Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rejecting the Program

I am a Buddhist. My worldview recognizes only three extremes: Impermanence, Suffering and Compassion. I seek to better the lives of others. I seek a greater understanding of human existence. I seek wisdom. I seek love. I seek peace.

I am a soldier. I serve with pride. I work to uphold the values and worldview of my culture. I fight when I am told to fight. I go where I am told to go. I am loyal. I am well-trained. I am unquestioning.

I am a man. I am 23 years old, and have a wife, whom I love very much. I come from a town of only 700 people, where Lake Huron covers three points of the compass, and where at sunset the air reeks of lilac and cool water. I am introspective. I am creative. I am happiest when alone with my thoughts.

I'm a fan of Tool and Tori Amos. I like strong coffee and bagels with too much cream cheese. I love good jazz music, and late-night arguments about politics over Guinness. I love the feel of worn leather sandals. I love old books, and I could live on Rushdie or Hemingway alone. I have a weakness for opinionated, articulate women. I love the warm, windy afternoons before a summer storm. I hate shaving, and I hate having to cut my hair short.

I smoke too much. I can be vain. I can be prideful and bad-tempered. I can be quick with vicious insults. I cuss like a sailor, sometimes in mixed company. I can be emotionally volatile. I can get pretentious about my intellect. I get uncomfortable in large groups of people. I can be sensitive about my perceived masculinity.

I'm far from perfect, but I can look in the mirror and say with complete honesty that I like who I am. More importantly, I know who I am, and I'm not afraid of it. At twenty-three years old, that's an impressive achievement, I think. I've learned more about myself in 23 years that some people will learn by 63. And one thing I've learned is this: part of knowing oneself is being honest with oneself.

I'm glad to have joined the Army. I'm proud to serve my country, and serve in the tradition of my ancestors. But lately I've been suffering from a severe case of cognitive dissonance. I look at a lot of my fellow soldiers, and see an attitude that makes me uncomfortable. It's a casual crudeness; a cynical fatalism so deeply ingrained that it kills the self-reflective spirit. The world doesn't happen FOR them; it happens TO them. For them, it's not merely that hardship and suffering are ways of life; rather, it's that there's nothing else. They don't look to the future past their next beer or one-night stand. I like them, and I like working with them. But I don't fit in with them.

I am a loyal soldier, but I admit that there are times when my choice of career contradicts my values. I believe that war is sometimes a necessary function of human affairs, but I don't believe in war as a tool for advancing an agenda. I don't like the way that the military mindset dulls one's sense of compassion toward other human beings. I don't like feeling that I am viewed more as a piece of equipment than as a human being. I don't like turning on the TV and feeling like the AFN public-service ads are there to pacify me and engender compliance. I don't like being made to feel, if I die tomorrow, that my legacy will be that of the war I served during, rather than that of the human being that I was. And I especially don't like having my service invoked to quell dissent against government-sanctioned "conventional wisdom."

I am not a machine. I am not an unfeeling pawn. I am not a hero, nor am I a coward. I am not an idiot, and I am definitely NOT a propaganda tool.

I don't like that my profession propagates suffering in the name of meaningless media-friendly buzzwords. I don't like that I am encouraged to view my enemies as less than human. I don't like that I am encouraged not to think, not to be happy. I don't like feeling that my life is worth less than some officer's next promotion. I like it even less that my death might mean less than Bush's legacy. And most of all, I HATE--seethingly, teeth-grindingly hate--that said political agenda means more to my leadership than the potential suffering of my wife and yet-to-be-conceived child should something happen to me.

I've learned some great things about myself from the military. I've learned about pride, honor, and personal stregnth. I've learned about teamwork, and about trusting other people. But I've also learned that I am not, at heart, a career soldier. I don't have the personality, nor the patience for bullshit. I will continue to serve with pride, and gain knowledge from my time here. But some part of me will continue to be skeptical of the motives of my leadership, and of the government which sends me to do its dirty work.

