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Be “Part of Something”
Sign Up With The American Empire Project

by Paul Street
June 17, 2004

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According to imperial United States doctrine, rational and progressive “America” is engaged in a life and death struggle with nihilism. The U.S. “war on terrorism” is infused with great and powerful meaning: the advancement of freedom, democracy, and civilization. The mysterious, vaguely Muslim enemy represents regression and dumb, medieval nothingness. “We” are light, and “they” are dark. “We” are modern enlightened purpose. “They” are primitive, sub-human meaninglessness.

Among many stories that unintentionally challenge this sickly narcissistic national narrative (the horrors of American behavior and policy at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay for example), one appeared on the front page of Monday's New York Times (June 14, 2004) under the title “Recruiters Try New Tactics to Sell Wartime Army.” This article tells the not-so inspiring tales of James Nelson (19) and Katherine Jordan (18), both from Kansas. Nelson is seeking admission to the U.S. Army on the advice of a curious mentor – his probation officer.

Last August, Nelson, became angry with someone who, he says, “tried to attack his girlfriend.” Nelson was so furious that, by his account, “I punched” the alleged attacker “in the kidney, like, 20 times.” This outburst of violence crowned a sullen adolescence spent smoking dope and “getting kicked out of every school I went to.” When his probation officer “suggested the Army,” Nelson took him up on it because, he says, “I want ! to do something with my life other than just sit around.”

His mother, who stocks shelves at Wal-Mart during evenings, is “not sure what to think” about it all. She is “not worried about her son going to Iraq.” Her real concern is that Nelson will not follow through on his new determination to “do something” with his life. Nelson and his mother have been led to believe that the danger in Iraq will fade once the Iraqis are granted what the liars in the Bush administration call “full sovereignty” on June 30.

Jordan, (18), another Army recruit interviewed by the Times, also joined up to overcome the nothingness of her American life. “I didn’t want,” she told the Times, “to be a small-town girl who figures she’s not going to amount to much. I may not have my name in the stars, but I’ll be part of something.” According to Ms. Jordan’s grandmother, “other girls from school were talking about what college they would go to. But college just wasn’t her thing. Then when she did this, it seemed like it gave her something to talk about.”

This chillingly open-ended desire to “be part of something” – the soldiers and executioners of the Third Reich were “part of something” really, really big, it's worth noting – is unaccompanied by any sense of danger. Katherine and her father have been “made comfortable” by her Army recruiter, who tells them that Katherine will probably not be in a “battle zone.” Katherine’s Dad figures that “things will have settled down” in Iraq “by the time her! training is over.”

By involving significant U.S. casualties, the illegal, power-mad, and bloody U.S. invasion of Iraq has compelled U.S. military recruiters to change their selling “tactics.” “Gone,” recruiters tell the Times, “are the people looking mainly for easy cash to pay for college,” those who “cannot resist huge signing bonuses but hope never to leave their base,” and those who think that enlisting will mean spending “a few weekends training in a park”

What’s the new recruiting hook in the face of the recently more evident dangers of imperial “service?” The Times never quite says but today’s article suggests that recruiters are downplaying the persistent danger to soldiers in Iraq and that the leading lure for some recruits is the opportunity to develop a sense – any sense – of purpose in young American lives. Homeland nothingness as an imperial resource -- yet another another disturbing revelation in the glorious nation that U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) calls “the beacon to the world of the way life should be.”

Paul Street is a researcher, writer, and activist in Chicago, Illinois. He can be reached at

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