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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

May 6th, 2010 (01:15 pm)
thoughtful
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current mood: thoughtful

On my way in to the library today, I passed a Marine Week display in the park across the street. There were three tanks on the opposite part of the park and a bunch of soldiers milling around. Near the sidewalk, as I was waiting for the light, I saw a wide-eyed little boy hanging onto his mother's hand, chatting with a couple of the soldiers. He was clearly entranced, and the soldiers were really enjoying him, laughing and talking kindly. And I smiled, because the kid was cute and the soldiers were nice and it was a nice scene.

Then I noticed what was right behind the kid: a machine gun on display, propped up on a tripod-like thing next to the sidewalk. The machine gun was bigger than the child, if you'd laid one next to the other. My smile faded.

It's not that I got angry about this, precisely, or onto an anti-Marines kick. I don't bear resentment towards individual soldiers. I have a vague sense of the variety of reasons that a person might join the military. Many believe wholeheartedly that this is the only way to keep their country safe and are willing to put their lives on the line for that. I know some of those people and I respect them. Others join the military because they need the opportunities that it affords them to better their lives and the lives of their families: money, education, and so on. I know some of those people, and I respect them, too. There are plenty more reasons, I'm sure, just as I'm sure that sadism, or a desire to kill other people carte blanche, is among the least common.

But it was an emotional experience nevertheless, seeing this tiny child standing next to this big gun, seeing his face lit up with excitement and visions of what it could mean to be a man, a soldier, in America. Perhaps it's contradictory to what I said above, but I don't like guns. Not guns that are designed with the specific intent of killing other human beings. And seeing this little boy standing next to a gun bigger than he was, my mind couldn't help but drift to other children in other places where the guns are bigger than they are: kids looking down the barrel of a gun at a soldier who isn't smiling, child soldiers toting guns heavier than they are in several senses of the word. Small children mangled by bullets, made even smaller in death.

Point fingers at the guns, at the military, at the culture that teaches children that war is both a game and an aspiration. I don't know the answers and wouldn't know how to implement them if I did.

I wish things could be different, is all. But wishing won't change anything. And somewhere, a little boy is talking about how cool it is to be a soldier.

Comments

Posted by: Susan Jane Bigelow (shashalnikya)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
whitegally

It never ends, does it? This cycle keeps going on and on. Boys get taught that war is fun, that it's a big game, that you play for your side-no matter what-and that winning is everything. Being a soldier is held up as the ultimate expression of masculinity.

It's a very easy cultural stream to step into, and be carried away by.

I've never been able to really like the military, despite (or maybe because of) coming from a military family. My dad wanted me to be an officer in the Air Force or some other branch of the service, and pushed me into applying for the ROTC. But I deliberately failed their tests, and I'm very, very glad I did now.

All of that makes me all the more uncomfortable with the way we've idealized the military in our society since 9/11.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)

As you note, there have been a lot of changes in the perception of the military, as well as in the way it's "sold" to us by the government, that have changed since 9/11. They tend to scare me.

Boys get taught that war is fun, that it's a big game, that you play for your side-no matter what-and that winning is everything.

The "no matter what" is what really bothers me. I understand its necessity -- you can't stand stock-still to make your own moral judgment every time you're in a crisis situation and your commanding officer gives you an order or whatever -- but the flip side of it is that it's, well, dangerous. To concede your own right and authority to make moral judgments about your own behavior to someone else, I mean.

Posted by: Susan Jane Bigelow (shashalnikya)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 08:04 pm (UTC)

On 9/11 I remember--at the time that everything was happening, sometime between 9:30 and 10:25 in the morning, I teaching a class of my seniors and they were holding a debate about war and patriotism. The major theme, which tied into the book we were reading, was that patriotism was kind of stupid and that war was generally a pointless thing.

My classroom's loudspeaker didn't work, so we couldn't hear the announcements being made. Because of that, this little bubble of the 1990s stayed in existence until the bell rang, and we walked out of that classroom into another era.

Soon many of those kids flew the flag and called for war. Some joined the military after they graduated. I'm still not sure how I feel about all that, even now.

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)

There is something incredibly glamorous and appealing about the military as it's viewed in our society. I have no idea what it is, but I've occasionally thought that, were it not for the whole pacifist lesbian thing, I might want to give it a try. I have no idea why that is or what about it makes me want it, since one would think "pacifist" and "soldier" would be completely at odds - but there's something deep inside me that looks at the uniform, at the structure of life, at the atmosphere of honor and duty, and says "I want."

