This is not going to be polished; it is going to be a diary-like ramble and for that I do not even apologize because, my blog, my rules!! If you’ve been following this blog since its inception, you know that crying at school is more or less my worst fear. And today, that fear was realized…right in the middle of class. Ugh. It was the worst!! I mean, WOW. That was not enjoyable. Unfortunately, I did not even play it cool. Ideally, I would have casually waltzed out as if I were merely over-caffeinated, had a brief private breakdown, collected myself and returned to class. INSTEAD, my lips got wobbly, my eyes turned red, my face got wet; I had to climb over my friends to leave, and then I spent ten minutes locked out of the room.
I’m telling you this now because a) I deal with embarrassing situations by publicly acknowledging them and b) there’s a lot of important stuff I want to attempt to unpack. For me, and for you. Thing is, a lot of people cried in class today. Nobody else ran out of the room. I guess they are better at being adults with emotions. We’ve been talking about war. About Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh boy, right?? Talking about war is hard, especially in a classroom full of folks with military and civilian perspectives that aren’t exactly in alignment all the time. It’s hard, but I think it’s important. I think it’s okay to talk about difficult things and (even though I hate it) to cry about them.
After class someone said to me, “I’m really glad you left. I wish everyone else had, too. Like, this isn’t therapy. If you can’t keep it together, shut up.” And, I mean, WOW. This person proceeded to explain that they would never get that emotional in class, and come on, we’re reading a BOOK. Which is weird on so many levels. Firstly, the book (Sebastian Junger’s War) isn’t a piece of fiction, so we can’t really talk about it as if it isn’t personal. Because for a lot of us (all of us?) these wars are personal. Also, this was said to me by a fiction writer. If you’ve prioritized stories in your life, why would you dismiss personal reactions to them? You can’t be a fiction writer without being heavily invested in the idea that stories matter.
A lot of us in class come from military families. A lot of the class has had no direct exposure to military culture. So this was obviously going to get complicated. I should have known to be worried when one the discussion leaders told me she was disappointed by the lack of politics in the book. War is a book about military soldiers. It is not a political book. It does not take a stance on why we went to war, whether or not that was justified, or what we should do next. It is a book about the people we send to war.
We need to have discussions about the politics of war. But I felt like today’s discussion started politicizing military members, not the war. The class as a whole was polite, respectful, and sensitive to everyone’s varying perspectives. It’s possible that I was just a little too close to the issue. Because this is what was asked: Throughout the novel [it’s not a novel!!! This is non-fiction, people!!! THIS IS REAL LIFE.] we see some disturbing hypermasculine actions taken by some of the soldiers. In a way the men are just depicted as roughhousing, but do you think this might be part of hypermasculine military culture that embraces violence? Do you think that this is problematic, especially given the fact that there is such a long history of sexual violence/high rates of domestic violence in military families? Also, do you think young men who enlist in the military are attracted to the idea of belonging to this violent “brotherhood” that so highly values ideas of power and masculinity?
I had to leave the room before the discussion leader had even finished reading this paragraph. So much of this is clearly just naïveté. This is coming from a civilian who just doesn’t understand military culture at all. (I don’t blame her; I’m not even annoyed at her. I just have a lot of issues with all of those questions.) Here’s something a lot of non-military-related folks do not seem to understand: You cannot politicize military members. The places that need to be politicized are our government, our nation, our culture. The people who are in our military, the people who are dying in our wars, are the people our society has more or less marked as disposable. When you look at the demographics of service members, you’ll see a lot of poverty, a lack of familial stability, of advanced education. There’s a reason those trends exist. There’s a reason that this population is the one we send to die. We should be critiquing the culture that reproduces and encourages this system. We are complicit in that culture. But to blame or problematize military members, most of whom join up due to lack of other viable options… that is wrong.
Asking if people join the military because they are inherently violent is wrong. And clearly things are extra personal for me because, as most of you probably know, I come from a violent military family. I am part of that “high rate of domestic violence”. My life has been largely defined by the violence that existed in my home. Because of this, I don’t have a relationship with my father anymore. And in class today, I felt like I was being asked if my dad joined the military just because he wanted to be around other violent people, wanted to participate in a culture of violence. And that is wrong. I probably overreacted and misinterpreted a lot of that. I know that what I perceived was not the intention of the questions. But I was overwhelmed with feelings and then I cried and it was super gross. But COME ON. Who joins the military because they’re hoping they’ll come out of it super fucked up and can then feel justified in bringing that violence home? NOBODY, BECAUSE THAT’S INSANE.
Okay, clearly I have a lot of issues. I’m working through them. Slowly. (THERAPY, AM I RIGHT??) A lot of uncomfortable stuff came up for me today, and I wish I could have kept it together long enough to offer my opinion instead of freaking out and then blogging about it. I’m being very one-sided in my discussion here, and for that I apologize. But I needed to sort out some of my own feelings before attempting logical rationality. And that’s okay. Yeah, I’m uncomfortable being emotional around my peers. And those questions made me upset. But all of that was and is okay. I think the only thing that was really not okay was being told later that we all should have left, that our emotions were invalid. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable to watch people cry. It’s sometimes hard to understand where those feelings are coming from. But they’re real and valid. Class isn’t group therapy, but if we can’t be honest with each other and our experiences, what is the point? I hope we can all work on having empathy.