Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #76

Two memories really stand out when I think about writing this column:
    A couple of years ago Jason Angst and I were sitting on the front porch of the House Of Rock. We had finished breakfast and Jason was playing his bass while I was drinking coffee, reading another history text. Somehow, we got to talking about the Vietnam War, about the lives of US soldiers. Then occurred to me if this was 35 years ago, Jason and I would not be sitting on this porch, but instead sitting in a foxhole in South East Asia. See Jason was 19 with a GED and I was 25 with a Bachelor degree. In 1968 they would have drafted us both, putting Jason in Basic training and myself in training to be an officer. Then it would have been Jason and I sitting in a foxhole, him cleaning a M16, while I would think of the best way to increase our platoons body count. So then I was thinking about how crazy that would be, especially in the context of our lives. I couldn’t imagine us, in Vietnam, fighting a war that we didn’t give a damn about. Fuck it was hard getting Angst to do his dishes, and I sure couldn’t imagine telling him he had to take point on a hairy patrol. Fuck, You don’t have to imagine much to realize how fucked up it all was and why so many vets are still fucked up from it all.
    Sometimes I forget that armies are made up of young men, and therefore subject to the micro effects of the collective personalities of a ‘bunch of dudes’. Of testosterone filled, excitable dudes ready for action. The modern American army is probably one of the worst, it being an ADD generation of boys who have grown up on Rambo movies and video games that glorify and desensitize violence. I put myself in the context of a US military, of asking how I would act, how humane and rational I would be, and I wonder. Now when I look at a group of American young men—I just get really scared
    This really struck home when I was reading a story in Rolling Stone. Now while most reporting in Rolling Stone is dodgy, and superficial at the best, this article, ”Horny and Heavily Armed” (issue 901, July 25, 2002) was great because it portrayed military men as exactly what they are. In this article, the journalist Even Wright, joins an army platoon in garrison based in a country they call “Ass-crack-istan”. They talk of boredom, how much “Ass-crack-istan” sucks, and how they really just want some beer and to get laid. They are also ready to “kick some ass” and are still training with their expensive killing toys. My favorite quote of the whole article was by the Lieutenant D’Angelo, talking about how the uneducated are the best soldiers: “If you put a machine gun in the hands of a philosophy major, he might think too much. We don’t want that. In the Army everything is decided for you. Just follow the rules.” Yep, that is what the army wants, a bunch of dudes who don’t think, but can pull a trigger. Wonderful.
    All pumped up on masculinity, boredom, and subtle racism our boys run around with superior firepower in lands 1000 of kilometers away from home. Fuck. I was thinking about this when I was at a bowling alley in Jersey. Surrounding our lanes were groups of boys, mostly between the ages of 18 and 25. There they were; fucking around, drinking beer, and flirting - doing the things that boys do. All I could think while watching them is that these are the same type of people who are in control of the most powerful weapon systems ever created. Add a dose of patriotism and a little boredom and you can see what a dangerous mix the US military is.
    Last weekend I was back in Baltimore for the SEWEBO fest. The SEWEBO fest is a great time to return to your hometown, as everyone returns and comes out of the woodwork. So there I ran into a friend of mine who was on leave from the Coast Guard. When we first start talking he tells me the reason he joined up was for the college money. He needed it, he doesn’t really believe in the US military, but will do the four years in order for those desperately needed funds. He wasn’t just anyone, but a former patch flyin’, crust listen’ Anarchist who at one point decided that joining the military for college funds was a good idea. Now he complains about how fucked up it all is—but what can you do?
    The United States does not have a volunteer military, but instead has an economic draft. This wasn’t the first time I have known someone who has signed their life away because of economics. This is how the Armies of Empires work - the state takes away chances in civilian life, and increases the monetary and status rewards of being in the military. When the old lines of patriotism don’t supply enough bodies for the war machine’s demand, they start increasing other incentives. It is not a volunteer army, but it is an army of mercenaries. And the story continues; poor boys (& girls) fighting rich men’s war - and guess who gains in the long run?
    This war in Iraq is setting the stage for a hole new round of American military imperialism. Here the US blew off the opinions of the rest of the world, threatening those who stood in the way and bribing the nations that backed us up. The lone superpower does what it wants, conquering countries for their raw materials (aka oil) and establishing puppet regimes. Meanwhile garrison troops are needed throughout the world and guess where they will get the bodies to hold the guns? Are you willing to be that mercenary that the military industrial complex needs?
    I was lucky when I was turning ‘of age’was fucked over by the military—ruiter. Now my greaser dad didn’n mechanic, the recruiter said “great”, as “ air force needs more mechanics” joined up, hoping to get that “free mechanic training”ts. Then he got the assignment -thing was really wrong, he was “promised”raight in the eye and told him “at is what that Air Force needs”, never trust a man in uniform -    My point of this is to remind those who are thinking of joining the US military of what exactly they are getting into. First you will not be “defending” the US. No nation is “attacking” the US, and those who want to only do because of US policies that have fucked their countries. The so called terrorist attacks on the US are from people whose countries have been fucked with for so long and hard that they want to strike at the empire any way they can. By working for the US military you are not defending your country, you are helping your country attack others.
    When my friend tells me that he has joined the military all I can think is “Fuck”. Fuck, what were you thinking? Did the lyrics of those AUS ROTTEN songs that you heard 1000 times not sink in? The US military machine is using you. I know your economic choices are limited, that is because we live in a fucked up nation. A nation whose priorities are skewed. A nation that will give you $30,000 in education funds if you carry a gun for 4 years, but practically nothing if you want to do real community service. Bring that fact up the next time some gung-ho American tells you that you live in the greatest country in the world.
    Remember they will lie to you, they will trick you, and they will steal years of your youth. They need you to run their military machine, and they need more and more troops for every engagement they get into. Remember the military needs “men who don’t think”. Don’t be one of them. This is your life, your youth, don’t sign it away to be a security guard for the Bush regime. Don’t program a computer, don’t fix a tank, don’t hold a gun, and especially DON’T KILL FOR THEM, and remember everything that you do in the military helps them more efficiently kill who they want to.  DON’T DO IT.
—Mike Straight