I wish things could be different, too. I wish we lived in a world that glamorized teachers and doctors and, hell, construction workers and artists and all them, rather than professional killers (and yes, I do know there are people in the army who have little or nothing to do with killing, but it's still what armies as a whole are for).

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC)

there's something deep inside me that looks at the uniform, at the structure of life, at the atmosphere of honor and duty, and says "I want."

I don't think that's at odds with pacifism, honestly -- a desire for a regimented, ordered life where things are laid out in clean lines, within a system that values justice and morality. We're told concepts of "honor and duty" within the Army are based in that framework, after all: duty to such a system is honorable, and so on. (Correct me if I'm putting words in your mouth; I'm extrapolating out from my own perspective, I suspect.) That's definitely the image we're sold on, in commercials and in movies and history texts and a million other places. And it definitely is appealing. It's just... idealized. And while sometimes the idealization is relatively benign (see shaysdays' comment), other people do find out the error when they're shot in the stomach, or when their buddy is. Or when they shoot someone else in the stomach. And sure, these are random and stereotypical examples, but you know what I mean: the physical and emotional realities of that kind of violence are not part of the TV ads. And... I don't know, I guess that's really all there is to my point. War and violence suck. Welcome to the world of Kylie's original observations.

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)

You're not putting words in my mouth - or if you are, they're the right words.

Partly I think it's the rules that appeal to me. It may be, as shaysdays says, overmanagement - but I think I'd do well in an environment where everything was clear, where I didn't have to feel like I was always trying to play catch-up in a world where there were all these complicated expectations and no one gave me a rulebook.

And partly - my pacifism is, well, complicated. It's not that I find violence distasteful. It's not that I don't think I'd like it. It's that I know my own inner demons well enough to be pretty sure that I would, even with the risk of getting injured or killed. And military service would give me the perfect excuse - doing it for all the "right" reasons, honor and duty and serving my country and following orders. That's what being a soldier is, right? Someone else worrying about the ethics for you? But that's why I draw my own personal line at absolute pacifism - because if I start letting it slide and making excuses, I'm afraid of where that road would lead.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)

I'd do well in an environment where everything was clear, where I didn't have to feel like I was always trying to play catch-up in a world where there were all these complicated expectations and no one gave me a rulebook.

Man, does that ever resonate with me. I've sort of turned 180 degrees from where I was growing up: almost all the way through college it frightened me intensely that I never got the rulebook the rest of the world seemed to have gotten*, and the idea of having a literal rulebook and structure to live by would have been so appealing. Then something, or somethings, shifted, and now I balk completely at anyone else's trying to tell me what to think or what to do. I don't really know what accounts for the change, but they're definitely flip sides of the same coin. It's just that it used to bother me that I didn't have the internalized template for socially acceptable other people seemed to have, and now it bothers me if anyone acts like I should have one. Or something.

*I used that exact phrase many times when I was growing up. Exactly.

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I'm on both sides of that same coin too - and I think what flipped it for me (not entirely, I still crave rules sometimes, but partly) was the realization that no one else got the rulebook either. Yeah, there are all these expectations for how I'll act, but most of the time there's no actual solid rules, and even when there are rules, they're mostly just ones that society pulled out of its collective ass. Most of the time, when you find one of the rules and try to figure out why it's a rule, the best answer you'll get from anyone is "because that's how it is." And if you dig a little deeper and think about it, what that means is "because that's what works for a lot of people." And that's great as far as it goes, but I'm not a lot of people, and what works for them doesn't always work for me, so fuck that.

I think people like you and me, having spent additional time and effort really trying to figure out the rules, have maybe seen through them to a degree - most people take them at face value because they never think about them, but having thought about them, we've realized that a lot of them are bullshit and not worth subjecting ourselves to. Or something like that. But now I'm the one putting words in your mouth.

Posted by: Baby, I'm gonna do you till you can juggle. (shaysdays)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)

Meh. Being a soldier was, in my experience, sitting around a lot being severly overmanaged and making sammiches.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)

Were you a soldier in wartime?

I know not all wartime soldiers, or even all deployed soldiers, see action, of course. But the little boy today obviously wasn't round-eyed at a vision of the Army as a place to make sandwiches, either. Anyway, I wasn't thinking so much specifically of the U.S. military as of what the gun signified -- what it symbolizes to so many children here in America, what its effects are here and worldwide.

On the other hand, if that boy ever does become a soldier, I hope he does spend his time mostly being overmanaged and making sandwiches...

