February 2, 2011
Future Westpoint Cadet and Other Related Military Axe-Grinding
Not a single female was to be found in my first semester history course.
Our class discussed this curious state of affairs extensively, and it was decided after much deliberation that another history course offered during the same block, Gender, Culture, and Power, had absorbed any females interested in learning about current affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia course. Do women find hardcore politics unappealing? I think that would be a gross generalization, but the better question is: Do men find gender studies emasculating?
In any case, one morning, my favorite history teacher who taught the class, started a conversation about the military in some capacity. As was her style, she often began the day with some relaxing banter before pulling out the academic big-guns. She was extremely quirky, and wore Navajo inspired prints paired with plaid shorts. At Christmas, she put antlers on the side-mirrors of her decades-old van, and a big red pompom on the front grill.
A jock sitting in the back corner of the room, his shoulders hunched and his elbows plying against one of several old wooden tables in the room, said that he had applied to Westpoint.
"Who do you think would be the least likely candidate for Westpoint of our class?" My teacher had a way of saying things with harmless abandon, without realizing the sociopolitical under-workings that she had set in gear.
Everyone either said my name, or another boys name (who, incidentally, came out to me a couple of weeks ago).
I thought that my jaw was going to shatter as tendons began to sprout from my neck. "I'd kick ass at Westpoint," I said loudly, only to have my affirmations chuckled away by my classmates as they gave me knowing glances and smirked at buddies across the room. "Oh, really?" The jock leered at me, his eyes lit up by my comedy.
This was extremely upsetting for me to endure. I'm by no means the strongest boy in my grade - I'm probably one of the weakest, skinniest ones - but that doesn't mean that I lack all of the qualities of a good soldier. I don't have plans to join the military any time soon, but I've always felt that there was so much more to being a soldier than just brawn. At least the recruitment commercials that the army broadcasts on television seem to espouse this message. They talk about building character and learning life lessons in the battlefield and brotherhood; there is no mention of how much of a man you have to be to 'belong' in the military. I have discipline, I am brave, I am resourceful and intelligent and I feel like I have proved this time and time again in ways that none of my classmates have. Why is it then, that I seem to be the least soldierly of the bunch?
The military is romanticized. We say that the military is about so much more than the visible muscle mass of our troops. Soldiers are good people as well. Soldiers are the cream of the masculine crop. They are supposed to both firm and gentle, defenders of the peace. I think that the fact that people laugh me out is proof enough that this is a myth. The military is a harsh place where, until recently, gay and lesbian soldiers were unable to serve openly. Female soldiers are raped, and our troops sometimes kill innocent people. During their free time, naval captains spend their time producing offensive videos for the supposed enjoyment of their morally upright troops. Our soldiers are the clean-up crew of democracy.
Granted, I think that soldiers should be respected for the fact that they do go and put themselves in danger on a regular basis because I sure wouldn't like to do that for a living. But I also think that many of the men who we respect are a lot more than the time they serve in the military. I think that they are great people in spite of their service, and the fact that they would enlist is proof of that. I don't think that their character is directly related to participation in the military, or the values of the military itself.
By the same token, I think that it is inconsistent that people who believe in moralizing militaristic ideals think that people like me are completely incapable of serving in the military. It goes to show that they are hypocrites who use a myth to obscure their own bigotry as they see fit. If soldiers are made by their exercise regiment, then the cut of a man and the military are two entirely separate entities.