When I was 20 years of age I decided to join the military. A more important note is “why?” – why did I join the military? I was peeking around a local unemployment department one day – looking for work. I had a fairly long list of job history under my belt at the time. In other words – I had already been employed and quit more jobs than most people do in their entire lifespan. Nothing fit. Nothing fit, and I was heartbroken at the time. I just quit my latest relationship as well. Needless to say, I was discouraged. I paced around the building gathering information and browsing websites. I just wanted out. Out of my situation and do something exciting. I wanted to travel and see the world. Or something… Truthfully, I had no idea what I wanted.
Head down, I moped out of the front doors of the building. I looked over to my right and there was a building hosting every type military recruiting office. I always liked the Army – so, I went there. I wanted to be something creative like an aircraft mechanic, I told the recruiter. He scanned the pages of his job catalog. He didn’t say much before an older, white whiskered, stout man snagged my attention.
“Let’s have a look at you” as he grabbed both of my shoulders in a firm grip. His eyes moved over my upper body.
I just wanted out of my skin. There wasn’t much thought involved. Sign me up – send me around the world. I was simply young and wanted nothing more than a shiny new life. Before this moment, I had worked in a restaurant, a trucking freight warehouse, data entry, department stores, temporary work, and I was even a car salesman. I walked off jobs. I even jumped a fence one time because I just didn‘t want to deal with my manager. The last job I previously held involved working for a general construction contractor. I had served as a pack horse for three months. I didn’t want to be anyone’s slave, either. I didn’t have the drive to work in modern day society anymore. This explains why the Army looked like an agreeable option at the time. Though, the work would offer something equivalent to a hired thug. I had even been to college and dropped out by then. I was twenty years old, and empty – but still searching.
Long story short – I found myself on a plane to Fort Benning, Georgia. I had signed up for the job the old guy with a dad feel to him sold me. I signed up for what he suggested as if he held my best interest in mind. But, the recruiter told me…that I was going hiking?
I can laugh about it now. I quickly found out that I signed up to be a killer, and guess what? I have held violence in contempt my entire life, and I just took the most violent job they had to offer. I was gullible…so gullible, when I was younger. I believed in people and I still do. I never read the fine print at that age. I was green, naïve, and ripe for the hustle. I was optimistic. I had doubts concerning this new lifestyle, but I told myself I was going to do it. I would be a killer if that’s what it took to find my place in this world. The more cunning side of me was after the bonuses and G.I. bill, but I was just lost and throwing myself to the wolves.
I conditioned before I went in. I ran often – sometimes for ten miles or so. I lifted weights. I honestly wanted to be an effective soldier. I sold myself on it all. The conditioning paid off and so, all the push-ups, flutter kicks, and other creative physical training didn’t phase me. The defining moment of clarity came when I was in the middle of a two hour drill focused on bayonet attacks. The drill consisted of hopping in a three point turn. At every point, the platoon in unison, would perform three stabbing maneuvers. Every time we used our rifle to stab we had to shout “Kill!” Each first thrust exacted stabbing at the groin, the second at the torso, and the third at the neck. “KILL, KILL, KILL” we shouted for two hours as we jabbed the air with bayonet armed combat rifles. I made a mental note to carry extreme amounts of ammunition because this was preparation in the case my last clip ran dry in battle. Images of stabbing enemy soldiers coursed through my mind.
I felt like a savage maniac. That’s exactly what they were training me to be. Later on, I was sent through courses and stabbing humanoid targets. It wasn’t long before my personal bubble of illusion burst, and reality crept in. My optimism felt like a cunning dark joke. There were talks of “peace keeping missions” in the Middle East. They were saying that most of us would go. That shifted from a rumor to an ice cold reality when the drill sergeants gave their platoons the news. Killing others became a reality I knew that I would soon confront at that point.
This all gave me a lot to think about. Everything became clear when I stopped conforming and dared to think. I had taken a year of psychology in high school. It was my favorite class, along with art. My eyes were open the entire time, and I had realized the mechanical being I was becoming. Before, I had convinced myself that I belonged there. As soon as I stopped tricking myself, the behavioral conditioning the Army used to coerce my conformity screamed at me from every corner I turned. I had been there for eleven weeks up to that point. I was two weeks from graduation. Yet, I wanted out…and NOW! I looked over my paperwork during my down time. I scanned through the thick stack of legalities I had barely glanced at upon when I was unknowingly signing my life over. Finally, I found a door. The contract was not officially binding until I graduated basic training. I decided to refuse to train in order to prevent my graduation. I first told my drill sergeant. He barked at me. I didn’t move. He sent me to the Captain of the battalion. From there, I was sent from officer to officer. One of them spit in my face and told me I was a disgrace to the U.S. flag. The words sailed over me like some foreign object that I didn’t understand. I took no offense. Apparently, the flag was an idol symbolizing something he believed in. I was reminded of pledging allegiance in grade school. Flag praise seemed like lunacy to me, though I wasn’t very judgmental at the time. I was a child and I figured flag worship was what the adults in my community did. I had not learned to question authority – nor, conformity.
What is the point of this story? I may have not been taken against my will to appease some cultural god, but my ignorance proved to be the shackles around my feet. I had taken “Think For Yourself” 101 in a very rudimentary setting. I wanted to rip the brochures out of every high school. I wanted to talk with children like myself that were convinced the war machine of America deserved their devotion in the name of all that is right and good. I wanted to devour a thousand times, the ignorance that had chained me. I looked around, wagging my heavy finger, but there was no one to blame but myself. I did not have the warrant to push my anger in such directionless aim, yet I was placed upon a sacrificial mantle nonetheless – another body adding to Army numbers.
Ultimately, our awareness is molded by our own choices about how and what we think. I made a choice to not fall in line. I made a choice to look within. I did not see a murderer in myself. It did take more courage to walk away. That much was true. I chose to be lost again instead of found by something other than myself and used like a tool. This is an issue with generations of modern times. War is an ongoing theme, and the flag may as well be the stone idol that the Aztecs appeased by pouring sacrificial blood on it.
I took time to study reactions of the other boys training to become sacrificial men. The authorities in this arena would explain war as a necessary evil without hesitation if a new recruit were to question it. I watched some embrace the change, and I watched it break wills. Lost children did everything from plunging off a high roof top to drinking laundry detergent in a means to find their way out. The training techniques were concrete. It was an orchestrated force conducted by instructors, who themselves, were weapons forged on the same anvil. Like a river, it (the training and propaganda) coursed through the psyche of the young men around me and eroded their doubts – for, it was pure belief at work. Psychologist B.F. Skinner coined this project in mental technology, “behavioral conditioning.”
To put it bluntly – beliefs are dangerous. A belief can be sold, and/or forced. Lying in wait, these viral ideologies are coiled to strike. It is belief that drives me to write these very words. The core of it all is – what is a belief based on? Quite simply, a belief is grounded in knowledge in one form or another. The knowledge may be abstract or unquantifiable, yet it is the credibility perceived that makes an idea undeniable. Whether it holds truth is irrelevant to its existence.
In finality, to answer the question concerning whether one can be certain of something – definitely. Yet, this confirmation alone does not verify any truth beyond how the knowledge is perceived. Thus, you see, knowledge and certainty maintain very human elements in regard to objective reality.