15 June 2012

Somewhere along the way I took a different path than my sanity. I hope we meet up again before our final destination.

I enlisted in the United States Army in 2002. It was just after 9/11 and it seemed everywhere I turned people (mostly kids) were talking about enlisting out of patriotic duty. I wasn't one of those people. My friend David was, and a few months after 9/11 he came up to me all kinds of politically charged and said we should enlist in the Army. I didn't get pumped up like he was, and he seemed a little shocked when I shrugged and said I'd enlist with him as if he'd just asked if I wanted to go grab a slice of pizza. We went out a day or two later and talked with some recruiters. Both of us set on going infantry so we could better understand those we'd met that refused to talk about the things they'd seen and done, regardless of how badly others wanted to hear about it. Before going, though, my girlfriend at the time convinced me to go with something else. David was not swayed, and went infantry anyway (we've both agreed since then that we should have stuck together, regardless of the MOS). He shipped off to Basic and then his duty station a few months before I even left for Basic.

During my time as a soldier I met many people, almost all of which had enlisted for reasons like David and I had. They were either in the group of patriotic Americans and children of strong military families, or they were in the group of people that just saw it as another job/stepping stone/career. Those of us that either had no other real options, needed money for school, or were just bored enough to want that kind of extreme change. I met only a handful of soldiers that seemed to join out of blind ignorance. They were soldiers that did not see the people our government said we were at war with as people. My friend Christine ended up in a Unit at Fort Bliss where she met a soldier that said he was eager to be deployed so he could kill the enemy. When she asked him why he felt they deserved to die, his response was, "Because they're different."

That kid is a good example of the third group of people that enlist; and I'm glad I did not meet many people like him, and I know that the majority of the military is made up of good people with good hearts, doing what they feel is right and something they can be proud of. Whether it's just another job, or Patriotic Pride, most soldiers are no different than any other good-hearted person you meet each day. So to think of comparing them to Nazi soldiers is something that seems so insane that it never once even crossed my mind. Why would it? It just isn't apples to apples.

But earlier today a friend shared this image with me on Facebook:

This simple cartoon completely caught me off guard and gave me an entirely new perspective. Had the comparison been the soldiers themselves, and not the civilians supporting them, I'd have forgotten about it by the time I'd clicked onto another tab. But looking at those that support troops, despite being against the reasons for the wars the troops are fighting, just blew my mind for a few moments. I'd grown up reading and hearing about WWI and how horrible the Nazis were -- Hitler was evil, the Nazis were evil -- End of Story. But they were soldiers, and many of the civilians knew this. Just like most Americans know this about our soldiers.

Now, I cannot compare anything American soldiers have done to other countries in recent years to the Holocaust (though we really were not far off with the Japanese American Internment Camps of WWII). But considering the times, the information available to the soldiers, and what they'd been raised to believe; I can no longer think that they were all evil people doing evil things because they loved evil. I'm reminded of articles and interviews about former Nazi soldiers that were haunted by the things that they had done, and I now think that they might have been the majority, and not a small minority. I could very well be wrong, but I honestly see the similarities now. Doing things that they know are wrong, but feel are necessary steps to be taken in order to protect their families, their country, and to insure the very best for future generations.

Now, don't go and take that last sentence out of context. Nothing justifies the horrible things that happen during times of war, regardless of which side you are looking at. No fucking excuse. However, that doesn't stop good people from doing unspeakably horrible things.

This brings me to the point of this entry: Despite the cartoon being a jab at Americans in support of American troops, it gave me a new view of how people in other countries see us. I've always thought it was because we are, in comparison to other countries; the snarky, know-it-all teenager that has no impulse control and serious issues with needing attention. I know that many of the casualties of our wars have been innocent people that did not deserve the kind of pain and suffering they received [Does anyone really deserve it?]. I just never connected the dots between thinking about each person as an individual and thinking of the citizens of those countries as a whole. How the people whose countries we are fighting in may not see us the way people in other industrialized countries see us, or as religious fundamentalists do. Instead of seeing the snarky teen or the evil infidels that need to die in the name of Allah, what they see may be more akin to a Nazi with stars on their sleeve.

I've grown to live with the annoyance of being seen as part of a culture that represents itself as the vapid teenager of the world. I'm even able to deal with religious extremists that think we should die for believing and acting differently from the ways that their ancient texts say we should act. This new view, though, that I am part of a culture that is also seen as I was raised to see the government and soldiers in Nazi Germany... I don't really know how to process this. Is this shame? Is this anger? Simply frustration? Perhaps all of these and more, I'm honestly not sure.

