Last night, I was on a plane from Boston to Charlotte with fifteen kids on their way to Parris Island. I noticed them at first because a boy and girl were sitting next to me in the airport and the girl was just being so obnoxious–obviously flirting with the boy while assuring him that his girl would definitely wait for him while he was a half a world away.
They were so young that, at first, I couldn’t understand what I was looking at. Half a world away. Waiting. Girlfriend. College kids on their way to study abroad? No, they’d be freshman at best. A church group? But they didn’t all seem to know each other.
And then one of them mentioned Parris Island and I couldn’t look at them any more. I wanted to grab the older guy who seemed to be responsible for carrying most of their paperwork and demand an explanation from him. Who would encourage kids at this historical moment to become Marines? What kind of heartless fucker?
On the plane, I sat net to a kid, who, bless his heart, was as dumb as a box of rocks. He is going to be a rifleman. In front of us were two kids, one of whom had never been on a plane before, the other who seemed to have a good grasp of what awaits them. He kept looking at me and I tried to look supportive. After all, they’ve done a brave thing–enlisting in the Marines during a war.
Behind me were a boy and girl. The boy was talking about how he joined because he had $12,000 worth of driving infractions and this was a way to get out of it.
We couldn’t get into our gate at Charlotte because of a storm and so we sat on the runway with these kids, most of whom were hungry, many of whom were a little mad that the others seemed to have more of a clue what was going on than they did.
All of them were poor. Many of them had no idea where Charlotte is or where South Carolina is. A few of them had dropped out of school a couple of times and gone back and finally gotten a diploma. They all seemed to know a bunch of people who were already in the military.
They were so young. So, so very young.
I know a stint in the military can provide kids with a leg up, a way out, a future they wouldn’t otherwise have. And I know it can instill self-discipline and a sense of purpose in folks who don’t always have it.
But that dumbass kid next to me, he’s joining the military to get shot at. He says he’ll shoot at all Iraqis over the age of five. Of course, that’s bravado. It’s easy enough to talk about killing a seven year old kid, entirely another matter to do it.
All of these kids had airs of desperation around them. That’s what made me heartsick. Even knowing they were going to Iraq, this was the best option they felt they had.
America, is this the best we can do?
I’m so tired of talking about the war in Iraq like it’s just a matter of us staying there long enough to keep the country from descending into civil war, when really it’s a matter of asking whether what we’re doing in Iraq is worth the cost to us. Are we really prepared to send these kids to their deaths over Iraq?
I guess we are. In that case, how could I look any of them in the face?