A few months ago, my boyfriend lost his job. While the prospect of searching for employment in Ann Arbor during the summer is so bleak as to make one question one’s innate value as a human being, we tried to stay calm. But after more than a month, the B.F. hadn’t any luck. Trust me, this guy gets more ironic enjoyment from daytime TV than anyone else I know, but sitting around alone feeling useless all day really sucks.
With no job, Boyfriend can’t save up cash to start chipping away at that double arts education/history degree in the fall. Judgment from his family as well as my frustration with our lack of financial stability made him feel like a freeloader, and although I don’t mind supporting him in tough times and know that he’d do the same for me, the pressure was really getting to both of us. Then, during one tearful, late-night conversation, he said, “I’m joining the Army.”
To me, this was true desperation; this was rock bottom. “Deal-breaker” doesn’t really begin to describe it. My grandfather peeled potatoes in the Canadian Army during World War II, but besides that, no one in my family has served for any nation in any war. I’ve always been taught that violence is wrong, that military life is a miserable existence — and for the pacifist liberals that make up my family, I don’t doubt that that’s true. War is bad, governments that lead their countries to war are worse and people who support or participate in such are ignorant and misguided or simply mean.
Although he agrees with me on most issues, Boyfriend’s background is different. In high school, he was hardcore into Army ROTC. He won prizes in drill competitions and delighted in behavior typical of the armed forces: learning how to use firearms, bossing subordinates around and making life harder for others in a way that was sometimes physical. Happily, he discovered guitar and stopped giving a shit about school or ROTC.
Army recruiters must love our sort of desperation: An Associated Press story last Saturday reports that the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve fell 18 to 29 percent short of recruitment goals this month, exemplifying a trend that’s plagued recruiting since February. The Army, along with the Marines, has suffered the most casualties in Iraq. Recruitment may also be down because parents are “increasingly wary” of their kids joining up. Military service hasn’t been seen as an admirable, or even viable, career move for young men for about 40 years — now, it seems, those who enlist are either following in ancestors’ footsteps or too damn poor, stupid or unlucky to make it in the real world.
Then Boyfriend went so far as to research the Michigan National Guard. He’d recite the whole “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” line of bullshit. You know, maybe some time stationed in Germany. Oh, and he might have to do a month of service in Iraq. Yeah, um, fuck that.
The violation of our shared principles isn’t what bothered me most about the possibility of the B.F. getting shipped off to die or go nuts in the desert (I didn’t even want to contemplate that last part — incidentally, he’s dropped the idea since). What got to me was the sick power that the promise of three squares a day and money for college has over people, even when that comes along with sheer dehumanization. How can the job market — we’re talking part-time, minimum-wage food service positions — be so desolate as to make an experience during which your chances of survival, let alone happiness, are drastically diminished look like a career opportunity?
For some, military service offers a decent living and a source of pride — good for them. Young people are entering a society that demands we jump through more and more hoops to earn a living and achieve a respectable status; we face inflated tuition bills that just keep growing. But even those of us who have fallen on hard times won’t sacrifice our safety, our principles or our dignity to serve in an Armed Forces whose orders are unjust, whose actions we and many others oppose. Keep your free ride — we’ll make our way on our own terms.
Jones is a Daily fall/winter associate arts editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.