Saturday, May 28, 2016

CRAIG EDWARD KELSO, Support the War, Not the Troops

 … sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is … step back, … but step back too far, and you ain’t fightin’ at all. 

F.X. Toole, Rope Burns

At some point we give up. One must compromise, make way, and yield to the flow of societal mores.  
Give in.  

This MUST happen.


And so here we are. 

There isn’t any space in our mind for the only tenable political position, the only philosophical worldview worth holding, liberty. This would be an UN hyphenated liberty. 

Unqualified. Undiluted. Liberty complete. No place at all for this idea anymore.

Instead, we vote. 

We believe in hope, change, and jingoisms we’d eye-rollingly dismiss if they were used to sell us a bar of soap – the Black Eyed Peas are idiots. We ask not to be tread upon, and we rail against federal encroachments, all the while blustering and flag waving for the government’s greatest oppressive instruments, law enforcement and the military, to expand unceasingly. 

Instead, we blink and it’s a DECADE in Afghanistan. After a quick exhale, we’re twenty years in Iraq. Turn around, and all the phony-bologna wealth we knew we were not accumulating honestly is gone.  POOF. Adult, human-scale considerations don’t even compute in our heads anymore. One government for 300 million people is in-fucking-sane. Nuts.

Persist we do. We’ve married the madness in the nation’s eyes.

During the summer of 2001, a fateful couple of months as it turned out, I taught an American Literature course. Students in that class needed the credit in order to graduate the next year. All of them failed during their junior year. I was gatekeeper to the vaunted diploma. I was given complete reign over the course curriculum in a rare display of bureaucratic hands-off-ness; the administration chilled that summer and let me do what I wanted.

I did.

I plunged students into controversies. Religious mania. Misogyny. The madness of crowds. Market interventionism. Etcetera. The theme I developed and ultimately settled upon was an orientation to state power, and its vast, vast resources with which to intervene in their lives. I used the theme as a Rorschach test to ferret out their individual personalities.

At the bigness, the sheer grandiosity of a nation-state’s power, the majority of the pupils gushed. They LOVED the Machiavellian machinery. Basically oozed over all the cop-pery and police-ness. 

Maybe I could wield the ship in MY direction, I could see them thinking, dreaming, hoping. 

A decidedly smaller number shuddered at the enormity of it all. They seemed predisposed to offer mild skepticism at the state’s presumption, its fatal conceit to knowledge. They hadn’t yet the intellectual tools nor the life experience to put it together, but somewhere inside them lay decent impulses to resist majority rule, to resist the false god of democracy.    

The classroom dynamic made for fruitful discussion and exposure to radically differing views.

Watching reactionary nudniks come unhinged by a comment here or there was particularly satisfying. Opinions were solidifying. Positions taken. Stands made. Chaos.

When I am on, I thrive in this space. Always have.

And that psycho-emotional anarchic discomfort is RIGHT where learning begins. Yep. Example? Take an otherwise well-performing mathematics student, one who kills on paper, and ask her to compute on the fly, sans instrumentation, a simple taking of 20 percent off her favorite piece of clothing, and give a crazy price of $14.59 at the start. WATCH the terror in her eyes. Hahahahaha. I’ve done it to CALCULUS students, ones who swore they knew their shit, … but their faces betrayed confidence once the real world was introduced. 

I’d say something like, Hey, you have ten shekels, DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH to buy the skirt? 

Many a face turned ashen at the challenge.

But she’ll never forget the lesson.

That same summer a student sought me out during lunch. If, he surmised, the state has the right to do X, does this give it the right to do Y? 

I gave him another example, and I asked him his own question. Wheels turned, gears rubbed. Hmmmm, I want to join the Marines, he announced suddenly. Now it was ME who turned white. Real world like a motherfucker!

Okay, I instructed him, hold it. Present this to me live tomorrow. Bring everything you can with you. All of it: Jarhead brochures, promises, etc. Spare nothing. We’ll discuss it as a class.  

He did.

He was a Latino male student, swayed by La Raza goofiness, Chicano-this and Chicano-that, and susceptible to racial collectivism, tribal pap. 

In short, a PERFECT candidate for military service. 

