America’s Lost Boys

I’m going to talk about something today.  It’s not going to be about gaybies.  It may not even be funny, but it is endlessly interesting to me.  So, with that focus – and with an open mind – I’m going to address it.


In my heart, I think of them as America’s Lost Boys.  I am referencing two, VERY YOUNG, U.S. Army soldiers:  Bradley Manning and Bowe Bergdahl.  Bradley Manning is the young man who released thousands upon thousands of classified U.S. documents to Wikileaks while listening to a Lady Gaga CD.  Literally.  Bowe Bergdahl is a disillusioned, young man who walked off his army base in Afghanistan, only to be picked up and captured by the Taliban.  He is still being held to this day.


Bowe Bergdahl Photo credit: Rolling Stone, link below.


Now, even just talking about these two can get me in hot water.  To a lot of conservatives, one is a traitor and one is a deserter.  Unfortunately, the neocons are not all wrong there if you look at the evidence.


However, I can not stop seeing them both as one other thing – IDEALISTIC YOUNG BOYS TRYING TO BE MEN.  (Both were only 23 and 24 years old when their troubles hit the national spotlight.)


Both of them had really strong minded ideals.  Both of them wanted to do something or be part of something bigger than themselves.  Both of them were seeking adventure.  Both of them glorified the army and then were given a rude awakening.  Both were loners.  One is gay, one is not.  Both are intelligent.



Both are fecked.  Both are lost.

Bradley Manning


I’m not interested in whether or not these guys did the right thing because I think it’s pretty easy to see that they didn’t.  It’s NOT a good idea to give away classified U.S. documents and it’s NOT a good idea to walk off an American army base in a military uniform.  What I am interested in is what it felt like, for me, when I was in my early 20’s:  young, idealistic, wanting to change the world, thinking I could, wanting to see the world, thinking I could, looking for a larger thing – a thing bigger than me that I could hold on to,  looking for something where I could make a difference, etc.  Thank God I’m not a boy because feeling that way, feeling all heroic like that, I might have up and joined the military.  Seriously.  In some ways, you have to thank the lord for your lady parts.  Because for me, being a lady brings up a whole other host of issues when you think about joining things.  You think, “Okay, will I be raped by that group?  Will I be treated fairly by that group?  If I become a POW will I be raped by that other group?”  You think rapey thoughts and then you don’t join.  I’m guessing young men don’t have those mental obstacles, so the military looks much more appealing.


I’m not saying you can’t have a great military career.  A lot of people have.  I’m not saying becoming a U.S. soldier is the worst thing you can do.  I’m not saying women don’t do it.  In fact, I know it has saved A LOT of people.  For one, Debra Dickerson comes to mind.  (See her link below.)


But, here’s what I do think:


We should either eliminate our volunteer army by making it compulsory or we should stop glorifying it.


My dad and my granddad were all in the air-force, but there was a difference.  They had to be.  They were drafted in some way.  Service was compulsory.  And I think when you make ALL men and women do a few years of service in the army what you are doing is inadvertently adding cynics to the pool.  It becomes less of a people with pie-in-the-sky ideas about adventure and changing the world and more people who had to, who might be against violence, who are less gung-ho, and in the long run that cynicism may be a good thing.  Perhaps, the cynics could help to round out the idealists.  Maybe the Bradley Mannings would be less likely to put themselves on the chopping block under some false delusion of grandeur if his bunkmate is a gentle, philosophy major who just wants to do his time and get the feck out, instead of a gung-ho, let’s shoot something, knucklehead.  It’s just a thought.


If we keep our volunteer army…if signing up continues to be a way out of the ghetto, then we should stop glorifying it.  We should stop with the “Army Strong” commercials that feel like gatorade ads set to Mark Isham soundtracks.  We should show what really happens – you know – make it more Spielberg storming the beaches at Normandy with blown off limbs and a virtual shitstorm with every fought for inch.


Or there’s a third alternative all together.  Have another form of service.  A peace corps, a domestic type of service, something that idealistic, young men (and women) can join while they have all that energy and while they’re still figuring themselves out.


Once these young men hit their 30s, they’ll realize, as we all do, that life is more about changing yourself and hoping that enables the world around you to change.  Just take care of yourself and your family and then, sure, try to change the world at large.  But, it’s a luxury for an idealist to make it to that point.  It’s a luxury for an idealist to make it to their 30s.  I think this is especially true for young men, since we’re very ready to send them off into harms way under the false umbrella of nobility and service.


