I was thirty when I got married. After college, I enjoyed single life for several years. Most of my married friends were always quizzing me about who I was dating, trying to set me up with one of their friends or asking me when I might settle down. I look back now and realize the old “misery loves company” cliché perfectly described their concern. It’s like they were recruiters for a weighty, tedious and sometimes perilous commitment. I’m glad it took me so long to listen.
I bring this anecdote up because the United States National Guard has adopted my old married friends’ earnest, but misguided strategy. They recently initiated a test run (in Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia) of the Guard Recruiter Assistance Program, which encourages current Guard members to recruit friends, family, co-workers, fellow church members, etc. to sign up for the National Guard. If the test run is successful, the Guard Recruiter Assistance Program will expand nationwide by September 2006. This means the shrinking, shallow pools that our current National Guard taps to fight our fossil fuel crusades and lofty Operation Blah-Blah-Blahs will be re-tapped for future incursions.
I guess that makes most of us lucky. The same poor families and communities that stomached the brunt of the casualties and hardships during the War in Iraq will bear the largest measure of future misdirected hostilities and keep the United States military-industrial complex chugging right along. It’s standard fare under the Bush White House; the privileged get richer and the downtrodden get poorer. Or dead. They do the bulk of the fighting and dying while we program I-pods and vegetate in front of the latest “reality” TV show.
To sweeten this dour recruiting campaign the National Guard is dangling some gainful incentives. They’ll be paying National Guard members $1,000.00 for each new enlisted recruit and an additional $1,000.00 when that potential recruit reports for basic training. If a National Guardsmen enlists and lands five new recruits, he or she earns $10,000.00!
It obviously smacks of blood money and bad taste, but it’s a nifty two-tier pyramid scheme that could bring the folks and families who are fighting our battles some financial relief, and that’s good. But what does it say about the rest of us and our support for this war?
Is recruiting so bad that we have to grease our soldiers’ hands to sell it? What happened to all those patriotic cars and trucks cruising around with a “W” on their back windshield? Don’t they know anybody who wants to fight this war? They were damn proud to support and pay tribute to the guy who got us into this mess. Don’t they want to help him clean it up?
Obviously, Uncle Sam is a scary guy these days. His red, white and blue stovetop hat is crumpled and dingy. His coat is faded and threadbare. His beard is patchy and his teeth are yellow. His skin is gaunt and his eyes are dark and sunken. When he points and says, “I want you,” it’s no wonder young people turn and run. He no longer inspires confidence. He looks like a ridiculous, crude incarnation of the Fourth of July. He looks like a decrepit old Captain Ahab, haunted and insanely obsessed by this great white whale of a war.
E.R. Bills is a writer from Ft. Worth, Texas. His recent works have appeared in Flashquake and Fort Worth Weekly.