Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Winter Break Blog

As per Lancie-Pie's request, and as a gift to all my loyal readers, I'm firing off my first blog since Summer Break. You could count on a lot more of these were I normally separated from my Xbox 360 and stuck at my in-laws' in Virginia.

To be honest, I have a lot of pent-up rants, but let's go with something fresh:

Waiting for my plane to leave for the East Coast at SFO a few days ago, I overheard a young woman, probably in her mid 20s, talking to the family next to her about her experiences in the military. Kaitlin (she introduced herself to the kids in the family several times, quite a talker, this one) was telling of her travels to India, where she was stationed as part of the Marines for a time. She spoke of how fascinating she found the culture, and how she and her boyfriend were bringing elements of it back into their lives in America.

She was clearly very pleased with herself.

Then she said that one of the constraints of her job was that she wasn't allowed to make friends with "the locals" in case someday "we might have to blow them up or something." She said this without a trace of irony. She said it like you might hear an auto mechanic say, "We have to put the oil cap back on when we're done or stuff leaks out." As if this were a nugget of unquestionable military common sense that is clearly part of "the job."

I actually thought I had heard her wrong, and then 10 minutes later she was talking about the lack of reliable translators who speak Hindi (I may be spelling that wrong). Apparently, they can't hire native Indians to do this job, again, "in case we have to blow them up."

She explained in both these cases that the military didn't want its soldiers to make connections with these people and become attached because in the event that we might, like, you know, have to annihilate them or something, that might make things difficult on them (the soldiers, not the victims of incendiary bombs).

She was very earnest about this. She had not examined this philosophy one iota.

Perhaps, then, I will examine it for her. After all, she's a soldier. It's her job to follow orders and not think. I'm the dangerous liberal intellectual, so I'll make the following points:

1. She was talking about India. One of our closest economic allies. The prospect of the U.S. ever having to "blow up" part of India is too terrifying to contemplate. If that scenario ever became reality, we have a lot more to worry about than whether or not some of our soldiers have ever attended a dinner party with the locals.

2. I'm not really criticizing her. She's young and doing what she's told without thinking (although I do see quite a bit of danger in that). But this is a pretty clear example of the de-humanization of a group of people. After all, if you don't really have to worry about the feelings and emotions of fellow human beings, it makes it a lot easier to blow them up. And I understand that's part of the military's goal. But should it be? In an ideal world, the military should be used to AVOID conflict, shouldn't it? And wouldn't part of conflict avoidance be a familiarity (or even, god forbid, a FRIENDSHIP) with local people, customs, etc.? Wouldn't other countries be less likely to be hostile if, instead of instructing our soldiers to be unfeeling robots ready to turn their guns on the populace on a moment's order, they could be seen more as members of the community, there to serve the ideals that our country proports to hold dear? You know, like freedom, democracy, respect for our fellow man?

3. The thing that bothered me most was the way Kaitlin said these things. It wasn't that she was trying to convince these people that these rules made sense, it was as if THERE WAS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE. This ethnocentric brand train of thought has been with Americans for a long time, and has clearly been heightened by the Bush administration's paranoia and pseudo-patriotic fervor. Look no further than how the Iraqi army was decomissioned after the invasion, creating hundreds of thousands of unemployed ememies. Or our lack of translators around the globe, making communications with foreigners (actually, when we're the occupiers, we're the foreign ones, right?) strained if not impossible. And don't get me started on the fact that the military expunged dozens of highly valuable translators for being gay. But under Kaitlin's (and by extension, the U.S. military's) ideology, America is always right, and outsiders (or American queers) are not to be trusted.

And if they step out of line, blow them up.

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