I don’t know.  Not really a funny post today.  But, I feel for these guys.  I really do.  What about you?  Oh, and if you want to read more about them, I’ll leave some links below.



Interesting Links and Photo Credits:

Debra Dickerson, America’s Last Pow (Rolling Stone), Bradley Manning,

Army Strong



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58 thoughts on “America’s Lost Boys

  1. Preach it, Sweet Mother. It’s got to be a rude awakening for any idealistic kid to discover that the Army is NOT, in fact, the greatest thing since sliced bread, war really IS hell, and that the government does an awful lot of crooked shit.

    I agree that the military is glorified to an extent that it’s accquired a sort of mythical status. Soldiers are heroes above and beyond anyone else. Sure, they’re brave men and women but we’ve practically elevated them to cult idols. It’s no wonder people get disillusioned the way the do; the reality is so drastically at odds with the legend.

    As with all of your posts, SM, I say AMEN.

    1. thanks, weebs. it’s tough to talk about this stuff, as people have such strong emotions around it. BUT, i swear to you – i went to college pre-even the gulf war (well during the gulf war) because i’m elderly and i thought about joining to pay for college. but, then it wasn’t the shitstorm it is now. i think a lot of people go in thinking that – thinking very idealistically. i think about the tillmans too. pat tillman who was killed by friendly fire and turned down an nfl scholarship to go to war. i don’t know. a lot of people disagree with me, but regardless, i think it’s easy to see that these two guys were kids. just kids. sigh. there’s no easy answer.

  2. Wow, the young have been a serious topic of prayer for me lately too. They are SO lost.

    in the case of Bradley Manning, it is IMPOSSIBLE to believe that a PFC had access to ANYTHING classified, and therefore I cannot believe that he did this thing. I think he was a patsy for someone else’s very admirable agenda of exposing the crimes going on in high places, but with the cowardice to refuse to pay the price themselves. Yet the young, like him, are so vulnerable to the deceits of the old, cowardly and heartless.

    Our relatives and forebears served, either voluntarily or compulsorily, in order to PRESERVE America and the American way.

    This is no longer the case.

    I agree with you, peace is necessary and the glorification of our service people only solidifies the supposed role they play in keeping this country at war, with nobody at the top that even bothers to care about the effects it has on them, on their families, or our country.

    The young are the future of this country, and to use them as mere cannon-fodder for the power brokers forfeits our future, just as it has forfeited our own Constitution, our economy, and the American way.

    1. hear, hear, margaret, hear, hear. in fact, i’m just going to leave your comment to stand on its own because i believe it is very well said. much love, sm

  3. This is thought provoking. And I will continue to think on it. I’m one of those neo-cons, you speak of. I don’t think I knew either one of these guys is gay, and I don’t think it matters at least not to me. I don’t feel for them because they did some seriously stupid shit and in Manning’s case put other people in jeopardy. I’m not a fan of the wiki leaks guy and now I can’t recall his name. I’m still thinking. Our writing on WordPress or anywhere should make us laugh or cry or think and too often it is just entertainment to me. I will read more about this.

    Very good post.

    1. i don’t think it’s possible for you to be a neocon, mags. only falwell and the like are neocons in my eyes. i understand some elements of the conservative party…hell, i come from a family of them, but i think in this instance what gets lost is that these two were just idealistic, lost boys who thought the army was the answer because they glorified it. now, notice i did not speak of john walker lindh, known as ‘the american taliban’ — though i think that kid was also ‘confused’ and ‘searching’ — there is no question there that as an american, he KNEW he would kill potentially other americans. so, i see the reason behind his 20 year sentence. it seems just. but, these two? i don’t know. they needed guidance and instead became cogs in a much bigger wheel that could not and did not help them. we spend a lot of time talking about kids being bullied in the u.s., but what about these guys – good guys – that we somehow never helped… i don’t know. i’m thinking it all out too, but just blaming them and hanging them doesn’t work for me. glad it’s making you think. i’ve been thinking about it lots. xo, sm

      1. I have the internet back, Thank God that was a little scary! NeoCons are NOT the Falwell crowd, those are the Chreestun Right. NeoCons are the conservatives that aren’t so concerned about social issues, who are not concerned about gay marriage and those sorts of issues that should be non-issues.
        I will get to my studying!

  4. Wag The Dog (the film) comes to mind. The hype used as volunteer bait reveals its rusty, ill-equipped underbelly to its victims soon into the relationship. No wonder disillusionment runs rampant, and no wonder ever more escalated hype must be invented and deployed.

