Twenty years ago today I got off a bus in San Diego. A U.S. Marine drill instructor yelled at me and about 70 other young men to get off HIS bus and get on HIS yellow footprints. It was my first day of bootcamp and I became another addition to the number of troops that allows the U.S. state department to flex its muscle and our interests against other countries around the globe.
My motivation for joining the Marine Corps was not because of some romanticized notion of serving our country or some willingness to sacrifice myself for the cause of freedom and democracy. There are very few who do.
I can tell you from first hand knowledge of having worked at a recruiting station headquarters there are very few who join for those reasons. In fact, more often than not the kids who join have either exhausted their options, are hoping to learn a skill/trade, get money for college or all of the above.
Rare, if ever, is there a kid of a congressman or senator being trained to be a ground pounder, trigger puller assigned to an infantry platoon. I still contend that if the Bush twins or President Obama’s daughters were in an infantry platoon our country would not be at war.
One Sunday when I was in bootcamp and was training in the field for a few weeks we had a Naval Chaplain come and deliver a sermon to those of us who attended chapel. He had been Marine reconnaissance before being called to the priesthood. He wasn’t your typical meek and mild priest. He was tall, big and muscled with character lines in his face of someone who had spent time in rugged space. Yet his voice was calm and measured and humble. I remember something he said that has stuck with me all these years. If I remember correctly it was the benediction and it went something like “may we see the day when our jobs as military members are no longer needed and the world is at peace.”
After my first duty station I was sent to Marine Corps Recruiting Station Houston HQ. One afternoon I was with a gunnery sergeant in his office and he was lamenting his numbers and how he felt he and his crew were going to come up short on the number of bodies to join the Corps. He said something similar to what the chaplain said. He said something like, “you know you’d have to be crazy to want to join an organization whose sole purpose is to go to war… where you will be sent to a far off land and people will shoot at you. You’d have to be crazy. I pray every night that someday soon I’m out of a job.”
I’m proud of my time in the Marine Corps. I loved being a U.S. Marine and came to believe that being one more member in our military was a positive for our country. I think the concept that “sometimes to maintain peace, you must prepare for war.” is accurate. But I’ve come to believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Certainly it can change.
I probably should have done this a long time ago. But because of the responsibilities I have I can’t be on the front lines of protests and activism but at the very least, certainly I can provide funding for an organization that will.
So on the 20th anniversary of my first day of bootcamp… the day I started to learn how to be, for all intents and purposes a killer, I have joined an organization whose purpose is peace.
I have joined Veterans for Peace.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.