On March 20th nearly 400 people rallied in the streets near downtown Ames as part of a demonstration sponsored by a number of groups of local, statewide and national scope to mark the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The participants and their sponsoring organizations gathered to call for an end to the Iraq war, to speak out against a war with Iran, and to work for a future of peace in the Ames community and globally. Bobby Hunter, a member of the Ames High School Progressives Club, delivered the following address to rally participants after they had marched to the Ames city auditorium.
Hi, my name is Bobby Hunter. I go to Ames High, and I’m here on behalf of the Ames High Progressive Club. First, I just wanted to thank everybody for coming out tonight, because this is the only way to make things happen.
So, I could talk for a long time about why I hate war and all of that, but I’d probably repeat what we all know already. I want to talk to you as a teenager, as somebody from the so-called “9/11 generation.”
We’ve been labeled as such because the political worldview of most people my age is inseparable from that attack and the nationalistic, us vs. them sentiment that it spawned. The War on Terror -whatever that really means- has become a dominant force in our perception of the world. To many of us, foreign policy has become nearly synonymous with American heroes fighting bad guys, because, of course, we’ll be safer when they’re dead. Patriotism, too, has suffered; now it means we must have unending support for American exploits, because we don’t want to be traitors. I know that sounds like a vast simplification of what’s going on, but it’s how we’ve been taught to think.
The worst part is, this isn’t a new trend. Allow me to read two excerpts from the diary of Sheila Allen, who served in World War II for Singapore when she was 17, my age. “Thoughts revolved inside my head – how best to serve my country. There was a time I had envied other girls in the services and wished I was one of them. Now here was my chance to do my duty. Suddenly I felt brave and excited at the prospect of having to fight.”
Then later, after she had seen combat, she wrote: “No matter where we looked out eyes rested on dead bodies, dying people – men, women, and children, and so many of them with horrific injuries… I can’t find the right words to convey the pitiful sight of this human life ebbing away; of the useless loss of life; of the young children crying either in pain, fear, or loss; of the agony some of them must have felt and are still suffering. What a tragedy.”
Imagine my reaction, not a week after I first read that, when I saw a representative from the Marines set up a recruiting table in the front lobby of Ames High. There were posters reading “The Few, The Proud,” and pictures of handsome men looking strong and masculine in their spotless blue uniforms. A laptop was lying on the table with rock music playing and video clips of marines doing exciting-looking things.
I had just watched The Ground Truth, so I asked the representative about what sort of care returning veterans with PTSD receive. He looked at me and said with a straight face that in all his years in the service he had never met anyone with PTSD, and thought that the problem was overblown.
It can be hard to step back and really evaluate things when you’ve been surrounded by them all of your life, but this time it came across very clearly. The United States military is a business and, like any other business, they’re always looking for new buyers. And where better to look than a high school filled with teenagers who want to do something exciting with their lives? Well, it works because war is no longer a dirty word for our youth. In fact, to a lot of people, it’s almost like a game.
In history, we learn about how we haven’t fought a war at home since the 1860′s, and besides Vietnam and Iraq, we’ve been very successful. This leads to mass insulation from what it truly means to be at war, and evokes a dangerous nonchalance towards armed conflict. Tragically, it’s my generation that’s most intimately affected by this neatly packaged warmaking. We don’t like to admit it, but we are impressionable.
As a young person, it’s difficult for me to find the proper balance between giving our soldiers the respect they deserve, and maintaining a healthy contempt towards America’s militaristic practices. But it is an important balance to find, because too many of my peers buy into romanticized images of soldiers as the pinnacle of what a man or woman can become.
This is wrong, because we can’t create a superior America until we glorify peacemakers the way we glorify warriors; until we denounce war the way we denounce terrorism; until we treasure peace the way we treasure security.
It can happen, but it will take some substantial changes in the way we view the world. For much of America, it means creating an environment that encourages young people to question authority and to follow their conscience instead of their leaders’ demands. For my generation, it means realizing that we do have the power to stand up and say, “Hell, no. We don’t want any part of this madness.”