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
england

I'm an army brat. My step-father was in the army for over 20 years. He saw active duty in Ireland. I've experienced gun salutes at Remembrance Day services, and by gun salutes, I mean cannons. Yes, guns are horrific and do horrible things, but by and large, it's the people in control who decide that. And someday, you might be thankful that that small child grows up to defend you.

Oh, and just FYI, this weekend is the 65th anniversary of VE Day, the day that World War II ended in Europe.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 07:32 pm (UTC)

I think it depends by who we mean by "the people in control". I don't mean to be disrespectful of anyone, and as I said, I respect the soldiers that I know and the choices that they make. But it's hard for me not to be cynical about war, guns, and the ability of either one to protect or defend me while living in a country that for years has been waging a war in Iraq that I believe is immoral and that I know has made me less safe than I was when it started. Violence, when mishandled, begets more violence, and it is so often mishandled by my own government and by many others (as well as NGOs, etc.)

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
england

I'll admit I purposely said 'the people in control' because it was ambiguous.

I'm not sure how a war that's so far away from the US has made you less safe, but I can certainly understand that because it's something I've had to deal with for most of my life. The UK has experienced all kinds of attacks for several decades. My entire life has been a series of bomb scares! As a child, I got used to walking past soldiers holding guns on my way into school. Then there were the bomb threats from the IRA on the UK mainland. A bomb was planted in my hometown, on the main street in the town centre and resulted in a controlled explosion. There was a bomb scare in my college one day. When you experience that kind of situation on a regular basis over a very long period of time, I think it really makes a difference on how you see the military and everything that entails.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)

It's that the Iraq war fomented terrorism by increasing/radicalizing anti-American sentiment like crazy and providing vectors for the spread of groups like al-Qaeda, which weren't (contrary to Bush's assertions) organized in the area before the war but began to put down roots there in the chaos and aftermath of the war. Basically, the use to which Bush put our army ultimately encouraged terrorism against the U.S.

I think that in some ways the parallels between that and the situation in the UK don't work, because the immediacy of the threats and violence against which the military is designed to protect is so different. In other ways, I suspect the parallels do hold. Fundamentally, an army is needed for national defense, and soldiers should be respected for that. I think the crux of the issue here is whether or not citizens can trust that the military will be used in a way that is moral and will protect them. If in the face of constant attacks it's clear that the military is working to protect the country and make things safer, I think that would have a very different feel than "oh shit, our government is sending these kids overseas to die for trumped-up reasons, and it's going to put us at greater risk of attack than before."

I think I've strayed from my point, and I'm not sure how. When I think back on my original post I realize that what I was talking about was a sort of instinctive abhorrence of violence and war in general, and I think (correct me if I'm saying this wrong) that you were pointing out that the world isn't that simple and the work soldiers do can't be dismissed. All of which I agree with, and I'm sorry if it sounded like I didn't.

(Incidentally, I'm really sorry you've lived with that sort of constant threat all your life. I was going to say "I probably can't even imagine", then realized there was no "probably" about it.)

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)

I think something like the military is a necessary evil. I also think it's one of those subjects that always brings up really strong feelings, like religion and politics.

I do have to apologise though. I feel that I've not put my point across very well or really taken yours on board. My head's kind of full of our election at the moment unfortunately! The results are starting to come in and there's a large possibility that we could be getting a brand new government. And as the party is well known to be seriously LGBT-phobic, it's really scary :-/

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)

Oh, dear. Oh, I hope you guys don't have to go through anything like what we had to go through during the Bush administration. Between that and the essentially emotional nature of what you and I were talking about, I think you're being a lot more clearheaded and open than I would be. Elections are so nervewracking...

Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 11:25 pm (UTC)
smeg

The last time the UK had a Tory government, they were in power for 18 years and it was horrendous. There was high unemployment and taxes, lots of strikes and we ended up going to war to defend one of our territories. Not a pleasant time. So yeah, it's pretty nervewracking right now.

I'm not sure if this is ironic or what, but there's just been a report of a bomb scare at one of the counting places in Northern Ireland. A hijacked car was abandoned in the car park and it's been evacuated.

Posted by: blahblahblah, whatever (kathrynrose)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 08:57 pm (UTC)
flag

I read this earlier and had to mull it for a bit. I'm still not sure the words I'm about to type will come out right, but here goes.

On 9/11, when everyone was running out of the buildings, fire fighters ran in. As I was standing there watching, I was struck by the knowledge they were entering an inferno, to try to help people. And when the first building fell, my very first thought was, "Oh my God. They're still in there."