  5. My father’s family has a rich military history, mostly because they were tough, but poor, young men during WW2. My uncle died fighting in Japan in WW2. My father literally felt guilty for not being old enough to be in that war. He was sad that he couldn’t see gunfire when he finally served in the Korean War. It is mythical to them and the government and our society sell it like mad. Look at Chris Hayes having to apologize for saying he felt “uncomfortable” calling falling soldiers heroes. It’s absurd. We are to hail them as heroes or we are not American. It’s just another all or nothing proposition for us. There is so much grey in life and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that sees it.

    1. “there is so much grey in life and sometimes i feel like i’m the only one that sees it.” wow. powerful. all i can say is, you are not alone in seeing the grey, but it is a very lonely path to VOICE said grey areas. people want to be on one side or the other, when the truth, usually, lies somewhere in the middle. interesting, isn’t it?

      1. You are certainly not alone in seeing the grey but as SM so (amazingly) put it, “it is a very lonely path to VOICE said grey areas.”

        I sometimes feel a bit like a traitor for not totally still agreeing with the military I served in, but I’m getting better at articulating that I support the troops, just not always the fucked up ways in which they have to serve of the screwed up people in charge.

  6. Strong stuff there Sweet Mother. I cannot disagree with what you said. I have a military background and I still cannot disagree. Mostly because it is truly sad that ads to recruit people for the very difficult jobs that are unfortunately necessary (always have been in the history of the world) are too, too much like Nike ads. If the realities of a military career were advertised it would not be glamorous or even the lame ass crap of a real army wives episode.

    Some people, who serve with honor and make tough choices to be apart from loved ones, do good in the world. Some save lives and learn important lessons that they carry with them for a lifetime. Some never find themselves in a situation where they have to shoot more than photos of the places and cultures they discover while doing their jobs.

    If I learned anything while I served in the Air Force, it is that every single life on the planet, no matter the nationality, gender, background or any of the many subsets we divide ourselves into, is precious. Precious beyond anything I ever understood before I had the opportunity to see for myself that we are all so very much more alike than we realize. The same things make us laugh and cry and wish for something more than what we find when we show up on the planet, okay unless you’re royalty, except maybe Prince Harry, even he sometimes wishes for a different “more normal” life. (good god those royals!)

    These two boys are everything you said, it is sad. Dismantling the military probably won’t fix it though, and that too is sad.

    1. so, well said, honie. so well said. again, i’m just going to let your comment stand as is because i just think it should be read as is without my two cents. thank you for leaving it here. we are more alike than not, indeed. much love, sweet mother

  7. OK, here’s my Bradley Manning opinion. That kid screwed up but why in the name of heaven was he still doing his job? It sounds like he should have been getting some psychiatric help and shouldn’t have been left alone to do anything. AND there should be more people being punished for this and there may well be if it goes to Court Martial. I don’t know if anyone helped him but the security appears to have been non-existent. He screwed up, he’s going to have to be punished but this is like the shooter at Ft. Hood, why in the hell wasn’t he out on a Section 8.

    I’m going to go ask Klinger.

    1. i’d say they didn’t section 8 him because the army has been lowering standards to fill ranks: — that’s been going on for a while. there also wasn’t from what i’ve read enough man power to monitor him properly, so he fell through the cracks and they just thought he was ‘eccentric’. it’s all sort of insane. i, honestly, just think he was a stupid kid. that doesn’t excuse it. but, remember the kid who threw a turkey at a woman in a moving car? she petitioned the court for leniency and he got off with six mos. i don’t know… this kid will pay much more and i find them both stupid, yet the stupidity of unsupervised youth, in a sense…

      1. I think there should definitely be an option for an insanity defense for him because he sounds not idealistic to me but mentally ill. I think that’s where I veer off from your premise Becky, I don’t see these two as goodhearted, pie in the sky, idealistic kids. I see one as a very ill young man who did a seriously stupid thing and the other I just don’t have much sympathy for. If he wanted the Peace Corps, join the Peace Corps.

  8. Wow…..this is a tough one. I love the idea of this blog about the military and the marketing effort to “idealize it” to young people. Recruiting for the military is constantly under suspicion. Then again, isn’t any marketing? Drink me and you can live like this, wear me and you can look like this, fight for us and you will be a hero. Can you argue with any organization that markets itself to gain more members? Of course!…. and someone fought for our rights to be able to argue that. I am grateful that I live somewhere that I am able and free to have an opinion. I wish there was a better idea than a volunteer army. I would have served two years if my country demanded it. Would I want to? No way….but I would. Tough when your a pacifist.

