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Heroes or Idiots?

This morning I posted a video on Facebook that received mixed reviews.

It’s a fairly crude, mocking representation of soldiers doing what some soldiers do to blow off steam in a hot, barren area surrounded by other young people with huge guns and too much time on their hands, fueled by anxiety and Red Bull.

It made me remember back to when I thought to enlist in the military myself, but my dad, a WWII veteran, discouraged me from doing so. Though he was vague about his reasons as they applied to me, he just said that it might be an uncomfortable situation. Dad told many stories over the years about the heroes he’d served with who had sacrificed life an limb for their fellow countrymen. The image he created made me want to be one of those people.

But there is a reality most soldiers don’t talk about that is probably more accurate than the image of the strong, stoic Marine we see in recruiting advertisements. Maybe this is the stuff Dad was talking about.

When thousands of young people, mostly men, are thrown together thousands of miles from home, often with nothing to do and nowhere to go, a certain amount of “idiocy” is bound to occur. These are kids who just a year or two earlier were doing what teenagers do — hanging out with their buddies, driving fast, testing limits — so the fact that they are wearing uniforms and carrying ridiculously powerful weapons around does not mean that they have instantly gained maturity.

I have to wonder if the reason so many soldiers don’t talk about their experiences when they come home has to do not so much with the horrors of battle they’ve seen, but maybe with the struggle to grow up they’ve observed in the face of incredible pressure, realizing that many of them are still just teenaged boys inside. A good many of them have likely been pushed to participate in activities they knew were not acceptable, yet the camaraderie of being part of a group caused them to make decisions they might not otherwise have had to consider.

This year, the suicide rate among soldiers is averaging one per day. Serving one’s country in the military, once considered a rite of passage and an honor,  is causing many to collapse. The pressure of fighting a 10-year war that’s continued purpose is questionable, and coming home to an economy that is having trouble supporting their return is making re-entry into society too difficult for some.

I have no idea what the answer is. I don’t know what should be considered acceptable behavior in the military so that our kids don’t lose their marbles. More discipline?  Less?

All I know is that in an age where videos of every kind of behavior imaginable are available at our fingertips, I have to just SMH (shake my head) and RME (roll my eyes) at some of what I see and be grateful that the creative mind is still alive, regardless of my judgement about the art-worthiness of its output.

I guess, for me, it’s the heroism of the “idiots” who remind those around them that though the situation is deadly serious, moments of ridiculousness do as much to keep them all alive as the automatic weapons they are carrying.

  1. June 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm | #1

    ELLEN…I agree with just about everything you have written.It is true the majority of our troops are all just out of HS-(18-19 yr olds)..many still immature in some instances.
    They are taught and trained to be tough and handle the high stress of combat living each day. To be men when they are still boys. To see the horror before their eyes..of what war does. That does take its toll on many when they return, there is no denying that. My concern is the image this video portrayed to some CIVILIANS out there..who have never served in the military..and find every excuse to downgrade our boys and men..this video gives them the fuel.

  2. June 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm | #2

    Ellen, thank you for this … thoughtful, for sure, and a reminder that our young soldiers are young – their souls are still being formed, and when thrust into horrific places of war, for an extended period of time, that soul will likely be damaged. Our WW 2 vets had plenty of sorrow, but there time was limited, and they came home to families and work and hope. Our professional soldiers have no “home coming” so to speak, and if the military is their life, their souls remain battered by our endless wars. We must weep a little more for them, and strive with all our might to achieve peace.

  3. June 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm | #3

    As an ex-Air Force enlisted man who served in peace time, I cannot begin to speak to the hardships and sacrifice endured by those who have served in war time. However, as someone who was assigned overseas in what was considered a “hardship tour” (a ridiculous designation when compared to today’s situation,) I do remember the isolation and culture shock -and turning to my military brethren to cope. The idiocy and pranks played upon one another by those of us who served together was, in large part, a coping mechanism for our loneliness. Those that serve know that most civilians do not have the framework to begin to understand the soldiers world.

    Of course, the stress of prolonged war and multiple tours magnifies the isolation and problem. Unfortunately, those stresses will continue to claim the lives of many soldiers long after the last shot is fired.

  4. Anonymous
    June 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm | #4

    Ellen, Good insight. When I served in the Navy, I was usually pretty far from any battle, but very far from little Charlestown NH. The Only battle we observed was the forced landing of a Boeing 737 with the Achille Lauro terrorists on board, and the retaliation attack on the Surt Libya coastline, ending with 3 sunken Libyan patrol boats and several radar missile sights disabled. Never the less, all the sailors on board were pretty cocky afterwards at the achievement of the battle unit. We were young, yes, immature, very much so.

    There are some things I was part of in foreign countries that I wish I had been more mature about. When we were in Naples Italy, we mingled with the people there closely. My friend Joe was a Boston Area Italian kid, who jokingly taught me a phrase in the language to greet the locals with. Needless to say, I caught on late to the fact that I was hurling an obscenity at the nice folks of Naples to the amusement of a snickering Joe. One of these locals was a little old Italian woman who was beating a rug with a broom. After greeting her, she chased us away swinging the broom wildly. That’s when this naive NH boy finally figured out that I was ruining the image of the fine Friendly American Sailor. (Idiot !)

    There was much consumption of alcohol wherever we went. There are times, later in life, that I wished I’d enjoyed more of the cultural aspects of the many ports I’d visited around the globe. I took quite a few pictures, but lost a lot of my memories of the places I’d captured on film. I especially wish I could remember more of Haifa Israel and all of the surrounding places there that we ventured off to.

    Christmas in Singapore eating at a McDonald’s was an experience I won’t forget. There were 5 of us, all from various parts of the United States. Every one of us was homesick and telling the others what they would rather be doing and where. It was helpful listening to each of their stories of tradition and reminiscence. All 5 of us relied on each other to make that a tolerable holiday experience. We were just kids, away from home, not caring about what the people of Singapore thought of us, more caring about what we were used to having back when we were at home with our families.

    We were not at war, but we were representatives of our country. Though sometimes we were a little too carefree, we were still your Average Americans, take us or leave us.

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