Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Soldier, and Brave

...the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot, an eight week college for the phony tough and the crazy brave.
--The Short Timers, Gustav Hasford

Behold a Marine, a mere shadow and reminiscience of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, buried under arms with funereal accompaniments...
--Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

I've just finished talking to a kid barely out of high school who's joined the Marine Corps; Monday he'll board a plane headed for boot camp. He wanted to ask me what it's like; nerves. Though he wouldn't let on. Funny how the hint of it in his voice and the bare trace of it in his manner could so quickly and thoroughly bring me back to a sensation experienced many years ago. A military van took me to the processing center in L.A. in the still-dark morning; I hadn't managed to sleep the night before. I was leaving home to an uncertain future and in typical adolescent fashion only just realizing it; from a dark and windswept interstate I watched the only neighborhood I'd ever known drift into the past; as if the van wasn't moving but the landscape was sliding by. I thought about my mother who had got up early to see me off; I confess I felt a lump in my throat. That was childhood passing.

I know exactly how the kid feels. Well, no, I don't. There was no war on when I signed up, and frankly I didn't give its possibility much thought.
The kid just needed some reassurance. Yet another absent father's son. A scared boy, but brave too. Now the children put into empire's mill are of my daughter's generation. Having one of them stand before you, a stranger, implicitly seeking the small kindness of a word of reassurance, is also a "great clarifier", a phrase Bush is fond of using for war or whatever particular chaos he proposes in lieu of studied and sober action.
Maybe my pacifism is merely a lack of will after all.

I thought my indignation toward the pseudo-warrior class couldn't get any greater. But talking to this earnest and unwary adolescent, pretending that I know something as I assure him that he probably won't go to Iraq, not mentioning any of the other wild possibilities that come to mind as I picture that recent, televised image of a faltering, possibly mad President Bush stammering something about Islamic fascism, I can't help but grow depressed, and a little angry.
I remember being so very young; I remember that sense that things would work out because they must, because people in charge are there because they are capable, honest, trustworthy, and wise. Because pessimism and cynicism are betrayals of youth. Sending these boys into harm's way out of anything but dire necessity is--calling it "a crime" simply fails.
How many has it been now? How many more will it be? For what?

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