    I think your examples of the idealistic young guys are controversial. These are not 2 gentlemen I would put in the same category. One is officially(as far as I can find) a POW and the other is an alleged criminal. Neither is who I would title idealistic in their approach to the military. Ironic that Manning was in consideration for a mental discharge and the army decided to re assign him because they needed his technical skills. He was bullied for being gay and being small(5ft). It caused a mental breakdown. I think I am more concerned that the military would have him in a position where he could gain access to anything controversial. Any decent IT person can expose any information with the right passwords or permissions.

    To wrap up, if you told someone the truth about the service and what it really entails …..would you join?

    1. they were idealistic. both of them. i’ve read a lot about manning, in particular. they thought the military would help them do, ‘big things’. they were mistaken and manning, in particular, probably needed some help and NOT to be in the army when dadt was in effect. it’s hard to be 20ish and not see the army as this amazing ‘way out’ when the darned thing is marketed like a nike ad. and yes, everything is marketed, but there was also a great campaign to STOP marketing cigarettes to kids and that worked, so why couldn’t they do the same with the military? and then if you’re worried about enrollment make it compulsory. make it compulsory and we’ll get in less wars because when you force people to go, they’re very careful about what we get involved in… very careful. just my two cents. as always, thanks for yours, mads. xo, sm

  9. Idealists indeed. I feel terribly sad for all our young who in some cases see the military as their only way out and in other cases see it as their only way in. These two cases show how horrible it can be. Thanks for your thoughtful writing on this.

  10. And now for Bowe. I am more ambivalent about him. He wrote, “if this deployment is lame” I’m walking to Pakistan. Lame? He sounds like he didn’t like what he signed up for and sorry about that.

    And what about mandatory service? Israel does it and they are hardasses. I think a 2 year stint in the armed services would do the young men and women in this country a lot of good. I say that as the mother of 2 teenage girls. And I would be scared for them but it shouldn’t be only the poor who are fighting and dying and losing limbs for this country.

    Bowe seems like a smart guy, did he really think Afghanistan was going to be a good time? War is hell, said Harry.

    1. no, but his unit was a mess. a complete and utter mess from what the article says. you take a smart kid and you put them in an environment where their needs are not being met by the teacher or the school or the military and they’re going to act out. that’s what he did here, he acted out, by walking off base. not mature, not right, but not really malicious. i’m sure he didn’t think ‘afghanistan was going to be a good time,’ but didn’t you have a more pie-in-the-sky view of the world when you were 20? i know i did. xo, sm

    1. but, you see they WERE idealistic. i’ve really read a lot about bradley manning, specifically, and bowe, i’ve read the rolling stone article in its entirety. bowe TRIED to join the french foreign legion FIRST and was rejected. manning, same thing. he wanted to do “something big,” he wanted “to be a hero,” “to be respected…” he THOUGHT he’d be the respected whistleblower like Linda Tripp or something like that. and both of them said through interviews with their family and friends that they joined TO HELP PEOPLE. i mean, that’s idealistic. it just is. they’re both naive and stupid, yes. not saying they shouldn’t be punished, but i stand by there were both two boys, young boys, looking for direction and ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time in history. sure, manning needs counselling, but i would say less so then the soldier who decided it was okay to go on an unsanctioned killing spree, offing over 17 civilians because he lost his mind. i don’t know. i don’t think these two are in the same category as that guy. just my two cents. and as always, we can agree to disagree.

      1. I will go read the Rolling Stone article. And I definitely do NOT think he is in the same league with the Ft. Hood shooter. My comparison there was simply….why in the hell hadn’t someone gotten them the OUT of their situation? These are the devastating consequences to ignoring serious behavioral cries for help.

      2. I just realized which shooter you’re talking about, the guy who went off his nut in Afghanistan and shot all those people. Got it. And no, I wouldn’t group these two with that guy. I feel more for Manning than I do Bowe. Bowe really seems to be to be a young man who was as his dad said, “living in a novel” and wanted his great adventure. Afghanistan is no place for an adventure. And I guess we learned nothing from the Russian’s experience there. Good book about what a clusterfuck we made of that war…The Only Thing Worth Dying For by Eric Blehm.

