My 16-year-old son had just received a recruitment letter from the Marine Corps. He wasn’t home when the mail came, and following a basic instinct I hunkered down, made a quick dive for the recycling bin, and buried the unopened envelope at the bottom, never to be found.
I’ve spent 3 years of my life as a paratrooper in the Israeli armed forces; I’ve developed good instincts when it comes to danger, and I reacted swiftly under fire. Duck, dive, eliminate the attack.
But then my limbic brain retreated back to its Neanderthal cradle, and I started thinking. Besides the fact that stealing mail is a federal offense, what is it that I find so threatening here? What am I so scared of?
So I fished the glossy red, white, and blue envelope from the bin, and when my son came back home, we opened it together, and checked out the content. While at it, I tried to open up my mind, and check out its content as well.
This is what I found:
Before he even finds out what’s inside he reacts to the offer on the face of the envelope. “Can I do it?” he asks. “Can I return the card inside and get the T-shirt or the back pack?”
I’m dealing with professionals here. The bastards are bribing him. They also offer a choice of dog tags. Images of broken dog tags. They know exactly which bait to use. Say something! Quick! “It’s not a back pack,” I say. “It’s a duffel bag.”
“Whatever,” he says. “Can I do it?”
The center piece is a shiny poster, folded like a road map. One side is dedicated to a glossy, colored photo of a muscular, bold-headed young man, wearing an olive T-shirt, camo fatigues (or whatever those pants are called), and high boots. He swings his body over a high horizontal bar, most likely an obstacle course in boot camp. His face is contorted in effort and concentration, his mouth wide open. You can almost hear him grunting through the immense challenge. Behind him is clear blue sky, some blurry green trees, and two fellow soldiers, one of whom, an African-American, is hollering at the top of his lungs, not unlike a football player would whoahhh after scoring a touchdown.
The bottom of the poster is red, white, and blue, and it says, “Marines. The Few. The Proud.”
Taste of sweat, feeling of straining muscles. Quick mental pictures of the obstacle course from my basic training way back when. Feeling the strength, the speed, flying over bars, crawling under fences, climbing 10-meter ropes with my bare hands grasping the rough braided fibers.
“Stupid macho crap,” I say.
Most of the other side of the poster is dedicated to “the map.” It’s a rather crude piece of graphic design, aimed at illustrating the potential recruit the main stations on the path to glory. It reminds me of a Role Playing Game, where one moves up from lower to higher levels. The words Duty, Challenge, Confidence, and Respect are at the corners of the page, and there are icons that look like children’s war toys, by the roadside, symbolizing the journey from high school graduation, through training, to duty assignment, which is depicted as crouching gunmen aiming their assault rifles at the invisible enemy. When the shooting is over there’s homecoming, followed by higher education.
On the right side of the map there is a head shot of another African-American uniformed marine. “A Few Will Take The Noble Path,” it reads above him. Below is the only block of texts on the poster, two paragraphs in length. It’s simple to read and consists of inspirational slogans: “…Elite warriors,” “…Protecting the nation’s freedom.”
Left of the map is yet another close up of an African-American young man, this time not in uniform, possibly of high school age. “What Path Will You Take?” Reads over his head. Beneath him is a legend to the map. At the top is high school graduation, and it ends at higher education.
I can hear the drum beats in the background when I read the text, and the voice in my head automatically assumes the tone of that movie preview announcer, who always starts with “In a world…”
I know exactly what you’re up to, guys. I know what it’s like to be 18, out of high school, with nothing but future ahead, vast and unknown. I can see the clever plotting of your misleadingly simple map. “We’ve gotten it all figured out for you,” you’re saying. “Join us, and we’ll give you big-boy toys to play with, and a bigger-than-life purpose. With us you will belong to this honorable tribe, we will protect and take care of you. Look how gorgeous we are. You can be like that, too!”
And a question to whoever is at the head of this ad campaign: Why are you targeting African-American youths (3 of the 5 depicted in this brochure), and are you aiming to reach young people who respond to simple graphics, and pictures better than words?
Two stamped postcards, one with my son’s name on it, the other for a friend who may be interested. He can choose between the T-shirt, the duffel bag, or the dog tags, and together with his limited offer gift, he will also get an “Opportunity Book,” named About the Corps.
Daddy’s brain (final thoughts):
President Obama once stated that he was not a pacifist, he was only against stupid wars. I feel something along those lines. I probably find more wars deserved to be designated stupid than our president (ie Afghanistan), but the point is, I believe that a strong nation should have a strong military force. I wish it wasn’t like this, but it is.
I also believe that in a couple of years when he’s 18, my son should chose his path, make his own decisions, his mistakes. It’s his life to live.
But it doesn’t mean that I’m not scared shitless that he’s going to buy into the Marines’ cheap tricks of advertising, swallow those dog tags line hook and sinker, and chose to join the military because of slogans, and toys, and fear of the future.
So am I saying that military service is okay for some, but not for my own little boy? That he’s too good for it? No. Not at all.
Having served my home country for 3 years, I strongly believe that there should be a mandatory service for young women and men in this country, too. Not necessarily military, but a period of time, 1 year maybe, when young people work for the common good, for their country, or state, or local community. This can serve as a rite of passage to maturity, and imagine how it could benefit the economy.
I am not against service.
My limbic reaction of fear came from a very personal knowledge of my child, his personality, his talents. My reaction was also based on my intimate experience of military life. I don’t think this is the right choice for him, and I am afraid that he will make this choice for all the wrong reasons. I’m a daddy, loyal to my duty, Semper Fi, always faithful.
This is most likely not our last encounter with military recruitment efforts. I don’t blame the military for trying to get young men to join the ranks. I completely understand the need. I just hope to outsmart those sly ad men, out there to get my boy. I also hope that during the years that we have raised him, we instilled enough sense of honor, duty, respect, and confidence in him; that he doesn’t feel the need to get those holes filled by the US marines.
I’m realizing that I’m in a competition with this huge machine, and I want to yell back: You have nothing to give him that I can’t!
“Let’s go to the mall,” I say. “I’ll buy you a back pack AND a T-shirt.”
“But it won’t say Marines on it,” he says.
I roll my eyes. We laugh. We may have ducked that one. For now.