Saturday, May 26, 2007

Alienation

So I go to the Charge of Quarters desk around 0715 this morning.

I've got S-4 (supply yard) detail today, and I'm hoping to catch a ride with the duty-runner. Sergeant Schultheiss is manning the desk; tells me that Morales is at chow. I'll have to wait a few.

I know Sergeant Schultheiss from back in Germany. Former Guardsman, he lives across the stairwell from me. His wife and mine had difficulties when they worked together on the Family Readiness Group, and frankly I find the Sergeant to be a tad caustic myself. Needless to say, we're polite acquaintances, but we don't really talk.

I set down my Kevlar and IBA, leaning against the counter to catch what's playing on the TV--it's Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Not always hard-hitting journalism, but at least it's better than Fox. An effeminate thirtysomething pundit is seated across from a middle-aged redhead with sharp cheekbones and narrow eyes. She's busy nodding her head as the pundit talks about the public's perceptions of various Democratic presidential candidates. I have to admit, I'm surprised--for once, I can't see an overt instance of Republican spin. I lean forward, trying to summon up some interest through the haze of sleep.

A few moments pass. Sgt. Schultheiss and I continue to watch the segment in silence, until finally Sergeant First Class Lundt wanders up in PTs. He places a brief phone call, and afterwards hangs up, regarding the television for a moment. He looks over at Sgt. Schultheiss:

"What are you watchin'?"

Sergeant Schultheiss, all bald head and sullen stare, simply shakes his head. His moustache bunches disapprovingly, and his eyes never leave the screen as he responds in that nasal Wisconsinite accent.

"Jim Lehrer. I dunno, sounds like a bunch of college propaganda bullshit ta me."

The words echo in my brain. College propaganda bullshit. I give a small start, staring at Sgt. Schultheiss. He ignores me. SFC Lundt, however, registers my reaction, and gives a shrug with a raise of the eyebrows. I'm guessing he chooses to stay out of it. I go back to watching the TV.

A moment passes. A thousand thoughts run through my head. I can feel the response begging for voice: What makes you say that, Sergeant? It's practically a guaranteed ticket to a heated argument. Sgt. Schultheiss and I are on vastly different wavelengths politically. A few weeks back, he and I got into a heated debate over a headline in the Stars and Stripes--something to do with another al-Qaeda "leader" killed in Afghanistan, I think.

Basically he overheard me commiserating with a younger soldier about the dubious value of the story, and so he chose to get up in my business. Started accusing me of "not supporting the War on Terrorism," "coddling Saddam," and other such nonsense. I kept my poise and quietly tore his arguments to shreds. It got to the point where Sergeant Schultheiss, having started the argument, stormed loudly off, shaking his head and feigning disbelief. "I can't believe dis shit," he droned, loudly enough to make his own soldiers stop and stare. "I got work ta do. I ain't got time fer dis." I had to laugh.

Needless to say, I'm used to all sorts of pseudo-political bluster from the good Sergeant.

That being said, though, I can't help but take some offense at his last comment. Being labeled "gifted" from an early age, I tend to be defensive, rather than proud, about my education and intellect, and so I get a bit angry when people try to hold those attributes against me as a character flaw. Ever since September 11th--and especially since arriving at this unit--I've had to deal with a steady flow of anti-intellectual sentiment, and frankly it's a large part of why I have difficulty fitting in among the other soldiers.

I don't have time to follow up on his statements. Morales shows up, back from breakfast, and grabs the keys to the Humvee. I follow him with my gear out the door. The morning is mild, and the sun is out--the first wave of blistering heat isn't due for a couple of hours yet--but still I something about Sgt. Schultheiss' attitude worrisome. It takes me a while to identify it. Questions blur through my head.

Why is it always the intelligentsia who take the blame? Why is it the educated who are viewed as dishonest? Why is it that, in times of social crisis, the cooler heads and voices of reason are always the ones put against the wall--viewed as "threats to the state" or to "family values (as if they can be neither patriots nor a loving spouses and parents)?" Why is it that the way I speak has to make people so uncomfortable, so quick to point out my other numerous failings? Why can't I open my mouth sometimes without feeling like my personal safety is threatened?

And why should I have to put up with it?

9 Comments:

Blogger Lurch said...

This is an excellent blog, and I've referred my readers to your rip yesterday at the Democratic "leadership."

Anti-intellectualism is quite common among h. sapiens. The Jesuits taught me that man is not a rational animal, but rather rationalizing. This country has a long tradition of poorly-educated (but plucky!) strivers who make good, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, etc.

Some people are just so dumb that their brains hurt.

9:07 PM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

People don't like feeling dumb, and so they hate anyone who's smarter than them. It's easier to hate the smart ones, than to study more, read books, turn away from the tv or video games. They expect the smart people to create shit that makes it easier to be dumb, but don't ever make the mistake of letting the dumb people see that you're smart. Your very existence is an affront to theirs. Now that the dumb people have a role model in their president, they've got the validation they need to think being smart is stupid. Dumb rules the world.

