Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gangs or the Military: Which is Worse?

Gangs or the Military: Which is Worse?

While growing up kids face many dangers in trying to negotiate life. The very term
‘gang’ has a bad connotation. We think of drugs and violence. But, gangs are not new,
though the element of drug involvement is more today than when I was a teenager.

When I was seven ‘West Side Story’ came out…when you’re a jet you’re a jet all the way…’
Back then gangs were more about ‘turf’ than drugs. For instance, I grew up in a housing project,
and by the time I was twelve two boys had died. One, Ronnie, was killed during a fight after being struck on the temple with a rock. It was not deliberate.

Stephen was knifed in the heart; his death was called an accident, but the autopsy showed
to thrusts of the knife. The kid who did it was about 13 or 14. Stevie was 17 or 18. I had had a
prior run-in with the fella who did it; I didn’t think it was an accident.

There was another housing project nearby and the boys from our two projects got into fights
every so often. I could say that it was about ‘turf’, but it was about boys being boys, and in a
housing project. I don’t regret living there even though my mother once told me not to tell anyone where I lived.

Today, and for the past few decades drugs, violence and turf are synonymous with the word gang.
Somehow in our society there is not as much concern, nor media coverage of another type of gang that is synonymous with drugs, violence and turf: that is the Mafia, or other organized criminal groups. No most of the media coverage is about youth gangs.

I often heard that ‘the military makes a man out of you.’ Or, that being in the military is certain
to make a young man mature, grow as a person and gain some wisdom. And, there is no doubt that
if you asked any parent which they would prefer their children to be in a ‘gang’, or the military many may opt for the military.

Jimmy P, was a good African-American friend of mine in the 1970s. He was also an ex-marine like me. Jimmy called such choices, or say, the choice between voting for Obama or Clinton, or other such choices like being in a gang or the military a ‘choice between constipation and darrhea!’

I was in Marine Corps boot camp two weeks after graduating from high school; I was 17. I was trained as a rifleman; a ‘grunt’ in Marine Corps terms. I am lucky to be alive, and thank God Allah, and the poor snipers trying to take me out when I was the radioman.

When I returned I did my best to steer my children from the military. The reason is simple; if you go to war you do not come back the same. I had been in two military hospitals; they were full of young men who had one, two, or all four limbs missing. Others were blind, deaf, or gone mad from the terror that they endured, or from seeing their friends blown to bits…

Many men in Vietnam were killed by an anti-personnel mine called the ‘Bouncing Betty.’ The mine would shoot up to waist level and rip off the legs of the victim; the man behind him may die, or be fatally injured. A young man’s sex life was forever impaired. Imagine being 18 or 19, and in the best physical condition possible, and within a split second it ends. Death, limbs being torn off, maiming, deafness (from the explosion), blindness and more.

I remember the first dead man that I helped to carry. I have always described the expression on his face as ‘frozen pain.’ That is, his face was turned to the side, his body arched slightly upwards, and his face contained the pain and shock that registered just as he was killed in a horrendous explosion. It was a land mine. We had to carry him for a few miles or more, so his face is still with me even as I type this.

What is worse is what war does to anybody from an infant, or young child to the oldest man or woman as happens daily in Gaza, or now in Libya, or in Vietnam. My friends and I were never the same. Over 58, 000 thousand Americans died in that war, but over 100,000 have taken their own life after returning from the war zone. War kills…and keeps killing long after the last gun is silent.

In Afghanistan more military men and women take their own life than the number being killed in combat. Think about that; the main cause of death of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan is suicide. They are killing themselves. And, the ‘Suicide rate triples for female soldiers when they
go to Iraq or Afghanistan.’ Our leaders and war are killing the youth.

And it will continue to do so long after the war is over; until the last veteran of those wars
has died! Among American combat veterans there is a higher rate of alcohol or drug use, broken marriages and more.
Near the end of World War II the U.S. military was discharging more soldiers than it could conscript into military service. Why is all the above so? It is a measure of the effect of war on the soul. It is what a person sees, does or experiences that is not normal.

At 18 I had to wipe up human remains from a bunker. The night before we were under attack
by teams of sappers; suicide bombers. Two men from the next bunker came running towards us screaming hysterically ‘They’re all around us ...we’re gonna get killed.’ My team leader and I
grabbed one each, and covered their mouths, and put our bayonets to their throats.

Chief whispered 'Shut the fuck up. Get back into your hole. Keep your head down, and your
eyes and ears open, and don't bring them over here.' I had given my man a look that was meant to scare him as much as what had just terrorized him. I was scared too, but knew panic is deadly.

They ran back. We evacuated our bunker; everyone knew it by then. We went uphill about ten
feet, and hid behind a large tree with bushes. After a few minutes a sapper was in their bunker and
knifing them to keep them there until his satchel detonated. We listened to them scream and beg
in agony and terror of their last seconds (6-7) of life. They were fifty feet away, and one cried aloud ‘Oh God’ just before the explosion. It was awful.

Later that morning my platoon Sgt. said ‘we got two new men coming in on the copter, and we don’t want them to see it (the bunker) like that. I nodded and took the rags, and went in to clean it
up. My training hadn't taught me how to clean up the exploded remains of marines. The bunker was
coated with blood, bits of flesh, brain, bone and whatever. I almost cracked. It was horrible. Most of all, God, I didn’t want another Marine to see me crying…so I stuffed it. At one point I said to myself 'You can't do this. You can't do this (cry). So, I stuffed way down, but have cried many times since leaving that hill.

I’ve had to live with that for the past 42 years. Everyone who ends up in war has their own personal
Things they carry. So, to me, military service is not a better option. Our leaders are criminals when that is the best that they continually put our young people through. I consider those like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, or now, Obama to be members of a criminal gang of the highest order; they plan and execute wars of aggression.

We as a community, or society, must find other options for young kids and men other than gangs.
I can now say that when I was in the Marines in Vietnam I belonged to a gang of murderers. I’m lucky to have survived.

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