At the local YMCA today, I ran into a boy who was a childhood friend of my son’s. As my kid goes to a public arts high school in Philadelphia outside of our local school district, I don’t see much of his old grade-school friends any more. This boy, who used to be over at our house years ago at least once a week, recognized me right away though, and said, “Hey Mr. Lindorff, I haven’t seen you in years. How’s Jed!”
I was impressed by how he’d grown up, tall and strong looking. He was headed for the basketball court. I asked him, since both he and my son are seniors this year, where he was applying for college, and he stunned me by saying he had signed up for the Marines. “I’m going to be going in after graduation,” he said proudly. “The recruiter came to school, and he convinced me it’s a good move.”
I asked him what he planned to do, and he said, “Helicopter gunner! I’m really excited and proud!”
This was really shocking. This kid doesn’t own a gun. I doubt if he’s ever shot at anything except maybe a target with a .22 rifle at Boy Scout Camp, and now he’s all excited about manning a machine gun in a helicopter, where he’ll be shooting down at Afghan fighters–and inevitably at civilians, too–in a matter of months.
I really didn’t know what to say. I awkwardly told him “congratulations,” because I could see he was proud of his “accomplishment” and because I didn’t want to have him cut me off as a possible confidante. Then I added, “You know of course that I’m not really in favor of what the Marines are doing?”
He smiled and said, “Yeah, I know.”
“Well, good luck and stay safe,” I said, again not knowing what else to say. How could I, standing in the hall there, tell him that he was simply signing on to be another expendable tool in the American Empire’s effort to subdue an impoverished people on the far side of the world who pose absolutely no threat to America? And while I don’t want to see him killing people in Afghanistan, I also want him to come home safely.
Unaware of my conflicted state of mind, and of how upset I was at his news, he ran off to play his game, at least for now still just another kid on a basketball court.
I had finished my run, so I headed for the exit to get my car and go home, when I ran into the boy’s mother and older sister, both just coming into the building. I hadn’t seen either of them in at least a year either.
They both greeted me and asked how my family was, and what my son’s college plans were. After I had caught them up, I said, a bit hesitantly, “I ran into your son. He told me he’s joining the Marines.”
His mother looked upset and said, “Yes. I don’t know. We were going over colleges with him, and getting ready to work on his applications, and then he told us he wanted to enlist.”
“I hear he’s going to be a helicopter gunner,” I said.
The mother stiffened and looked at her daughter, a senior in college who looked surprised, too. “He said he was going to be a helicopter mechanic!” she said.
“Oops,” I told them. “I guess I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No,” she said. “I’m going to have to talk with him. But the trouble is, if that’s what he says he’s going to do, there’s nothing we can do to stop him.”
Well, maybe, and maybe not. I’d certainly try if it were my son, starting with showing him that horrifying footage of a bloodthirsty US helicopter crew’s joke-filled slaughter of a bunch of innocent civilians in Baghdad, including two employers of Reuters. I’d also have him read the letter of apology to the Iraqi victims’ families, written by two soldiers, former Army Specialists Josh Stieber and Ethan McCord, who had appeared in that video because they came on the scene of slaughter at the end, and realized what had been done was an atrocity.
It is not too late for my son’s childhood friend. Although he has already signed on the dotted line, the GI Bill of Rights organization (www.gibillofrights.org tel: 877-447-4487) said the Delayed Entry Program is not final–kids can bow out until they get on the bus to basic training). Meanwhile, there is something we can do to stop more of this kind of thing from happening, and that is to protest the actions of Marine recruiters and recruiters from the other branches of the military in our public high schools.
The schools have been told, thanks to a law passed by Congress, that they must allow recruiters into high schools to speak with students and to try to lure them into signing up. Parents have a right to have their children’s names removed from recruiting lists so they won’t be personally invited to meet with a recruiter, or get recruiting literature sent to them, but they are still free when roaming the halls, to go see a recruiter on their own.
The only answer to this effort to suck our kids into service of the Empire as more cannon-fodder is to demand, and to provide, an alternative. Contact your local Veterans for Peace chapter (www.veteransforpeace.org) or Iraq Veterans Against War (www.IVAW.org) and urge them to send a representative to talk to the kids at your high school. If you’re a veteran, volunteer to go yourself, and tell kids why signing up is a bad idea. If you’re not a veteran, or relative of a veteran, get people with experience to go and tell what war is really about, and about why it’s not what America should be doing. (Colleague John Grant, who is with VfP, says don’t expect getting a counter-recruitment presence in your high school to be easy. Most schools only allow such speakers to go to a specific teacher’s classroom, not to an assembly session, whereas the most appropriate thing would be to have access to match whatever the recruiters are offered. That doesn’t mean VfP or IVAW activists aren’t anxious to get access, so contact them and try to get them to the kids.)
If you want a good argument, check out this little film which quotes Marine Brigadier General Smedley Butler, and is addressed to parents, and particularly mothers of young children.
Stop the propagandizing of our kids into becoming soldiers for Empire. We’ve had enough death and killing!
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). His work can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org