This is how I feel every single day about the men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everywhere else we are having conflict. People are people, no matter what the group is. More or less honorable. More or less honest. But we have an all volunteer military, and we've been at war a lot of years, and for whatever reason, these men and women have run into the fire.

My dad was career Air Force, and he had a lot of benefits from his military service. These young men and women today don't get the same kind of benefits he had, and we had as his dependents.

I hate war, but on balance, I doubt you'll find anyone around who hates war more than members of the military and their families. I didn't always understand or agree with that, but now I'm sure it is true.

I volunteer and contribute to a group called Operation Write Home. We make handmade cards and send them to deployed service members so they can write home to their families on something other than the back of an MRE wrapper. There aren't any Hallmark stores in the middle of the desert. We also send notes and letters of thanks and encouragement for service members who don't get much mail. Sometimes we get emails or photos from the recipients, and they are always so thankful to be remembered. I feel connected to them, even though we don't know each other. To me they are the people with moms and dads and kids and husbands and wives who they are writing home to, and not just "troops" in uniform carrying guns.

I hate guns. A lot. I hate the automatic weapons that are carried on the streets of our cities here at home. I grew up among hunters, but I even hate the shotguns and rifles that brought down the deer that became our venison sausage. I wish that we could wish the guns away. I hope we can teach the guns away.

But until we do, people are going to run into the fire, and I am going to thank them, and remember them, and honor them, and do whatever I can to make their deployment a little less horrible.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure what I wrote to make people think I didn't/wouldn't agree with all of this, but whatever it was, I'm sorry, because I understand that that would be hurtful.

I think of the army as the husbands and wives, fathers and mothers who are in it as well. And I think of them, too, as that little boy grown up. I saw the soldiers talking to the kid on the street and my first reaction was to smile, because my gut response is that these are good people, doing what they do for what I assume to be good and moral reasons. And I smiled at the kid because I have a soft spot for kids and because something in me always wants to instinctively believe that cute kids will grow up to be good people.

But the gun, to me, symbolizes the things that aren't good. And I know it's complicated because soldiers need to carry guns in order to carry out their duties, and so condemning guns sounds like condemning soldiers for what they do. But I just can't help it. I see a gun like that and -- I know this is a time- and place-bound response, so I'm sorry for that -- but the gun, that symbol of violence, speaks to me of the war in Iraq and of how profoundly I disagree with it, of how many civilians were killed because soldiers were thrown into a new kind of warfare that they weren't prepared for and our government didn't care how many Iraqi civilians were killed anyway. And it speaks to me of war in general, and war is different from the people who wage it. And war does things to the people who fight it too. Even when they're not killed, very often the things it does to them aren't good.

I didn't stop smiling until I saw the gun. And I just can't... maybe I didn't convey the emotion of this right in the post, or maybe people will disagree with me anyway... but I can't change or apologize for my gut-level upset reaction to seeing a smiling toddler next to a gun bigger than he is. It just made me feel like I don't want to live in a world where there are children that small and guns that big.

It's not to dishonor soldiers, or cast mud on them for what they do. It's not even to say that what they do is unnecessary. It's just that, like I said, I wish it weren't so.

Posted by: blahblahblah, whatever (kathrynrose)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
earth love

I really didn't mean what I wrote as a disagreement with you. That confluence of good and cute and terrible is emotional, and I had my very own emotions that caused me to have to step away.

Honestly if my comment sounded disagree-ish, it may have been flavored by me reading other comments on the post.

I disagreed strongly with the decision to go to war in Iraq. It sounds cliche' now, but I really do hate the war and support the men and women in the military (I really hate the word 'troops').

We're good - I was actually glad you posted your experience. It stirred me, and I appreciated that. I needed something outside of my current drama to stir me for a minute. :) If that makes sense.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)

Totally. I'm also sorry if I sounded defensive, or if I misinterpreted what you wrote, so we're square. :)

I think in the end it's just a very emotional subject. I do have relatives who would read this post and disagree *very* strongly, and, again, very emotionally. I know they wouldn't be able to parse out what I mean in saying I respect soldiers but hate guns/war; soldiers carry guns and fight wars, so how could I not be judging, they'd ask? I can't even parse out what I mean, honestly. It's more inchoate emotion. I think from what you're saying you understand that too, and I'm glad.

Posted by: blahblahblah, whatever (kathrynrose)
Posted at: May 6th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)

Totally square. :)

And I do understand. Also, I had to look up the word inchoate, and it's perfect. Now I need to use it a few times just to soak it in. :)

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