The other day I came to the very disheartening realization that the end of endless wars or the end of periodic wars does not seem to be in the future for this “great” nation. That is if I can take what I see of my students and use them as a tiny sample of this generation and extrapolate into a giant generalization. Two anecdotes are, to me, very telling.
In the school’s career center the other day, my ninth graders were asked if they know what they want to do or be. Only a handful raised their hands. Army. Air Force. Marines. Lawyer. Doctor. Army. Dentist. Pediatrician. Notwithstanding the fact that only one girl (pediatrician) raised her hand, I was horrified that so many of the boys see the military as a career. Granted, in this area in northern Virginia there are a lot of military bases and the Pentagon and enough Department of’s for just about every retired military person to get a chance to retire from another government job, and I grew up in New York City where only those kids who were heading down the wrong path went into the military, I was horrified. As I said to a friend later, “the military-industrial complex has won.” I’m not completely naïve, I lived in Israel for a long time, I recognize the need—unfortunately—for a strong military. But the military being a career choice just strikes me as sad for them and sad for us as a nation.
So many times you hear people say that someone was lost until s/he went into the military which straightened her/him out. Such a sorry sentence for our country, for ourselves. Shouldn’t there be another avenue for the kids who don’t have a direction and are seemingly lost by the need to decide at 18 what they want to do with their lives—both if that kid can afford college and not? Why don’t we have service to country that doesn’t involve learning how to shoot a rifle and “defend” our way of life in far-flung deserts and shores? I know there has been talk of a national service, but there isn’t one. Even in Israel, many of the kids who don’t want to go into the infantry can teach or do social work, or some other service to the society. Why are those who in another time would have just followed in the family business or livelihood not aware that there are other “safe” careers other than supporting the never-ending wars? What came first, the never-ending wars or the need to have a large military that must be kept busy?
And then there are two of my students, who are seniors, who just got engaged to each other. He will continue the family job of going into the military and she will continue the family job of supporting her man in the military. But their getting engaged at 18 is not what stands out so much to me, rather it is her engagement ring. She wears distinctive clothes and jewelry often adorned with skeletons and skulls as well as her ubiquitous spiky collar around her neck. He has counter-culture messages on his tee-shirts and sweatshirts. And her engagement ring. Well, it has tiny diamonds. Why can’t the rebels really keep it up? Why are they relenting, why are they abandoning the rebellion to go with the flow? Why have they succumbed so quickly? Is that it? Up to 18 to rebel, and then get in line: join the military, get married, be a continuer and not a questioner.
It made me sad seeing the 9th graders’ responses and the engagement ring on the same day. Maybe I should be happy that they know what they want instead of bemoaning their cattleness, but I am not. I want “question authority,” and I don’t want it to be just us midlife women chanting to ourselves about feminism and against war. Obviously, we have failed. We have our lovely choir, but where is the audience?
I wanted to yell out—THINK, think for yourselves! Yes, you’re confused and you don’t know what you are good at and you want someone else to decide everything for you because it’s so much easier than being confused, but TRY to THINK for YOURSELF—you can do it! Don’t think that might is right! Don’t you read the papers—don’t you know that we are belligerent? That a soldier is a warrior before he is a peacemaker! Believe in yourself. But I didn’t. I sat there thinking of the members of the military who have been injured or killed, or will be. And I thought about those who send them into battle, whether they dither over it or take longer to decide what kind of cigar to chomp on than when to send troops into battle.
I thought life was about valuing life—each other’s—and not just the life of the nation. But perhaps this is what we deserve, after all we live in a country where a company has personhood and is, apparently, more important than an individual’s life.
But at least I know there is a choir out there. Those of us in the choir must continue to raise our voices, otherwise we will be shufflers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to bring my shoes in to get fixed, the heels are beginning to show slight signs of wear.