My views of my fellow soldiers and Americans has not really changed. I still know that people are mostly good. I still know and believe that I am lucky to be living in a country as wonderful as America, despite what all of the political nutjobs (civilians as well as politicians) want us to believe during election years. I do not believe our government is inherently evil and out to destroy the country for money. I believe most politicians get into politics because they honestly want to help people; and that a mixture of power, ignorance, and greed can lead them astray. Those that do not succumb to these things, are not just bad people, but people with their hearts in the right place being directed by misguided personal beliefs and moral misconceptions.  I'm just not sure what it is I'm feeling with this new perspective: We are seen by others the same way we were shown the Nazis and the Nazis were seen by many good people the same way our country sees our own soldiers.

As a soldier, I was never placed into a situation where I would have been asked or forced to commit any act that I felt was immoral. My actions as a soldier representing my country were always honorable. I did some stupid stuff, and I made some bad choices. None of then, however, were in the line of duty nor did they bring any kind of attention to my country or uniform. Just leftover teen angst and narcissistic self loathing still hanging around from my teens.

I was still a soldier, though. When we think of the Nazi soldiers and how horrible they were, do we think about those that were placed in areas where they never had to fire a weapon or do anything other than sit around waiting for orders? Do we think, "Well, that soldier wasn't one of the bad ones"? No, they were a soldier in the Nazi army, so they deserve the same amount of contempt as every other anonymous Nazi soldier.

So how does one help to eliminate this kind of view of himself and his country? Where could the solution to something like this be hiding? In a Catch-22 of Politics. It always comes back to politics, and politics are the very reason we are seen this way in the first place. With a government bent on being the Alpha Dog in the eyes of the governments of all other countries (which many of those countries hold the same view of themselves), we have instilled in our citizens the need to be the center of attention. Not a very good quality to have, as it has made us one of the most vain countries on the planet. I am no exception to this.

My intentions were not to write a political blog, and most definitely not to support or imply that I am anything other than a Centrist when it comes to politics; but this cartoon has taken my train of thought from a new view of myself, to political thoughts about how I can help change this stigma. With that being said, I'm going to briefly mention one of the GOP nominees from earlier this year: Ron Paul. I would not vote for him, nor will I ever vote for his son, because I think they are insane and unqualified for any political office. Ron did, however, have a few key points that I agreed with and one in particular that I feel applies to this topic (just not to the misguided extremes to which he talks about). That is staying out of the affairs of other countries. Plain, simple, and correct. I believe there are times to get involved, so long as money is not the reason. Anything that threatens our freedoms, for example. A war with an ally that is clearly going to spread into other countries and eventually our own; like with Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Nazi Germany, etc. Any other reasons for being involved are more than likely about power, and not about the welfare of the citizens of any country involved.

This ideal is a good one. Stay out of things that do not concern or affect us, and stop being an attention whore. However, this is where I stop agreeing with Dr. Paul, and it is the last I'm mentioning of him in this entry. I do not want my thoughts getting lost in a sea of political bullshit.

So how does a country that has been hogging so much of the spotlight for so long, just walk away from it? Do we pull a Greta Garbo and say, "I want to be alone"? Do we just say, "Sorry about being a dick for so many years. We promise to be nicer from now on"? Or do we just say, "I'm out" and drop the mic like a boss? Even more important than that, though, is whether or not we can step back without any negative repercussions from countries that we may have pissed off over the years.

Unfortunately, before we can make any drastic political changes like this, we must instill in our children/citizens the need to be informed above the need to be famous and/or popular. We need to teach/remind everyone how to think instead of what to think, so that we can improve the system in which we educate one another. It isn't enough to vote when the people that should be in charge are not eligible to run for office because of the experiences of their childhood that helped shape them into someone with the understanding needed to hold that political office in the first place. We need to teach the importance of making decisions and forming serious opinions using reason, logic, and thinking of everyone affected in place of using emotion and selfish personal beliefs. While we still have political parties that strive to separate our nation to the point that even talking about politics is considered a social taboo, rather than having qualified representatives working together [with and for the people] to make life better for everyone, voting will not be enough. We need a new standard in what qualifies someone to hold political office; and it needs to start with removing the idea that no one can do it better than a rich white man. Being a lawyer, a doctor, successful business man, or any other profession that is common among politicians is not enough. Yes, being in any of those positions will help with being able to speak well and/or argue any opinion you may have as it relates to the topic at hand. They have traits that make them great at telling people what they want to hear in order to get their support. These are all great traits to have in a politician, but what about these professions implies that they are actually qualified to speak so confidentially about anything outside of their profession? How does a business man, OBGYN, or Intellectual Property lawyer become an expert in global economics, international relations, or military strategies if they have never been a global economist, studied international political policies, or been a military strategist? We can find similarities in the thought processes of each of these, but why are we choosing people with jobs that have a McDonald's version of the experience needed in place of people that are actual experts in those fields? Why vote for Dane Cook when we could have Louis CK?

This is the loop that my sleep deprived, caffeine crashing brain has been trapped in today, all because of one tiny sentence in one goddamn political cartoon someone shared with me on Facebook.

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