I met a young man, a teenager, in line at a convenience store last night. His grandfather had served with the Marines in Vietnam. He told me we were going to war again, and he had joined the Marines and was leaving for boot camp next month. He already had his hair in a buzz cut and was excited. He was going to stand tall just as his grandfather had in Vietnam. It was a family tradition. The indoctrination had worked well: He could hardly wait to rise up on the warhorse, protect his country, bathe in the blood of his enemy. I wondered if he even knew who his enemy was and if I was looking at a dead child walking.
I had lab tests at the VA on the Pease National Guard Air Base last week. It’s in Newington, New Hampshire, at the Portsmouth International Airport. The VA and the Air Guard medical clinic occupy the same building. They share a waiting room. I watched young man after young man walk to a window staffed by a young woman dressed in camouflage. They carried a packet in their hands, all the same, a blue folder, large brown envelope and paperwork, like high school students in the hall on the way to the next class. They walked to the window and handed a paper to the camoed young woman. She looked up, took the paper, smiled and said, as if asking a question, “You’re going to recruit training,” and the young men would proudly reply, yes. She stamped the paper and said, “Good luck down there.”
If the military is anything, it is a proficient processor of young warm bodies. I watched the young mothers of these men as they sat in the waiting room. A new process: When I went in we weren’t allowed to have family members on the base, they dropped us off out front. The mothers, not quite middle aged yet, seemed to develop lines of fear and worry right in front of me. There were no brave smiles on their faces. They were turning over their most precious possession of heart to a heartless machine, and they knew it. They will have no peace, no easy rest until their child, their heart, the focus of their life returns unharmed, commitment completed. Some will never rest again, never have peace nor see her child follow a path she had hoped for. No grandchildren, birthdays, anniversaries. Just a long barren existence of what could have been.
We are on the wrong path. “Peace Through Strength” only creates profits for the few and the same mistakes over and over again. The true enemy resides within our borders and on our airwaves. We all pay a price for this policy, but the young people I saw, both mothers and sons, pay the highest price, in blood, fear, anger and worry.
I know not what space I inhabit anymore, what landscape. Though I have been traveling it for 65 years, it’s unrecognizable. I want to cry for our children, but tears do no good in the face of nationalistic propaganda. I truly don’t know what to do. I feel that somewhere, somehow, I have failed, and this failure will be pronounced with the blood of these children and the heartache of their mothers staining my soul.
Photo: Veterans lead the “We Know Who Is Responsible/Peace and Justice” contingent of the Climate March in New York City. Veterans for Peace members carried the “Stop the War on Mother Earth” banner and the inflatable bomb. Earchiel Johnson/PW.