All the elements were there, transferable personality traits used by humanity for thousands of years, for the worse. Hundreds of millions of dead bodies litter where his ilk have set up shop, and it is now the Zeitgeist of his generation as well, I’m afraid.


Yeah. Dude was in full dress blues, and nothing gives chills to the young more than that Semper Fi gown. Oh boy. He too was Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Mexican, and/or whatever else he wanted to be identified as. I could never keep up with all the fads. Fuck, who are YOU?  is what I’d frustratingly ask after the inevitable reveal of ethnic resume. So many masks to hide the truth of who YOU are. 

Anyway, I pulled dude aside.  

Uh, look, I implored, I am NOT going to allow you in the room. 

His jaw dropped.  

You’re going to have your crack at them for the rest of their lives. Just ONCE I want them to conduct disputation in undiluted form. I’ll lose, dude, I always do to you guys. My way is fraught with ups and downs, and I guarantee nothing. No safety net. You haven’t any competition, nothing to worry about

Like a good soldier, he couldn’t muster much of a fight in which he wasn’t given a prior head’s up. Level playing fields were never their thing. Plus, he was a nice guy. He deferred, apologized, and kicked rocks. Small victory.

Returning to the class, I smiled. Students burst out laughing. You scared him! they heckled. One girl laughingly announced, You’re ferocious. Hahahaha. I guess they overheard my not-so-generous unwelcoming of our uninvited guest. Punks.

Back to business.

The student claimed aloud to have ALREADY signed with the Corps. Jumped over the stick. Committed. Done. Moot. 


Composure regained, I pressed on.

Give us your pitch, kid, I instructed. Bravely, defiantly the student walked to the room’s large Sony television, and proceeded to regale the class with a super-edited, over-produced DVD of forged steel swinging, bald-headed badasses conquering the known universe. 

Out of helicopters, down ropes, stomping through bushes. Amplified guitars chugged low chords, fast-moving drum-fills thumped, thumped their way into our patriotic hearts. YES. Caught a couple of my babies swaying to the beat. Ugh. Many times while students watched a movie or segment I showed, I’d watch them watching. Fascinating. Transfixed they are, we all are, by flickering imagery. Add chunky metal-infused axes, and, BOOM, whatever message conveyed finds its footing deep, deep inside us. Powerful.

He then gave economic incentives offered by The Few, The Proud. 

This proved VERY persuading to kids who have only known a wandering kind of wealth.

Money comes from the government, right? THAT must be where MY fortune is! Easy to understand. This student bought all of it, hook, line, and bullet-absorbing sinker. This wasn’t an intellectual exercise, a rote regurgitation of facts and dates. This was real. This was an article of faith for him and his peers. The way to be accepted, to be bona fide, was through government dress, government association, government pay, and government careerism. 

It’s all they’ve ever known, and what little exposure to the market they’ve had had been rather unkind, unforgiving. Business and commerce was besmirched for as long as they could remember in movies (the businessperson is always the villain), novels (if they’d bothered to read any, they’d find a similar plot line to that of motion pictures), and, of course, in their state-controlled educational texts (good lord it is awful). Anything outside government is bad, wrong, or illegitimate. They knew nothing else. And all counter claims were obviously from a flat-Earth-er, a charlatan. No debate needed. Solved.

My turn.

Cleared my throat. Laughter. Wry grin.  

I support the war, not the troops, I said.

Puzzled looks, puppy head-like turns. Scooby grunts. Huh?

Repeated the statement. Scribbled it on the board. Homework that night was to diagram the sentence. It was an English class, after all. Analyze the hell out of that, I instructed. See you tomorrow.(I was one of the few teachers to insist on grammar structure and the pedantic foundations a good rule breaker MUST have before she can officially break the rules.)

Our next meeting filled with ideas, intellectual ruminations the like I would not again visit with a class for some years.

Students presented on what they believed I meant by the slogan. Some assumed I was purposefully trying to be outlandish in a teacherly way, hoping to inspire them. Other students quarreled with the statement’s cavalier treatment of the men and women who sacrificed for the betterment of the country.

