REMEMBER WHEN I ASKED YOU how it felt to punish lower enlisted soldiers by making them do pushups? And you said that you did your best to not make them do pushups because there are better ways to “get what you need from a Soldier.” “I’d like to think I’m less one dimensional than all that,” you said.
There are a few NCOs that come to mind, in my short four years, that seemed one-dimensional assholes in their approach to leadership. It didn’t work out too well for them.
There certainly was a cultural-Darwinistic quality to how the military functioned, so, with the will of the collective unit, an asshole NCO will be weeded out, eventually: they either fuck up and no one has their backs, or, I guess, there are other ways to “fast-track” a soldier.
That’s a good thing, in the context of the military, for people living that life. Asshole NCOs get in the way, in a real way, especially, of course, because their fuckups (being relatively one-dimensional pricks) have consequences in combat. Or, to a lesser degree, their presence makes for a toxic environment that breeds mediocrity and other assholes who may one day be “leaders” themselves. It’s kind of fun, in the moment, to think in a nostalgic way about the nuances of the NCO-soldier dynamic, that paternal, father-figure bullshit.
But the reality is neither one of these people, soldier nor NCO, have enough autonomy. Worse, soldiers are exploited by things they’ve been convinced they shouldn’t even bother thinking about. You’re expected to be one-dimensional in the political sense, fall in line, be apolitical. I can’t help but have some respect for people within that dynamic because I’ve known more than enough who I wouldn’t say made a deliberate choice when they joined. The fact that the prefrontal cortex, where such deliberate decisions would have been made, isn’t fully developed in humans till 25 is enough for me. 1 2 I was 19. How old were you? Ironically, there’s enough data to illustrate the unfortunately touchy subject of soldier exploitation that it could be its own discipline of study, meaning one could spend an entire professional career loathing the realities of the very specific issue of soldier exploitation. 3 4 And it may be easy for some to say things like that from some academic institution, or at a stupid fucking TED talk, but you and I were very much alike when we met and became close.
Your past definitely led you to having no other choice but to join, same for me, and it wasn’t because we wanted to be NCOs. Remember, “I’d be dead or in jail.”
I resent vampire institutions—whichever failed you on your way to joining.
If all drugs were legalized and the people who sold them weren’t criminalized, would you still have joined the military? 5 How different would Atlanta be if that were the case? Think of all the fathers who would have been there for their children. Think of all the NCOs, talented, frankly beautiful people such as yourself, who would’ve stayed in their community and would’ve been leaders there, where they belong. The absence of fathers in communities because of dumb archaic views facilitates more absent fathers, and the same logic can be applied to the military culling people from communities that desperately need them.
Ice Cube pointed this out in the 90s, on the song “I Wanna Kill Sam.” 6 I don’t expect anyone to look it up, so here’s the intro to that song:
“The army is the only way out for a young black teenager.
We’ll provide you with housing.
We’ll provide you with education.
We’ll provide you with everything you need to survive in life.
We’ll help you to be the best soldier in the U.S. of A.
Because we do more before 7 A.M than most niggers do in their whole life time.”
While thinking of the D– I knew, you have in me someone who hopes you actually take the chance, leave the Army, apply the discipline you have on your own terms.
I saw your reply about the things you posses because of the money you get from the army: the television and whatever else. With anyone else I might say something like: you’re basically admitting that those are the reasons why you do what you do. I’m not exactly sure what the implications are of a soldier saying that to civilians, but, nonetheless, I don’t believe that’s why you do what you do. I know you’re not so petty.
But that’s neither here nor there, I resent that as your talent is exploited in the Army you could be in your former community, doing something that will make an impact (here in America for a change). Perhaps looking out for the raver community you were so proud to be a part of?
I mean, look at me. What incentive do I have spending so much time typing this out? You could simply dismiss all of this and continue on.
But here’s my situation: I actually believe if enough people like you bounced from the military and applied themselves in the “civilian world” America would be a safer place. Applying the couple hours to hash this out a little more than usual is much more worth my time than spending it in the army so I can feel good around other people who have nice shit.
At any rate, I would rather struggle having conversations like these than be stuck on the other side, with my nice things, quietly considering what I’d rather do than be hauled around in a cattle truck to God knows where: Drum, Fallujah, the horn of Africa–just for relatively nice things? Nope.
Graphics by Alyssa Monet
Bruce Graves is a writer and web developer based in Los Angeles.
- To quote the super awesome neuroendocrinologist Robert M. Sapolsky quoting George W. Bush: “Within the frontal cortex, it’s the PFC that is ‘the decider.'” See page 46 to find this in his book, “Behave.”
- Concerning the age claim about this part of the brain, Sapolsky explains that the frontal cortext “does gratification postponement, self-discipline, long-term planning, emotional regulation. It’s the last part of the brain to fully mature—that doesn’t happen until you’re 25 years old…This has a very interesting implication. If this is the last part of the brain to fully develop, by definition, then, it is the part of the brain least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience.”
- After a brief search, an AP story from last year reported on the Army’s failure to meet recruitment numbers because of a “favorable American economy.”
- More directly, a 2008 sociology study looked at variables that could answer who joins the military. Having looked at all the standard demographic qualities, “among race, socioeconomic status, and immigration status, socioeconomic status is the only significant predictor of having ever served in the military. Class differences in military enlistment likely reflect differences in the non-military occupational opportunity, structured along class lines. This research shows that the all-volunteer force continues to see overrepresentation of the working and middle classes, with fewer incentives for upper class participation.”
- Drug Policy Alliance, drug war statistics
- “I Wanna Kill Sam,” Ice Cube, Death Certificate, ℗ 1991 Priority Records