Veteran’s Day came and went with an obligatory nod and salute from the embedded mass media to the dead and maimed. Unnoticed, or maybe just unmentioned is what motivates a boy to take up life with a rifle in the midst of a conflagration like Iraq. Love of country, educational opportunity, and the chance for a career in law enforcement just don’t seem enough to justify a decision to enlist.
I had to answer to my mother when I joined–my father expressed no reservations–but I had an excuse: in 1965, it was sign up or get drafted. Today’s recruit has to defy his mother to join. Or not. Cindy Sheehan recounts her misgivings when her son announced that he was joining the National Guard after 9/11. There was no war at the time, and maybe she was justified in her acquiescence, and her son was a grown-up man. Still, despite all that, she regrets how pliable she was. Everybody says what a good kid Casey Sheehan was, and he probably had his mother wrapped around his little finger, but she thinks she was weak to let him enlist.
I hear and read the stories of the kids who joined after Casey Sheehan’s death, knowing they would be in combat, and the weak or absent mother seems to be a common thread. Too many of them either have no mother at all or a mother who was too busy with other things to notice that her kid was training for a career as a killer. In place of the mothers they don’t have, the Army gives these kids brothers, devoted brothers who are committed to kill and die to preserve each others’ lives. Comradeship is everything, and it’s almost enough to fill the void created by a motherless home.
Neverland, Peter Pan, and the Island of Lost Boys were created by J. M. Barrie for the amusement of children, but that island reminds me in some ways of occupied Iraq. Barrie’s lost boys couldn’t attend to themselves properly, having no mothers, and yet they were adept swordsmen, engaged ever in the defense of their island against an armed enemy. The boys and girls that we’ve stranded in Iraq face the same challenges. They are lost because nobody’s looking for them. Mom’s dead. Dad’s drunk. Sis has a sick kid, and Brother’s out of work. Today’s typical recruit has a hard-luck story that’s better left untold, and the Island of Lost Boys puts it all behind.
That’s why the obligatory Veterans’ Day crap doesn’t honor our soldiers. They’re not willing patriots, but hapless victims, and they don’t even know it. The Army gives them nurturing when home and family don’t, and they’re prepared to kill and die for that privilege. It’s manipulation of the most brutal kind, employing fantasy and magical notions to assemble a lethal armed force. Maybe it’s time for the rest of us to put magical notions behind and end this insane adventure. Children can’t fly, and children, even unloved and unwanted children, can’t kill without consequence. Peter Pan is fiction, and so is the victory-shall-be-ours militarism of America’s leaders and media. Get real.