In all the intra-leftist debate that took place over Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9-11, one of the film’s contradictions escaped notice. I am referring to the interesting tension between Moore’s repeated
declarations of heartfelt, patriotic, and middle-Americam concern for the GIs in Iraq (“will they ever forgive us?” Moore asked) and his disturbing clips of US troops cranking up the heavy metal in eager anticipation of inflicting serious murderous hurt on evil Arabs. After the movie I spoke with a recent secondary school graduate who qualified his praise for the flick by remembering that many of the guys in his high high school were “all gung-ho to join the Marines so they can kill ‘sandniggers’ and nice stuff like that. I mean I understand what Moore is doing when he holds these guys up as victims, maybe that’s the intelligent political thing, but the fact is that a lot of these guys are big time racist sexist bastards and they are looking for an excuse to perpetrate crimes against humanity legally. They’ve been killing people in an imaginary way with video games for years and now they want to do the real thing. I know a lot of these guys.”
On that disturbing note, I highly recommend Kathy Dobie’s recent feature article in Harpers Magazine (March 2005): “AWOL in America: When Desertion is the Only Option.” Dobie tells the story of recent military recruits who can’t handle the military’s frankly genocidal ethos.
Here is a reflection in a letter home from one recruit — whose fictional name is Jeremiah — stuck between Army Reception and Basic Training: “It’s hard for me to be myself here. There’s no room for dissent among the guys. Everywhere you listen you hear an abundant amount of B.S., a few beds over an obnoxious redneck has a crowd around him as he details a 3 some that he recently had. The vocabulary is different here. The bathroom is called the latrine, food is called chow, women are bitches, sex is ass….These people want to go to war and kill. It is that simple.”
Significantly, these comments come from a period prior to the Basic Training, when the recruits are “broken down” and turned into killers. The authoritarian familial, mass cultural, and educational system already have many of the troops ready to butcher “the enemy” en masse.
Before Basic Training, “Jeremiah” relates an interesting exchange with another recruit during a conversation in which wannabe soldiers expressed “enthusiasm for battle, for killing.” When “Jeremiah” says that “it might be better to wound someone than to kill him,” another recruit says “Fuck that. I’m putting two in in the chest, one in the head just like I’m going to be trained to do.”
Again, this is before the real military indoctrination begins.
As for Basic Training, here is a chilling paragraph from Dobie:
“The next day, a sergeant addressed the recruits with a speech that Jeremiah says he’ll never forget. ‘You know, when I joined the Army nine years ago people always asked me why I joined. Did I do it for college money? Did I do it for women? People never understood. I wanted to join the Army because I wanted to shoot motherfuckers.’ The room erupted in hoots and hollers. A drill sergeant said something about an Iraqi coming up to them screaming , ‘Ah-la-lal-la-la’ in a high-pitched voice, and how he would have to be killed. After that, all Arabs were referred to by this battle cry – the ah-la-la-la-la-las. In the barracks they played war. One recruit would come out of the shower wearing a towel on his head, screaming ‘Ah-la-lal-la!! and the other recruits would pretend to shoot him dead.”
This reminds me of growing up white in post-WWII America making pretend “Indian” noises by hooting while patting your mouth with your hand: woo-woo-woo-woo-woo.
When “Jeremiah” freaks out and decides he’s got to get out of this apparent fascist nuthouse called the US Army, he talks to the military chaplain, “who cited Bible passages proving that God was against murder, not killing, and told Jeremiah that Iraqis were running up to American troops requesting Bibles.”
I’ll understand if you have to read that one again. We have taxpayer-supported Army chaplains telling recruits that God is down with killing and that the Muslim people we are illegally occupying, robbing, maiming, and killing are just dying to receive pseudo-Christian American Bibles.
Later a drill sergeant goes “apopleptic” on “Jeremiah” and screams to him that “killing is the ultimate thrill in life and every single man wants to kill…it’s every man’s job to kill, it’s the greatest high, it’s our animal instinct, our animal desire.”
And we have righteous American “conservatives”and liberals freaking out and calling for Ward Churchill’s head because he made some harsh, politically off-color (I would say unfortunate) comments about nasty things that happen when you reject international law and institutions and inflict imperial crimes on Arab and other world citizens.
Later in the article, Dobie does a good job showing how the US military consciously pursues murder-de-sensitization in Basic Training (because WWII studies showed that that war’s civilian soliders generally didn’t want to kill the enemy). Dobie also details various deceptions that recruiters conduct in order to rope young men and women into the rolling slaughterhouses of empire.
Still, the article reinforced my admittedly anecdotal sense that some of the incoming GIs are more than a little ready and even in some cases eager for the racist, mass-murderous training and indoctrination to which they are subjected and that we have their parents and teachers and our mass media — and our broadly racist and classist “homeland” (lovely word, that) — to thank for that sorry situation.
I’ll try to be more cheerful (I’m going to watch Oprah tonight) in my next post.