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A Disturbing Meeting at the Gym

At the local YMCA today, I ran into a boy who was a childhood friend of my son's. As my kid goes to a public arts high school in Philadelphia outside of our local school district, I don't see much of his old grade-school friends any more. This boy, who used to be over at our house years ago at least once a week, recognized me right away though, and said, "Hey Mr. Lindorff, I haven't seen you in years. How's Jed!"

I was impressed by how he'd grown up, tall and strong looking. He was headed for the basketball court. I asked him, since both he and my son are seniors this year, where he was applying for college, and he stunned me by saying he had signed up for the Marines. "I'm going to be going in after graduation," he said proudly. "The recruiter came to school, and he convinced me it's a good move."

I asked him what he planned to do, and he said, "Helicopter gunner! I'm really excited and proud!"

This was really shocking. This kid doesn't own a gun. I doubt if he's ever shot at anything except maybe a target with a .22 rifle at Boy Scout Camp, and now he's all excited about manning a machine gun in a helicopter, where he'll be shooting down at Afghan fighters--and inevitably at civilians, too--in a matter of months.

I really didn't know what to say. I awkwardly told him "congratulations," because I could see he was proud of his "accomplishment" and because I didn't want to have him cut me off as a possible confidante. Then I added, "You know of course that I'm not really in favor of what the Marines are doing?"

He smiled and said, "Yeah, I know."

"Well, good luck and stay safe," I said, again not knowing what else to say. How could I, standing in the hall there, tell him that he was simply signing on to be another expendable tool in the American Empire's effort to subdue an impoverished people on the far side of the world who pose absolutely no threat to America? And while I don't want to see him killing people in Afghanistan, I also want him to come home safely.

Unaware of my conflicted state of mind, and of how upset I was at his news, he ran off to play his game, at least for now still just another kid on a basketball court.
Recruiters in high schools want to put helmets on our kidsRecruiters in high schools want to put our kids in helmets

I had finished my run, so I headed for the exit to get my car and go home, when I ran into the boy's mother and older sister, both just coming into the building. I hadn't seen either of them in at least a year either.

They both greeted me and asked how my family was, and what my son's college plans were. After I had caught them up, I said, a bit hesitantly, "I ran into your son. He told me he's joining the Marines."

His mother looked upset and said, "Yes. I don't know. We were going over colleges with him, and getting ready to work on his applications, and then he told us he wanted to enlist."

"I hear he's going to be a helicopter gunner," I said.

The mother stiffened and looked at her daughter, a senior in college who looked surprised, too. "He said he was going to be a helicopter mechanic!" she said.

"Oops," I told them. "I guess I shouldn't have said anything."

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