When I was growing up, I did a lot of things with my dad. But one thing I did not like to do with him was watch war movies. Not a pleasant experience, because at some point he would feel compelled to tell me, again, how awful war is. And wars are all about making money for business, he’d say.
But, like many people, I had a hearing disorder relative to my parents. Right out of high school, I joined the U.S. Navy. I slogged my way for six long years through that “adventure” that the recruiting commercials advertised.
Ever since, I haven’t believed a word the U.S. government tells me. I certainly do not believe that Bush’s current war is about stopping terrorism, or bringing democracy to the people of Afghanistan, or securing freedom for women.
But if you’re in the military, you’re not encouraged to think about questions like, “What is the purpose of bombing people who had nothing to do with the September attacks?” And if you do think about matters like these, you are damn sure not going to be allowed to speak out about them.
The brass used to tell us that we were “super citizens” who did not need the rights of your average citizen. Such freedoms might muddy the waters, when the only real goal was simply to get us to go wherever they wanted us to go and be ready to kill whichever working people they wanted us to kill.
And how were we treated for making the sacrifices we did? We got our first taste in boot camp, where we soon realized that our company commanders were not kidding when they said, “Your soul may belong to God, but your ass belongs to the Navy!” When I got out of training and found myself submerged in a submarine, what that meant was, for instance, cleaning the bilge on a Sunday afternoon.
Actually, the concept “Sunday” is pretty foreign to someone who has been underwater for 30 days and is functioning on weird 18-hour cycles. We spent six hours standing watch every cycle and in the remaining 12 hours we maintained the ship and, when we could fit it in, slept.
But down there in the slimy, greasy bilge water I found other swab jockeys who, like myself, had joined the Navy for the much-touted training and education. They too were fed up with the extremely long hours, the separation from family and friends, and the lack of respect. We were people in need of a good union! Since this basic right was also denied us, we just counted the days until we reached the magic one called EAOS: End of Active Obligated Service.
Mine was November 30, 1983 – and trust me, I didn’t have to look that date up. Finally it rolled around and I was free from a nightmare, one that I felt at the time was inane. To gain a workweek of merely 40 hours and a standard complement of constitutional rights seemed like heaven.
Now I keep a community college up and running instead of a nuclear submarine. I am so much happier than I was when I spent all my time and energy on a machine that was only created to kill as many people as possible.
It took a while after I left the Navy, however, before I understood my stint as anything more than a pointless exercise in what we on the sub used to call “boring holes in the ocean.” The point, as I came to believe through using my wonderful rediscovered freedoms of association, speech, and so on, was to keep working people around the world under the boot of U.S. imperialism.
Now I’m active in the labor movement and the campaign for a better society, one that offers sane alternatives to constantly living on the edge of apocalypse. It seemed perfectly natural for me to be marching against the WTO in Seattle two years ago under the banner of socialist feminism and international workingclass solidarity. Where else should I be?
Last year, a young Latino friend of mine was considering joining the Army. He at first looked a little taken aback when I launched into a rant about the true nature of the U.S. military. But, to my relief, he has since rebelled against the prospect of being sent to some place like Colombia to wreak havoc against people who look like him and struggle for justice just like he does.
I hope I had something to do with his change of heart. I’m pleased as punch about anything I can do to counteract the propaganda of the recruiters preying in the school hallways on our nation’s youth.
I have to also salute, though, the soldiers who resist once inside. During the Gulf War, some refused to be submitted to dangerous vaccinations and others, taking perhaps the most brave stand of all, refused to fight when ordered.
So, to readers who are right now “serving your country,” I’d like to say this: no matter the claims on your soul and your ass, your mind still belongs to you. Keep using it!
Published originally in the Freedom Socialist newspaper.