Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz

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I’ve been trying to track back down a Laura Bush-approved book for children on the war where kids are supposed to eat a star candy each day until mom or dad returns and send mom or dad star-shaped cookies. I came across it by chance the other night and can’t find it now. Thought the idea pretty manipulative inventive myself, feeding the kids star candies to sell them on patriotic fervor while mom or dad is out fighting for oil. More make-a-memory patriotic devotionals applauded by the top armchair guns who wouldn’t be caught dead (uh hummm) out on battle lines. And when mom or dad never come home, then what?

But can’t exactly be feeding the kids oil rigs can we, little candy oil rigs like the marzipan Day of the Dead skulls.

When young I thought it pretty audacious middle-aged and older men and women rounded up the boys to send them off to Vietnam. Decades later, my mind hasn’t changed on this. Now I am certain that if it was up to only the middle-aged and older men and women to go out and do the being killed, it wouldn’t happen. Not because of any extra wisdom, but because they’re the ones with the power and would simply refuse to be put in the line of fire.

When I was a teen I wondered if there wasn’t a tad of resentment from the more socially powerful older men toward the younger men who had a full load of testosterone and their lives ahead of them. I’m pretty confidant of it now, and that when the older men are waving the young ones off they’re not feeling a whole hell of a lot of grief because if their own halcyon days are gone they’re not minding the young ones losing theirs.

Again, when young I thought it audacious that middle-aged and older men and women rounded up the boys to send them off to Vietnam. Now, I’m probably even more awed by the older clan members selling off the young because when I was fifteen and sixteen I imagined myself pretty much all grown up, and an eighteen year old certainly was. But no not so old, is it? I’m not saying eighteen isn’t adult. It is. Kind of. Adult enough to say have a beer if you’re going to go off to be a “Thanks for the sacrifice!” poster “child” for the country–you’d think? It’s a line of reasoning that still escapes me, that at eighteen you’re not responsible enough to drink but you are responsible enough to go out and kill and be killed.

Thinking now of the man in Florida who torched the vehicle of the Marines who showed up on his doorstep to tell him his son was dead. One Carlos Arredondo, back in August 2004. (The CBS page opens and there’s an older hispanic gentleman being a friendly greeter for Wal-Mart at top. Big smile. Most days I want to beat my head on the wall until I pass out. “Hi! Life in these United States!”) It was Carlos’ 44th birthday. He set the van on fire when he learned his son, Alexander, had been killed.

His [Alexander’s] father allegedly took out his grief on the nearest representation of the government, the U.S. Marines’ van. “At one point he actually goes into the garage, picks up a can of gasoline and/or a propane tank, runs towards the vehicle, smashes the vehicle window and sets the U.S. governmental vehicle on fire,” police Capt. Tony Rode said. “He’s still inside the vehicle as it is fully engulfed in flames.”

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The Marines and neighbors were surprised when Carlos did this? Surprised?

It’s nearly eight months later. Alexander Arredondo is still dead, dead, dead. Bush et all who said “WMDs! WMDs! WMDs!” are still eating their daily three, the mooooovers, the shaaaaaaaakers, the Atlases holding up the sky for all us sorry crap-of-the-earth minions who aren’t Bush or Cheney and thus don’t know exactly how negligible we are, no matter how much we think of ourselves. “Thanks for the sacrifice” lasts as long as it takes to have an assistant stuff an envelope and send off prefab presidential regrets. Which means not at all.

Via Truthout today there is the LA news story, “Military Recruiters Targeting Minority Teens”.

Duh!

It was such a duh, like-this-is-news? moment that I deleted the missive, but then a second one arrived and I decided to keep and read.


Marine Sgt. Rick Carloss is as familiar to students as some teachers at
Downey High School. He does push-ups with students during PE classes and plays in
faculty basketball games. During lunch, he hands out key chains, T-shirts and
posters that proclaim: “Think of Me As Your New Guidance Counselor.”

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We thought of our guidance counselor as a joke. I guess things have changed.

On a recent morning, Carloss drove his silver 1996 Mercedes-Benz from his
recruiting station to the school two blocks away. A parking attendant waved him
into the lot, saying, “Hi, dear.”

