me, alive, after 8 years in the Army and two tours to Iraq, my next oldest son has informed me that he is joining the Navy. He knows how I agonized when his older brother was in the military, but he feels this is his only choice for being successful in our terrible economy.

As you might guess, we have a fight on our hands. He says I am selfish for not being supportive of his decision. Many, many people agree with him. It makes me sick that he is following this herd mentality. I cannot support this decision. It really sucks, because I love my son so much and he does not understand how I can think the way I do. He calls me an anarchist and tells me I should leave the USA, since I "hate it so much." I told him I do not hate the USA. What I hate is all of the lying our government does and how it lures our young people into the military for its corrupt and selfish agenda.

10:51 AM  

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