The following account is from the mother of a young man who joined the
Marines in 2006 and quickly got a rude awakening.
Christopher is home now. He got an early separation for failure
to adapt to military life. I am so proud of him for standing up
for what he believed and for his courage to recognize his mistake
quickly. His experience is pretty interesting. I am trying to
get him to write it down but right now he is just enjoying being
home and in the throes of looking for a job. While I can’t
do his story justice, I will share some things he told me that
I found to be particularly disturbing.
Chris said it didn’t take long for him to know he was in
the wrong place. He is a serious history buff and has been watching
the History Channel since he was in elementary school. A few days
into boot camp he attended a history class. The instructor asked
the platoon, “How many of you in here hate history?”
The entire platoon — with the exception of two, my son and
another young man — raised their hands. “That’s
probably because you were taught history by some liberal hippie.
Here is the real story.” Chris said what followed was a
one-sided view of history that could only be defined as propaganda.
The scary part was that many of these young Marines bought into
this view of history that included skewed numbers of battle casualties
— e.g., we killed 4,000 and only lost four of our guys.
The second rude awakening was the class on rules of engagement
for land warfare. The Geneva Convention was discussed; however,
the overall message was that its rules could be broken as long
as one didn’t get caught. Chris said the instructor actually
said, “Now, you are supposed to provide medical care to
an enemy soldier who is down. But if they are bleeding, there
is nothing wrong with applying more force than you need to stop
their bleeding.” My son was appalled by this since it seemed
especially cruel. He won’t go into details but he did say
it only got worse. In addition to the classes, Chris was stunned
by the fact that “Kill, kill, kill” is used both as
a chant during PT and as a “motivational statement.”
They also chanted “Slap that bitch” and “We’re
going over to get us some!” My son was struck by the prevalence
of sexism and homophobia and saw how it is connected to the horrible
behavior of some of our service men.
Chris was also sickened by having to force other Marines to endure
“Water It.” As a punishment recruits are ordered to
drink water until they throw up; they must continue to drink until
they are finally allowed to stop by their drill instructor (DI).
Other recruits are ordered to continue bringing water even if
the recruit drinking is throwing up. It seems to be a particularly
dangerous and cruel practice.
There were many other experiences that violated my son’s
values. When they placed a bayonet in his hand and urged him to
visualize slicing open the guts of the enemy, he realized he was
a conscientious objector and could not find a single reason that
would justify doing this to another human being.
Chris went to his DI and explained his concerns. He was laughed
at, mashed, and sent back. He decided he would do whatever it
would take to get out. He mustered all his courage and stopped
obeying orders. He peacefully and quietly held his ground even
when five DIs were yelling in his face. His standoff lasted about
two days. The only time he almost gave in was when they threatened
to mash his entire platoon. He is a kind, loyal and community-oriented
man so this was almost more than he could bear.
The DI persuaded him to at least do PT and promised him that
they would then send him to talk to someone about a discharge.
He later overheard a conversation and discovered they were stringing
him along. He decided he needed to do something pretty dramatic
to show them he was serious, so during PT he made a run for it.
(He had the highest PT score in the company and the fastest running
time.) He had no idea where he was going but at that moment it
didn’t matter to him. He was chased by a DI in a golf cart
who threatened to tackle him or run him over. He then met with
an officer who took a softer approach and encouraged him to keep
an open mind and train for ten more days. At the end of that time,
if he still wanted out they would let him go. Chris honored his
end of the agreement. He kept an open mind and put everything
he had into it. He trained so well that they considered making
him squad leader again, which is quite unusual given his previous
insubordination. (He was previously fired as squad leader because
he used the word “please” to address his squad. The
squad leader who punched another recruit in the mouth kept his
Chris wrote me and told me that he believed he could not be a
good Marine because it would require him to not think or feel
and to do things that rocked his conscience. After the ninth day
he knew he could not continue. He asked his DI if he could become
a non-combatant and was laughed at.
At his next meeting with the officer he was honest and told him
he could not in good conscience do what was required of him. The
officer broke his word, blew him off and sent him back to his
platoon. But Chris was determined. One of his DIs pulled him aside
and inquired about the meeting he had with the officer. Chris
told him what happened and that he would stop at nothing, including
a hunger strike, to get out. The DI told Chris he was contaminating
the rest of the platoon with his conscientious objector crap.
(Chris is articulate and charismatic and while voicing his concerns
was apparently resonating with others. Two more recruits from
his platoon left after he did.)
The DI told Chris to go to sick hall, admit to being depressed
and to somehow let it slip that he was desperate enough to do
something on the rifle range. Chris felt this was pretty ironic
since he had been saying for two weeks that the reason he wanted
out was that he couldn’t in good conscience harm anyone.
Nevertheless, Chris said the key phrase and was immediately processed
out. He is home now.
His hair is much shorter and his arms quite a bit bigger from
all those push-ups. But more importantly, he has a new focus.
He plans to go back to school and is still considering politics.
I asked him what he would do if his discharge ever became an issue.
He told me this: “I will tell them the truth. I was young
and enlisted for something that at the time I thought I could
do. I realized that in good conscience I could not do what was
required of me. As soon as this came to my awareness I did everything
I needed to do to act on my values and follow my conscience. It
would have been easier to stay in, to follow along, to stop thinking
or feeling, but I had to stand up for what I believe in. I told
them the truth and when the truth didn’t work, I played
by their rules to get out.”
This story shows the essence of boot camp, from the dehumanization
and physical brutality meant to create obedient soldiers, to the
threats and lies used to induce cooperation and conformity. Not
all young recruits can withstand the overwhelming pressure, so
many remain in the military despite strong objections and serious
reasons for discharge.
Military counseling, especially when combined with aggressive
representation, can force recruit commanders to initiate the discharge
process and take some of the pressure off the recruits during
the process. Readers who become aware of recruits seeking discharge
are encouraged to contact the GI Rights Hotline at 800-394-9544
or the Military Law Task Force at 415-566-3732 or 619-233-1701.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)