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The 1996 Benz is Material Bait. Carloss says he bought it with his earnings. I’d like to know if he *did* buy it with his earnings. I’m reading about so many of the troopers coming home to find cars and other possessions illegally repossessed. Is this Carloss’ car or a Carloss The Recruiter Car. After all, what if Carloss the recruiter preferred to drive a 1990 Honda Civic? What would the potential recruitees have to say?

Inside the attendance office, Carloss kissed two secretaries on their
foreheads.

“I need you to summon a young man out of class for me,” he told one.

“OK,” she replied. “What’s his name?”

The young man, Gilbert Rodriguez, was an 18-year-old senior. He was enlisting
in the Marines the next day. Carloss needed go over paperwork with him…

For Carloss and other recruiters, part of the way has been cleared by the No
Child Left Behind education law of 2002, which provides the military with
students’ home addresses and telephone numbers. It also guarantees that any
school that allows college or job recruiters on campus must make the same
provision for the military…

The [School Recruiting Program Handbook] guide instructs recruiters to deliver doughnuts and coffee for the school
staff once a month; attend faculty and parent meetings; chaperon dances;
participate in Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month events; meet with
the student government, newspaper editors and athletes; and lead the football
team in calisthenics. It lays out a month-by-month plan to make recruiters
“indispensable” on campus. The booklet states: “Be so helpful and so much a part
of the school scene that you are in constant demand.”

It advises recruiters to get to know young leaders because “some influential
students such as the student president or the captain of the football team may
not enlist; however, they can and will provide you with referrals who will
enlist.”

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Lead the football team in calisthenics? Next they’ll be teaching civics classes!

I go and look at the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force websites. The Army and Navy are the most up front. Look, here, pictures. Blackhawks, Apaches, a love affair with Hummers. Air Force goes for more mystique. The Marines makes you a family apart. The army shows you homes and cars you can buy. They get personable from the start with a forum type message where “so-and-so” has made a new file so you can understand enlistment requirements more easily. The Marines and Air Force websites are Flashy flash. If someone doesn’t like Flash-driven websites they might opt for the Army.

I can put myself in that position. Graduating from high school. College is expensive. What if you’re not even sure you want to go to college? What if you could use the money right now. What if your family could use the support? What if you have a child already? What if you have to earn your living right now and you are scared of being trapped in a go-nowhere service industry job that only 3/4s of a single person can maybe survive on. What if you’re just confused at 17 and you want a few more years to think about things. The military immediately offers money and a place to live and food and buddies and several years to put off thinking about what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I can put myself easily in that position.

Except that when I was 17 my thoughts on the military were, “But it’s about killing people, fundmentally. Sure someone may think they’re joining a peace time army but you are after all joining the military.”

And my thoughts on it were, “I couldn’t live with government looking over my shoulder all day, how do they get through basic training without losing it?”

When we were in our 20s, my husband’s parents, who were having a tremendously difficult time with his being a musician and not a church musician, tried, incomprehensibly, to get him to join the military. There were pamphlets. There was cajoling talk about how as a musician his only concern in the military would be music. They seriously had their minds set on his coming home in uniform because it would be a legitimate job.

I remember a dramatic argument I had with them where I ended up stalking off to the bathroom and there was the decided feeling we weren’t going to be talking for two months.

“They kill people, that’s their job.”

“It’s a career. He wouldn’t be killing anyone.”

“No, the thing, the whole deal, that’s what they do, they kill people.”

“It’s a career. He woudln’t be killing anyone.”

Then there are those teens who may think, hey, my life isn’t worth that much anyway. Can’t envision a future. They’ve not had time to find any value in themselves. What’s the big deal. Give ’em some place to go, some thing to do. Some money in the meantime. And if they come out in one piece at the end, hey, great, and if not, who cares.

Sitting in the lunch room, Carloss told both young men that with money he earned in the military, he bought a motorcycle and a house, in addition to his Mercedes.

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Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-benz

His cellphone rang. It played a 50 Cent rap tune.

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Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color t.v.

The sergeant took off his Rolex watch and handed it to Tovar. Tovar examined it and smiled: “That could be me one day.”

