Sunday, January 4, 2009

Contradiction

Sometimes I envy the people who have the luxury of black and white ideals.

I used to have that once. I used to think things, people, ideals, nations were either all good or all bad. And of course, mine were all good. The things I loved, the people I trusted, the ideals I believed in, the nation that I had a deep and abiding pride in. They could do no wrong. They could be no wrong.

I grew up on military history. I learned about sacrifice. About men who gave their lives, their bodies, their hope of family in order to protect others. I devoured books of bravery and honor, of people making the right choices even when it meant their deaths.

And then I joined the Army.

Like every other enlistedman in the Army, I mock West Pointers. It's what you do, as an enlisted troop, as an NCO. You save stories about them, about their utter inability to face reality, about how all they know comes from books, about the way they cradle and cherish regulations that have no meaning to anyone else. The phrase "West Pointer" are two of the easiest words to condemn an officer to a special place in an NCO's heart, and it's not a good one.

But in many ways, I am just like them. Just like the West Pointers I try to separate myself from. No, I didn't finish college in a military academy, but I was well-read in military history and tactics before I even entered high school. I could sing every patriotic song and recite half of the patriotic speeches and believe them with all of my heart. Like an officer. Like a West Pointer. Like someone who hasn't yet figured out how dirty, how ugly, how unashamedly awful conflict is, and how many terrible things we do in order to win.

I joined the intelligence field because I was quick witted and smart and wanted to give the best gift I had to my country. The thing that pleased me the most, the thing that shone above all else, I wanted to give it to the ideals I believed in. I didn't realize, then, that the intelligence field is no place for idealists.

And I, like so many of those officers once the shine has worn off, saw too much. I saw my country betray its ideals, and it hurt worse than any lover's betrayal ever had. I saw the Army itself betray the concept I had had of it. You see, though I grew up, again, on the St. Crispins Day speech, among others, I never really understood 'be he never so vile, this day will gentle his condition'. I didn't understand then what I do now-that I could both hate and love. That some of my fellow soldiers truly would be vile-racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted in every possible way, with no ideals and no desires past earning a paycheck. That I could hate them for their tiny minds and love them because they were my brothers. That I could love them for their loyalty to me, even as they waded through every whore in a fifty mile radius. That the same men who would say that no meant yes and they would kill 'any faggot who dared touch them' would treat me like their little or big sister, depending on the age, and I would love them like my big or little brother no matter how many people they broke or destroyed or how awful their words were.

It is in that same feeling that lets me both be a member of the military and a member of IVAW. That lets me cry when I watch old war movies about honor and sacrifice and also feel nauseous when I look at the newspaper and see the terrible things my country has done in its name.

I love the military but I love more the military I thought it would be. A military of honor. A military where you never did the wrong thing, and you were never asked to. A military where you fought your enemy because you had to but you didn't have to despise them.

I wonder if that military exists. I wonder if it ever did. I wonder if it ever could. I wonder if I was just deluding myself.

5 comments:

LT Nixon said...

You are an idealist? Get outta here! haha. Anyways, you seem to be kicking yourself for not being in this idealistic service to country. Like everything in life, it might not live up to the hype. But, be optimistic, the military is doing pretty well. During Vietnam many soldiers came back to the states addicted to smack, during the Revolutionary War many soldiers weren't getting paid properly, and during the civil war we were killing each other, which is pretty bad I guess. It's different being in an all-volunteer military, but I have no regrets.

Army Sergeant said...

Um, LT Nixon, you do know I haven't been paid properly in four months... I'm just saying... ;)

Jim said...

"but I love more the military I thought it would be. A military of honor." Yes, there are honorable people in the service. "A military where you never did the wrong thing, and you were never asked to." Military history has countless examples of less than stellar behavior and decisions in the chaos known as warfare. Some less than stellar American examples follow. Ever crack open a book titled "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"? It's chock full of the brutality we waged against the natives. Paul Fussel wrote about guys in his platoon blowing Germans up with Grenades who were begging to surrender. In Korea, after our guys found troops from the 24th ID bound with barbed wire and shot in the head, no quarter was often times the order of the day.
"A military where you fought your enemy because you had to but you didn't have to despise them."
I have a hard time not despising the charming peeps in Afghanistan (BTDT x 2) who would gut me and torture me if captured.

JD said...

Your blog is awesome.

streetsweeper said...

LT? Where'd you git this "we" shit? Beg to differ with you sir. "We" weren't around then. Are you an apologist for the past or what?

AS, sorry to read of your accident. Long as you are Ok, safe and sound thats what matters.

Unfortunately life is black and white. The majority of books and laws are written in black and white, Sarge.

If you're strolling around the world in a grey zone, you best report to Heaven.

St Peter is missing an angel and your dead. There is no grey zone, Sarge.