(I'm only half-kidding) Have you seen the movie Idiocracy yet? It'll show you where we're gonna end up in a decade or two. Heavy sigh.

5:23 AM  
Anonymous mamaworecombatboots said...

Why can’t you get along with Sergeant Lunkhead? Easy. Birds of a feather flock together and you are the wrong kinda bird for the flock you find yourself in. My nemesis was a guy named Frank Sterino. We hated each others’ guts. He was an E5 and I was an E2—two years later I was an E5 too. For me the only way out of the crap was up. That and I quit trying to put lipstick onto a pig. No real discourse was possible with that guy and I finally learned not to let him bait me. There are lots of stupid people in the world, always has been, always will be. The world is hard on idealists, and the military especially so. You'd probably be better served to save your energy for more worthwhile projects, like Anne and your writing and your poetry

5:55 AM  
Blogger Chris Rich said...

In America it is still hip to be stupid as long as you maintain the necessary grasping instincts to grub money.

Europe had that problem once, then Hitler showed up making it no longer chic to be a dunce.

2:57 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Empathize. Totally. I particularly enjoy the anti-intellectual rants I hear from friends and family. "Mom. What do you think WE are?"
"....."
"Right then. Thanks for that. Glad to know we're an enemy of your country."

I wonder sometimes if it's a holdover, like so much else, from Vietnam. The college kids didn't get drafted. A lot of hippy-types made it onto faculties. The 'average Joe' is offended. There are, gasp horror, MARXISTS in these halls. And people who critically consider everything they read. (There are also articulate idealogues who haven't had an original thought or considered something new in 30 years. Somehow that's unforgiveable on a campus, but acceptable in politics and government. Go fig.)

8:44 PM  
Blogger KT said...

Recently on "Real Time", Bill Maher did a monologue about the word "elite". Seriously, shouldn't that be a compliment? Shouldn't we want elite people running things? How did the political machine turn that word into an insult?

Your post reminded me very much of that, and frankly, both of you ask questions I've wondered about most of my life.

While we're at it, why is it embarassing to read these days? Bush proudly stated he never reads newspapers, is that really a sign of an educated man, regardless of where he has studied?

I've actually been mocked for recommending books to acquaintances, they just look at me like I'm crazy and incredulously ask, "You really enjoy reading? I haven't read a book since high school!" Some of these people have advanced degrees, and they are far less educated than I am (without finishing college yet).

I think you should be proud that you don't fit in with guys like that!!

6:28 AM  
Blogger Dusty said...

You are made to feel inferior? Who has the nads to do that?

Usually only ignorant folks.

What bothers me is when I take a politician to task on my blog and someone, usually anonymous, comments on my blog with a personal attack against me because I chose to speak out about something I consider wrong, misguided or both.

Why is that? Why am I the idiot? I don't make policy decisions. Roosevelt once said:

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

And I still believe in those words.

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People are creatures of habit. People get comfortable in their thought patterns, and seek acceptance for their views. It is completely analagous to addiction. In fact, it helps to think of idealogues as people addicted to their own thought patterns. Fuck with their paradigm and it's like taking away a junkie's stash; they get really upset. Your appearance to them of greater intelligence makes your "attacks" on their belief system all the more dangerous, so defense mechanisms get set on a hair trigger. The idea that our government has lied and manipulated us into a flagrantly unconstitutional war (come to think of it, the federal government has been wiping its ass with the Constitution for almost a hundred years now -- let them try that one on for size!) involves the shattering of their entire worldview. The ramifications are enormous... these people consider themselves to be "patriots", usually to the point where the "patriot" identity is a large part of how they define themselves, and suddenly they realize that they've been on the side of the bad guys, supporting the treasonous criminals that have usurped control of our great nation... Just to edge close to that can be quite terrifying to the sheeple. Be grateful for your ability to see the truth, though it is as much a curse as a blessing. The actions of the sheeple are righteous and just provided you accept the premises of their worldview; they only act the way they do because their eyes are not open. Believe me, I know how infuriating it is trying to get them to open up to the truth, but responding with hatred and anger is the way of the evil machinations that have taken over our society... just keep opening as many eyes as you can!

3:50 AM  
Blogger E-4 Mafia said...

I hear ya!

I took the same shit when I was in. But me being a hot-head, I probably would have instigated the argument with Sgt. Schultheiss.

That shit always pissed me off. Why is it that any differing opinion from the vast majority could be considered commie, intelligentsia, unAmerican propaganda.

And its rampant in the military.

The army seemed to me a system controlled through fear and subjugation. I was once told, as a private, by my platoon sergeant,"You know, Englehart, the most dangerous thing in the army is a private that thinks for himself."

Well that sure got me to thinking!

Different opinions, especially when they are posed against the grain, against the military, against the mission, against our criminal president and his cabal of an administration, can actually make your life miserable in the military.

But if you retain a shred of self-dignity and always think independently of your chain of command, you may find that you can wield an awesome amount of power against those who may wish to silence you.

Keep writing.

-Heckle

9:21 PM  

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