The person that I am is dangerously out of sync with the persona that the Army wants me to cultivate. I don't know how to fix that or, for that matter, if I even want to.

But it makes me unhappy.


Anonymous boy-on-prozac said...

Thanx for visiting my blog. I am currently hooked on your writing and never before have I met someone who writes with so much passion with what he is doing. It is nice to meet someone who doesnt think that being in the army is a big joke. I applaud you.
Kudos on your latest post.

5:44 PM  
Blogger cameo said...

oh my sweet baby man. (i say that with the greatest love) i think back to when i was 23, and i was a bumbling fool. you have such beautiful spirit. you have clear thought. you are an old soul. this i can tell. i want you to be done with all that bullshit. i want you to be home. and when you and your wife come home, i want you to come over and debate life & politics over that guinness and a pack of smokes. (you sound like my husband on that one) and then we'll come see your new baby and life will go on from there. i hope that your stint is over VERY soon. i hope this choice doesn't drag on for you. when do you get to be done? and no matter what happens, you are a valuable, gorgeous person in my world. and i can't wait until i get to meet you guys.

6:54 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Honestly I think the Army (and all the branches) need more guys like you in 'em. But then, the military is a bastion of tradition, not innovation, and more's the pity. When you leave them, it will be their loss.

And I think, however elitist it makes me sound, that your education is a big goddamned reason you feel out of place where you are. That feeling that life happens TO, rather that FOR, a person, is something I see in my relatives and acquaintances who've never messed with higher ed.

Then again... it could also just be a factor of WHO you are, because you sure as hell aren't average. You think. You introspect. That's rare, I see that sheep-quality in a lot of folks. It's hard to think. Difficult. Unpleasant. And looking over history, well, I sometimes believe that's the default state of the majority. Life happens to, not for, most people, either by choice or circumstance.

I think it's possible to let the Army persona (such of it as you can bear) to coexist with the Buddhist and the writer and the hippie. You're all Milo, in the end.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and for your comment. You're welcome back anytime. I used to always post on my blog about my friend's Marine husband Chris when he was in Iraq (sometimes his letters were unbelievable and so heartwrenching), but he got back the 1st wk in November and now he and Kim are expecting a daughter in July. And while I am and have always been against this war, my Hubby and I sent him care package after care package b/c we know he was merely doing the job that was asked of him. He went to Iraq not liking our prez or liking this war, but he came home to Ohio hating this prez and hating this war. Sadly, I think it will take plenty of our troops getting sick of being taken advantage of to change the train wreck called America's foreign policy. Take care... and stay philosophical... your wife and yet to be conceived baby will need that. I'm a pre-school teacher and mom to a 3 yr. Trust me... I know of what I speak.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Rose said...

But above all.. U seem like a nice person...



11:41 AM  
Blogger Unsane said...

The unhappiness sounds healthy to me. Take care of it.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous uglycur said...

sounds like a very reasonable attitude, IMO, although it does mean that there's a lot more pain involved than if you were able to just stand up, shut up and give up. Thanks for not taking that route, and for sharing what it's like with the rest of us.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Frap Gurl said...

"knowing oneself is being honest with oneself".. Truest words ever spoken!

You aren't the only one that feels like this.. I don't know of any soldiers that want to go to Iraq just to kill for Dubya.. This is an odd damn time in history.. I love being an American but Bush shames me! And it is a struggle! You have no choice, don't beat yourself up.. you are in(the Military) at the moment.. make peace with yourself.. Easier said than done, I know!

2:36 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

I think all of us struggle with that what I am vs. what I want to be dichotomy. The truth is that we make compromises to get by. Sometimes those compromises are bigger than we thought they would be when we began. Sometimes they take us down paths that would have been unimaginable to our former selves. That is the stuff of which life is made. Good luck in finding your path in life, a path that works for you.

3:33 AM  

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