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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Aha moment

Pandagon has a post about military recruiters. Jesse apparently had to deal with some when he went to a fast food establishment. It's times like these when I am rather painfully reminded of how class status has fossilized in America. I tend to blend with the upper middle class, or even the well-educated middle middle class fairly well. But I have moments where I realize that no matter how I strive or what I do, I will always have working class-ness about me. But I've come to the point in my life I'm grateful for that.
This comment struck me hard:

In high school, about 8 years ago, one way that we pulled jokes on our friends was to refer them to Armed Forces recruiters. So, when you got a call from the Marines asking if you'd like to serve your country, you knew one of your buddies had put you on a list. The reason we didn't want to sign up is because we were upper-middleclass white dudes - it wasn't "cool", ya know?...and being a time of peace/prosperity and all. Though that is really a lame excuse. But it's a shame that enlistment will suffer now because of the current civilian mismanagement of the military. Of course "I don't want to die in a far off land" is a pretty good excuse not to enlist, imo.
The creepy salesman-like style in which they recruit does put you off a little. But so did fraternity rush in college and I ended up joining one of those...

I was dogged by military recruiters throughout my wayward youth. My high school was extremely poor, being a victim of Texas's screwed up school financing system. On top of that, the population was so excrutiatingly poor that those of us who were really rather middle class were considered downright rich by most of the residents.
Military recruiters lurked around my high school all the time. West Texas is poverty-stricken and isolated and therefore our students were especially targeted as potential recruits--all of us. When I scored a near perfect on the ASVAB (I think that's the name of the standardized military exam, correct me if I'm wrong), I was dogged by military recruiters. Our high school required everyone to take the test. I thought that it was a federal requirement to take it; only later did I find out that no, the military only put pressure on low-income schools like mine to have every single student take the ASVAB. My school, which was already struggling to keep any semblance of a reputation, was in no position to resist requests to test all of the students for military duty.
It's a shame, really. We were small and near a university and in a small town that was rather unique in its emphasis on cultivating some individuality. We got a good education. We had good teachers and those most prized small class sizes.
I blew off the military recruiters, even though there was pressure to go that route. I went to college right out of high school, but I can't say that it wasn't a temptation. I know for my sister it was an even bigger draw. I suppose if I were a more schmoozy type I could have turned that into something. But the ugly truth is those born to the "better" classes don't have to have exceptional talents. I saw that happen every day.
After I graduated college, the military lurked. At one point, I seriously considered them. I took the ASVAB again and killed it again in a rather short time. The offers were pouring around me. You'll be an officer, it's not like the regular military, we teach you, etc. It's hard to turn down--a military officership is something substantial, something that shows that you have done something, are worth something.
Long story short, I decided not to do it. I'm glad I didn't, or I would be killing time in Iraq right now, being annoyed at my relatives who insisted on voting for Bush. Not that the recruiters quit calling me. They called alot, for a long time.

(The title comes from a run-in I had with an Army recruiter a few years ago, where I wasn't in the mood to be particularly polite, so I just responded, "I'm super gay." He let me go about my business without further comment.)

For some, they are an eternal presence, and often they are the only presence offering any chance at a college education or entrance into a job that others consider a "career". I finally gave them a definite no, and take my chances working in a unprestigious job.
But this commenter strikes me. Frats and sororities definitely belong to that part of life inaccessible to all but the few. They are not comparable to the military. Frats make it clear that you suffer a few indignities to enter and then it's gravy. The military thrives because it's the last resort of so many.
I'm not entirely sure what my point is. Except this--we really, truly do live in two Americas. In order to understand how very, very real it is that some of us start wars and some of us fight them, it would do well to really understand how the working class crosses its finger and toes and says its prayers and hands over its children to the military.
Alot of leftists I've read decry Michael Moore's part of the movie where he outright says that we use the poorest of our society to staff our military and all they ask in return is that they aren't sent to unnecessary wars. Whenever anyone whines about the sentimentality of that statement, I see red. It's totally true and needs to be said--sorry if that fact isn't darling and artistic.


Blogger Fred Vincy said...

I plead guilty to being an upper middle class white guy. However, I agree completely with your identification of Moore's statement as one of the most important in the movie. I don't view it as overly sentimental, but as an articulation of the social contract that underlies the people's entrusting of power to the government. I registered for the draft during the Reagan administration, and considered it a decision that I would go if called; I think it was an idea very much like that one that convinced me (to my mother's horror) that registering was the right thing to do.

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences about this.


Blogger Amanda said...

Hey, no worries. I thought I was in the upper middle class in high school since we had a big house and most residents of West Texas live in trailers. I've only since realized that the scale of living is just different out there, and to the rest of the country, we were pretty much regular middle class, and probably lower middle class. Hell, the tiny little house that my boyfriend and I managed to buy with our working class, government-employee salaries is worth way more than the ones my parents owned when I was in high school.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's also my understanding that a lot of the "money for college" talk is misleading. Granted, my info for this is a conscientious objector website, but-


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Veteran's Day is November 11th and I hope that EVERY American will be flying the flag in honor of our troops fighting in Iraq and around the world to preserve our freedoms!

I can even tell you where to get one for free! Visit right now and they'll send you a FREE American Flag. These flags were $19.99, but now they are FREE. You pay just for shipping/handling and they'll ship one to your door. (Actually - I've ordered more than 20 from them to give to my neighbors, as gifts, etc!)

Get your free flag now: **FREE AMERICAN FLAG**

Semper Fi!

Bill Adams


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