Archive | November 2006

I iz teh stoopid

I’m sure most have heard about the dubious comments made several days ago by former presidential candidate John Kerry involving a potential jab at military service members’ intellects.

While I’m not a big Kerry fan (couldn’t vote for him even against Bush), I looked in to things anyway. The official transcript of the speech lists the quote as:

“You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do
your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well… If
you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Kerry said it was meant to be a joke about how the president is uneducated and how his ignorance leads to things like the current Iraq situation. I can see that.

Bush and every Republican breathing said it was an outright assault on the mental competencies of the uniformed men and women of the United States. While it doesn’t seem THAT strong stated, I can see how it could be construed that way too.

Who’s right? Both are.

Machiavelli teaches us in “The Prince” that in politics, it’s not what you mean but how you are perceived. The best intentions under heaven don’t mean squat if people take it the wrong way.

So, Kerry, even if he did mean it as a joke against the president, made an outright assault on the metal competencies of the uniformed men and women of the United States…because the president told America that’s what he did.

The issue touched off a nerve with soldiers, especially. I heard a lot of talk about the Kerry comments from troops, usually just shaking their heads and cursing “liberals” and how evil they are. I noticed it, mainly because the soldiers I’m around never read or listen to the news. It’s the big joke for troops to come up to me and say “Hey PAO! What’s the news?…*ha ha ha*!” and then walk off. They get a gold star for remembering what I do.

I had been looking at writing a blog about military minds for a bit–not necessarily because of the perceived Kerry insult, but from a few factors that had played out in recent weeks.

Firstly, was the perceived Kerry insult right? Are soldiers stupid?

Brogonzo, a former troop of mine, wrote a blog about all this as well. Soldiers definitely aren’t known for their sharp wits and refined tastes. The defining features of most military towns are strip joints and pawn shops. T-shirts with slogans like “Just do me” or “Rock out with your cock out” are commonplace.

I’m constantly disheartened toward the number of troops who “don’t know nothin’ about history,” who don’t read, or how “Who is the Vice President?” is considered a valid promotion board question. While I get along and have a good time with my uniformed brothers and sisters, I don’t have to exercise too many mental muscles. Although just an average college student, it’s always a good laugh whenever Salmons uses one of his “big words,” ha ha ha! Too bad, really.

But aside from intellect, are soldiers “stupid” for joining? Is the military perceived as for those without opportunity in life? Should we admonish our kids to study hard or else get stuck in the Army?

That’s definitely what happened just a few years ago during the Vietnam conflict. For a good span, college kids were exempt from being drafted, leaving only the uneducated and poor to serve in uniform. The notion of study or fight was definitely the rule of the day.

When the country turned on the war and, subsequently, turned on the troops; people spat on and threw bottles at the poor and uneducated soldiers themselves in a sort of indirect disdain against members of an inferior station. It was easy to demonize the troops along with the government. Soldiers weren’t educated like many of the protesters (or rich, but that’s another issue), they were just baby killers and sell-outs to the Man.

That’s probably why the nerve Kerry touched was so sensitive. Having volunteered for service, soldiers were still trying to break out of the stigma that they were desperate.

Lord knows I was, though! Having moved to Grand Rapids after graduation and being stuck in the economic slowdown that followed even a year after 9-11, I found myself applying to places like Best Buy and Borders, bachelor’s degree in hand, wondering what I was supposed to do next. A couple of months into the search, I decided to head in to the service after the recruiters there had promised I’d be at the White House within a couple of years or working for Stars and Stripes. Whoops, that’s for another post…

But what about education? Are soldiers less intelligent than the privileged students Kerry was addressing? Are we just mindless killers?

The brass and military leadership would say “hell no” of course. They’d say we were the most educated and highly-trained force for humanitarian assistance the world has ever seen. They’d say we were sons and daughters of liberty, selflessly sacrificing our freedoms by serving in war to liberate whole people and nations.

The most educated? Really? But even those officers look at enlisted as brutes and simpletons.

There’s no shortage of classes enlisted personnel are ordered to take on equal opportunity, sexual harassment, laws of war, and the like. Great efforts exist to keep us from using profanity (including a direct order from our unit’s commanding general in Iraq that all who cussed would be prosecuted under USMJ), from raping women, being racist, or wantonly killing innocents.

Every Friday we are required to receive a safety briefing from our commander, telling us not to drink and drive, not to hit our wives or beat our children. That way, when Pvt. Jones DOES end up in jail after his second DUI or domestic violence incident, the command can wash their hands of it and not be affected. There are promotions to be had and books to be written after all; can’t have some uneducated soldier messing up someone’s career.

I can remember two incidents in my time in the Army where I was snidely told to butt out or leave a conversation with officers because I somehow wasn’t a part of the “degree club”. It was a joke for them, but left a lasting impression on me.

Once recruited and in the military, retention officers use abasing tactics to keep soldiers in. I’ve been approached dozens of times by retention guys, asking me to “re-up” (I show up as a “no” on their reports, which never looks good to the higher ups…thus the heckling).

When I politely say “no thanks” they come at me with all sorts of pitches: So what job do you have lined up after you get out? With what company? You think it will pay as much as all your benefits while you’re in the Army? How many kids do you have? You think you can provide for them? You think you have what it takes to make it out there? You honestly think you’ll manage? Name me another job that lets you get a pension after 20 years?

A lot of soldiers cave at the pressure, especially ones with families. Many were snatched up fresh out of high school and never had to find a job. Many of them never were on their own. They went from living with their parents to living with the government. Water is paid for, electricity is paid for…life is safer in the service.

The Army system uses fear to keep us in and, honestly, that’s a little insulting. Do I think I can “actually” make it out there? Wow, thanks for the encouragement.

So all the implications of what Kerry supposedly said turn out to have shades of truth to them. As insulting as they supposedly were, I wonder how many soldiers, after raging against the “evil liberal,” secretly hope their kids can get an education and stay out of uniform to avoid being stuck in Iraq too.

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