I recently made a new friend in my Master’s program. He joined the army on September 12th,, 2001. He felt the “great call.” Even after learning the hoops he was going to have to jump through to become the officer in the Army he was qualified to become. Since he already had both a BA and MA he could not go through ROTC training. He had to go through traditional basic training then on to officer candidate school becoming a 2nd Lt. Officer in the Calvary. He is now back from Iraq waiting to redeployed his time to Afghanistan doing what he feels he should be doing for his country.
This got me thinking. If I was younger would this have even crossed my mind? The overwhelming answer is no.
I’ve talked to my dad; he joined the Air Force after the Bay of Pigs in 1961. He felt the pull of patriotism and duty. My uncle was at the recruiter’s office the day after Pearl Harbor. If I had been a young man during WWII would I have done that? I have a feeling, and I don’t think I’m ashamed of it, that I would have been like my heroes. Men like Pete Seeger and Alan Ginsberg as pacifists who loved their country they tried to find other ways to do their parts. Seeger had a Japanese wife to worry about. They did end up serving in the Merchant Marines. They did not shirk their duty; they just never equated killing with patriotism.
I am more like my mother. We find that it’s more important to show our patriotism through activism. I have gone on protests, worked on campaigns, and worked with various activist groups. I like to think that I poke our government with a sharp stick. I see this as my responsibility, part of my form of patriotism. I love my country and want to make it better. Other than enlisting in the military I’d like to think I would have volunteered to help out during the Watts riots in 1968 like my mother. There she was, this petite white woman in the middle of what was not far from a war zone doing what she could.
When I was in the 2nd grade my teacher told us, hand to God, one day that we were the luckiest generation. We would never see another war. Yes, she was a just- out -of – college – patchwork – skirt – wearing hippie chick. I took that to heart. When we entered the first Gulf War I took to bed for three days. Then I wanted to hunt her down and make her pay my therapy bills.
I see war footage and I recoil. I change the channel to something pleasant. So, the answer is no, WW II, Vietnam, of the present war I you would not see me enlist. Lately I’ve been trying to picture how I would react if I had an 18 year old child who came to me and told me that they wanted to enlist. Would I feel proud? Isn’t that the emotion I should have? I’d try but, I think I’d lock her in the basement. To keep her alive? Absolutely. For political reasons? Of course.