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.
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.
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.
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