We Aren’t Doing Right by our Soldiers

My brother is being deployed. Could be Korea, could be the Middle East. We know his training grounds are in a desert so we expect desert. This is difficult for me. It’s difficult for me because I know so much about history and global politics. It’s difficult for me because I spent so much time at Stanford hanging out in coffee shops and arguing about conflicts that I would never see. It’s difficult for me because I know who the people are that will be sending my brother in. It’s difficult for me because I know he doesn’t have a choice. It’s difficult for me, because I know he didn’t create that mess. Is not the history of humanity a tale of privileged men using the less privileged to fight their battles for them?

My nephew is starting school soon. He is so beautiful. You pray that my brother will get to watch his son grow into a man. My brother is thinking about signing his GI bill benefits to his son. He doesn’t expect to benefit from those, but if he can set his son up, he will sign up for four more years of active duty. My brother is a strong reader, but he doesn’t consume the news like I do. How many hours have I spent reading the Times and talking about our foreign adventures? I studied China undergrad. I know the history of Communist guerrilla warfare, I can talk about strategy with the best of them. I will never have to execute anything.

Who will my brother be fighting against? Will it be people with a choice? Or will it be men and women hoping to give their sons and daughters more than they had themselves? How many times have we failed to make good on that promise? We come into the poor areas and recruit promising social mobility and the true tragedy is that except for extreme outliers like myself, it really is the most realistic way to get out. Killing other countries’ poor is the best way to get out of poverty in our own country.

Growing up I heard my friends say: “I have to be a soldier.” I still use the metaphor often. People at Stanford were weirded out when I said it, “How can you glorify violence?” they wondered. I don’t. I just want us to acknowledge the strength and power of the men and women you use like pawns to get more power and shiny things. What is wrong with glorifying someone who loves their family so much they are willing to risk their life to fight another man’s battle? Is that not the purest, most beautiful form of love? But mostly I think we say it because we know what we are really being trained for. What our real purpose in this country is. We know that our job is to serve as canon fodder. We know that very few of us have a choice.

I had a choice. I am so grateful for that choice, but if I used that choice to demean the people who didn’t I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. And for me, after all I’ve been through, that’s what I hope for; sleeping soundly at night.