Yesterday, I picked my younger son up from a friend's house. The two of them had been to a meeting of Best Buddies and discussed with others what activities they should all undertake during the upcoming school year with the impaired students each had been paired off with. I asked my son if their decision was pretty much to do the same as previous years -- bowling, movies, skating, etc. -- and he said yes. He'll be a high school junior this year -- getting his driver's license and all.
The conversation meandered around until he came out with, "If I decided to join the military, would you forbid me?" A bunch of acquaintances were doing it, he said, and he had "been thinking about it for a long time."
As questions go, well, talk about where the rubber hits the road!
For a moment, I wished I could be a lock-step pacifist with a hard and fast argument why he shouldn't. Alternatively, I wished I could be a self-satisfied patriot sporting am American-flag lapel pin. But I was neither of these things: I was just a collection of whatever experiences and thoughts I had and many of those thoughts and experiences pointed down conflicting roads.
The thoughts came helter skelter, some popping out of my mouth:
-- This was my son and I will take a back seat to no national or nationalistic policy when it came to trying to sort out what might be best for him.
-- The military is an organization founded on killing others and killing others invariably kills the one doing the killing. This is not some bullshit, religious joke.
-- There is a delicious camaraderie to a group of young people learning and living the same lifestyle. It is regimented and feels safe ... everyone agrees even though they bitch and moan volubly. It's grown-up at a time when a young man or young woman is probably uncertain about what being a "grown-up" means.
-- Military or non-military, every young person finds a way to make mistakes. How can they learn any serious lessons without the mistakes? (When I went into the army, I had to have five letters of recommendation in order to join the group I was to be assigned to. One came from a minister, who sent me a glowing bit of praise but included a separate note with it -- something for my eyes only: Don't do it, Adam! You're too much of an individualist! They'll eat you for breakfast! I joined anyway. It was not a mistake in one sense.)
And then we segued into basic training and leaning how to march and make beds and shoot guns and all the other minutiae. My son had been watching TV shows about Rangers and Recon Units and Special Forces and ... well, he had been thinking about it for a long time. Wondering if he could do it, wondering if he wanted to do it, wishing he could visit some of these people and ask them how it was ... I could feel his mind's curiosity since I had felt it too.
Rising up in the background, of course, were the United States' latest two wars -- one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. And there was the one yet to come, with Iran. None of them was based on anything imperative other than oil and greed. Any physical threats were not met with negotiation ... these were just old men with old agendas and they were the people who were willing to kill my son. Red, white and blue bullshit ... no one had yet landed a flotilla on our beaches; their acts of violence had been met a hundred times over with the deaths of women and children who were largely brown and poor and in some cases rabid.
No, I did not have the hard-and-fast answers. It was like spiritual life -- you can't tell anyone what they don't know yet, you can only suggest and hope that their mistakes are not too costly. So I will continue to talk to my son ... it is all I can think of. But I sure hate not having The Answer.