        Also, I may not be an idealistic person so I don’t recognize it in others 🙂

  11. Thanks for mentioning Bradley Manning. In Australia, those of us who are informed are all barracking for Julian Assange, but no one mentions Manning’s name. It’s as if he’s fallen off the edge of the earth. It’s so bad; he thought he was doing something good (most Aussies would be on his side, btw; none of this ‘traitor’ bollocks. Down here we don’t really think like that.) Anyhow, it’s nice to have his existence acknowledged. Maybe Big Brother hasn’t quite taken over. Yet. x

    1. his whole story saddens me. i think he was misguided and i don’t think julian nor manning’s whistleblower – the tech guy – really helped him in this case. we’re not all cray-cray over here, i promise you. well, we are, but some of us in a good way. 😉 xo, sm

  12. A very good discussion. I’m for the third choice: All young people, male and female, should serve at something. If they don’t choose the military (and how many of them, given another choice, would?) then something that would help…Habitat for Humanity, maybe. VISTA maybe. But something. I do seem to be the only one of the Vietnam generation who watched friends make choices, too…go into the Military or go to Canada. Idealistic, all, but they too had no other choice. Here’s MY choice: Let’s stop ALL goddam wars!

  13. I think so many young men and women go in with ideals about the military and serving their country. I don’t know enough about either of these young men to comment about them intelligently — will have to read these links you’ve provided when I can devote the proper time to them, but I agree with much of what you say. I especially loved Honie’s comment as she has seen it up close and personal and knows the affects of war — it bleeds and branches out to many.

    This is a “touchy” subject, but as always, SM, you’ve approached it with your signature style, wisdom and compassion.

  14. Another post I wish I’d written. I am so sick of marketing military service likes it’s some scholarship program then sending young people off to die.

    1. The day I saw the Army recruiting station sign in my hometown changed to an Army “Career Center” I swear to God I thought I was going to throw up.

      It’s all bull. Yes it’s great training, if you can wait long enough to join a career field that has some use outside the military and yes it teaches discipline and the importance of nose-to-the-grindstone work…but that’s only if you live long enough to reap all those benefits.

      1. your comments on all of this are so good, 2 girls, so good. it’s very interesting to hear what your experience was and your coming out to your CO to boot. that’s quite the story. i think there’s a thin line between you joining and me not joining in all sincerity. so i feel for you, deeply. and i’m glad you got out okay. at least without any physical scarring, me hopes. much love, sm

  15. Great post Mum. I can’t really comment except to say I hate the idea of young people being taught how to kill efficiently. That just conjures up horrible images for me. I think they’re all lost boys. What happens to them when they finally come home? The parades last for a minute and then they’re on their own, trying to become ‘normal’ again.

  16. “You think rapey thoughts and then you don’t join”… except that some women (or girls) like me don’t.

    We’re just as idealistic as any other person, and some of us hope that the military (the Air Force for me like your dad and granddad) will provide a good, solid education.

    It did and it didn’t. I enlisted in 2002 and after I spent three years in they sent me to college on an ROTC scholarship. I have always thought that if you want to keep your enlisted force happy, you can never, ever give them a liberal arts-based college education. It was during my three years in the ROTC program (and in college studying journalism and Women’s Studies) that the idealism wore off and I realized that the military was not all it was cracked up to be.

    It makes me really sad to know that out of the 12 or so Air Force cadets I would have graduated with in 2009 (had I not been discharged in 2008 after I outed myself to my commander), at least 6 of them have already spent time in the desert. And I feel like they’ve probably all lost a little bit of their humanity.

    I’m a big fan of some type of service after high school because I think a lot of 18-year-old really aren’t ready to tackle the big big world by themselves and the Air Force did give me a number of critical job skills that I still use today (I am currently typing this from work at a newspaper office where I work as a researcher and reporter…the same work I did in the military), but I don’t think the military should be the only option offered. Peace Corps, City Year…something… but yeah, it’s a little fucked up that eight weeks after I graduated from high school I knew how to load and fire an M-16 and I was ready (willing?) to die for America.

    Thanks for this post…

    1. like i said above, your commentary on this is SO interesting, 2 girls. sincerely. i’m glad you left it here. i also agree that the military shouldn’t be the only option offered, but it seems to be a lot of the time, these days and in days past. “…weeks after i graduated from high school i knew how to load and fire an m-16 and i was ready (willing?) to die for america.” powerful, powerful stuff, my friend. i’m glad you left it here and i’m gonna let your commentary stand on its own. much love, sm

  17. Military intelligence, most appropriate oxymoron I know. I could add to your comment and I started but it would serve little purpose but to irk my wrath. If you get in trouble for writing this then the entire reason why that lost generation is killing people has no merit.

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