In rather dramatic fashion a final student arose. He moved to the front of the class. He spoke in fragments at times. He didn’t introduce the topic, giving it the going-over most students did by rehashing all that’s already been said. He jumped right in. He confidently referred to himself in the first person. Though I do not trust my recollections so many years later, here is more or less what I remember him saying:

What I give my aid and assistance to shows how I feel. Words are easy. Actions tell you who I am, what I am about.

He returned to his seat. 


Those who support the endless wars on terror, the war on at least two fronts, are morally consistent, I’ve found. Country, a mostly benevolent actor, is protecting its interests. Troops are the lifeblood of protecting those interests. Troops and war go hand in hand. The soft-sell of claiming a person can support the troops and not the war is a logical absurdity. The troops ARE the war. No troops, no war. Feeding troops, clothing them, tending to their concerns is practical support for the war, the conflict, and the government’s policy.

(The cumulative effect of the choices I make determine who I am. It all adds up. This is particularly true as an aggregate. And it works in frustratingly tragic ways in my own life. Though I might FEEL I am this or that kind of person, my ACTIONS, my deeds, prove otherwise. Yep.)  

It was time for me to bring home the point.

Mass murder has moral implications.

ONE AND A HALF MILLION PEOPLE dead, missing, or injured is not a glorious or noble event though it was to supposedly “free the slaves” during the Civil War, for example. Horseshit.

TWO MILLION VIETNAMESE slaughtered, and a niggardly, by comparison, 40,000 American casualties is obnoxiously pompous to believe led to the freeing of Southeast Asia. Balderdash.

The Greatest Generation (WWII), swing dancing and bee-bopping to Glenn Miller, and in the process hacking down something on the order of TWENTY MILLION humans, introducing the world to nuclear warfare, and ushering in the Cold War (which itself brought untold deaths and destruction) isn’t a particularly honorable endeavor. Bob Hope was an asshole.

And THESE WARS, these wars we refuse to reject and stand up to, are particularly troubling. 

The most difficult position to take in ones own lifetime is to oppose military action in ones own lifetime. 

The hardest thing to do is tell someone you’re close to, NO, you’re wrong. Your patriotism IS the problem. YOUR service is the problem. 

Very difficult to summon that courage. 

I’ve faced down some good people, men who derive their entire self-conception from ribbons they’ve earned as veterans of foreign wars, from battalions and campaigns they’ve struggled through, and they always angrily insist I give homage to their band of brothers. 

No. You should have resisted. You should have rejected the uniform and the government’s gun. I am culpable for paying taxes. You’re culpable for pulling the trigger. I was forced to pay. You volunteered to kill.     

Following that summer school session, the United States was attacked, of course. Kids brought me shirts the local ASB was pushing teachers to wear, a slobberingly snide flag shirt. United We Stand on the back. The look, the tortured look of confusion on the student’s face when I refused to purchase one was hard to take. 

I let her down softly, claiming not to have the money.  

Take one anyway, pay me later, she whined. No, I answered. 

She was transformed from an over-achieving student (always the most annoying social climbers) into a governmental proselytizing monster. Chick hounded me for, like, DAYS. Finally had to tell her I was TOTALLY against the sentiment, notion, and what I knew was coming in the form of invasion of some god-forsaken, backward-ass country. 

She was a true believer. As always, I was the heretic.          

A few years later, I received a cryptic email from a foreign server, a dot suffix I couldn’t place. I took a chance and opened the message. 

The student from that summer class, the one who joined the Marines, was humping a weapon in the hot, hot heat, it turns out, hunting down desert maniacs. He was scared. He was remorseful. He hadn’t any idea WHY he was flinging bullets into villages, nor why his Marine company was providing logistics to have air support drop bombs to bounce rubble – literally, million-dollar munitions were breaking rocks! He wrote of how desperately poor these people were. He wrote about how sad eyes of the women were when his band of soldiers passed through after an onslaught – their husbands and children killed, maimed, hobbled.

I replied to him. I hoped he would survive in physical form, staying alive. But I also wished he’d come home emotionally sober, eschewing the rest of his military career.

I support the war, I typed, not the troops.

And I mean it.

Bourne, THE STATE 

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