Edd Merritt, Contributing Editor
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
~ Bob Dylan, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
Apparently, we feel it behooves us as a society to start at an early age to embrace a military bent to our culture. I didn’t think much of it when I was young and even when I was in the Navy. All I wanted to do was get it over with, and I joined my shipmates dumping garbage off the fantail of our carrier into the Gulf of Tonkin while getting teary eyed as Hanoi Hanna played Scott McKenzie singing, “For those who come to San Francisco…” That was us to be, man. “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” We couldn’t wait to meet the gentle people there, to let our hair grow, to wear something besides white hats, to sleep in something besides a three-tiered bunk. We wanted our war to be over. We tried to ignore the bombs our pilots dropped on humans that they knew nothing about as individuals. The military minds picked out the enemy, our pilots dumped bombs on them, and I kept personnel folders of our flyers who lost their lives.
The information in the folders served the Navy as their last remains. There were at least 12 of them off my ship in the year and a half in which I was part of Operation Rolling Thunder and the Tet offensive. As a yeoman in the air intelligence office, I got to know several of these 12 quite well. We seldom talked about their feelings on flying their missions. Bombing was a job. Over a beer afterwards, they called them games. Many of them had been athletes in college and became pilots because it seemed to carry a similar mind set. Their flight suits were their football uniforms. The sports analogy made it more palatable for them, and you only had to attend any sporting event, even now, to know it is part of our culture.
When I was released from active duty, the Navy and I became blissfully ignorant of each other. My San Francisco became the East Village of New York where I got groovy and stood weekly in the unemployment line with the likes of Dustin Hoffman.
I turned into a hypocrite, however, when it came time for graduate school and gladly contributed to my tuition through the GI Bill, not connecting its origins with my anti-war sentiments. In America’s eyes national service and military service were, and are, one and the same.
Let me move forward now to recent issues that have made me think how “military being” has permeated world society. It started when I read that the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, at age 15 had been an active member of the high school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, a military program sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces in high schools.
So, at 15 years old we start to train young people in the ways of war. This training, created as part of the National Defense Act in 1916, claims to teach its students a set of values and a sense of accomplishment that do not appear to be strictly military. The Department of the Army says JROTC is designed “to develop citizenship and patriotism” and “to increase a respect for the role of the U.S. Armed Forces in support of national objectives.”
What is even more unnerving is that we have conveyed our belief in the glamour of the military to young kids by dressing them in military garb at the tender age of six, as seen in a photo accompanying a recent news article.
Six years old, believing soldier-hood was an ultimate way to live. Had he been led to believe that it was honorable to join a work force whose job is to kill other people? Maybe he thought it was similar to a band uniform. Did he wish he had a gun in his hands, too? I have not a clue. But our society places the military mind in a central role. In a New York Times column David Brooks said that “faith in democratic regimes is declining,” and “one in six Americans of all ages support military rule.”
Maybe it is more than just an attribute of earthlings. Maybe it extends into the whole of the universe, the eye of space, when who or whatever created our solar system brought us to this planet because we could not exist in peace elsewhere in the cosmos—war being part of humanity’s nature.
I simply wish that what we choose to emphasize in our lives and culture did not carry such a warlike orientation. Humanity killing humanity should not be the basis for our existence, and we should not continuously symbolize it through a military presence. Get rid of guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children. (We prefer “have-a-heart traps” at our house.)
There may be hope for us, however, as seen through the display by our current youth and their goal of eliminating unnecessary weapons. Whether they are the youth depicted in Arthur C. Clark’s science fiction classic, Childhood’s End, who draw from the “Overmind” to become a collective consciousness, but in doing so destroy the earth, or are the seeds of our planet’s future, is impossible for us to say. I hope for the latter.