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Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town

Allen Kanner, a Berkeley child psychologist and the author of “Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World,” who has tracked military recruitment in schools, said teenagers are easily influenced.

“They are less sophisticated in terms of analyzing the purpose of an advertisement, and the strategies and manipulation being used to convince them to buy into joining the Army,” Kanner said.

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I look at the pictures at the Army site. The helicopters, the Bradleys, the Hummers. Like it’s time to play with full scale versions of model toys. I look at the Blackhawk doing Apocalypse Now. I look at the boys crammed into a Bradley and think doesn’t a potential recruit looking at this page feel the tension, the fear, the dread, the oh-my-god when that door opens I’m going to be out there running an obstacle course with being blown to kingdom come and I could lose? When that door opens it’s my time to kill?

What if I am killing civilians?

Not a single one of these people who yelled “WMDs in Iraq, you bet!” are even skin-deep sorry about a single death, Iraqi or American. As for the American dead, Bush and Cheney figure they got their throw of the dice chance at keeping what they got or were promised by their country before the big curtain was drawn aside revealing exactly what ticket home they’d be riding in on.

But whatever it was they got or were promised, it wasn’t the truth, I think, looking at the Blackhawk dominating the pyramids.

4 Replies to “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz”

  1. The only War I have actively supported in my adult life was the Afghanistan War. I have a rule. If I wouldn’t go fight in it, I don’t expect others to. I won’t get into the way they just gave up on that for this invasion of Iraq- which has nothing to do with 9-11.

    If the flow of information coming from the White House is all they get, the people aren’t going to throw them out. That’s why they came up with Armstrong Williams and just buying up all the information sources.

    That’s why i always try to encourage development of a Progressive influence on media.

  2. The Spanish language cable channels have incessant recruiting ads. They depict good-looking young people, models who look hispanic, engaged in complex and glamorous military tasks, bizarre military occupational specialties like scuba diving to clear mines from harbors and piloting an amphibious landing craft up onto a tropical beach. No combat infantry grunts need apply for the TV spots. The Marine ads show hard-muscled young men climbing dangerous pinnacles in the desert. The army ads always end with the model, or maybe a voice-over, exclaiming “Yo…soy…el…Army”, I am the Army, strong emphasis on each word, which sounds even more ridiculous in Spanish than it does in English.
    I joined the Army reserves in 1965 because I was about to be drafted and I knew I would go to Vietnam if I did get drafted. Like George Bush, I was well aware that they were not sending reservists. I spent 6 months on active duty and then went to meetings until, like George Bush, I managed to get out of that too. Everyone my age in my reserve unit was a college graduate and a draft dodger, like me. We would smoke dope while eating the box lunches of Kentucky fried chicken they gave us at the armory.
    We thought we were pretty smart, but we were just as naive as the victims of today’s recruiting ads. We happen to have guessed right. But we could have just as easily have all been shipped to Vietnam. We didn’t really outsmart the Army at all. We were just lucky.

  3. Steve – I haven’t watched television news in years and also stopped looking to the AJC as a news resource even longer ago, back around 1990 or so when Bill Kovach walked and Cox hired Ron Martin who had headed USA Today. I was down there working not for the paper but for a columnist (reading and writing letters) when it happened and I don’t know what the place felt like prior but afterwards it was nasty. For the past six years I’ve only used the internet as my news resource. I personally know only a few people who use alternative sources on the internet for news, or news at all. Most use it for gaming.

  4. Jim – We don’t get cable and I don’t watch television much at all, a few hours a month at most, but I can imagine. I was watching television some after 9/11 and it was interesting the new military ads that came out on the big channels then. Split between the prove yourself SEALS-type ads which reminded of physical combat gaming gone live, and the totally remote zeroing in on target ads that again were like gaming. It was interesting going through the military websites some, seeing how they were managing the online recrutment end. One thing I was surprised to see at the Army online store was where you can buy your medals. Does one have to buy their own medals? At least it seemed so as it was going on about developing a display case you can be proud of. I was startled. Thought they’d certainly one their medals.
    Saw the pic of you in your military uniform. 1965. I can remember, just a kid, sitting every night in front of the television watching the news on Vietnam, Walter Cronkite, and the body counts. Speaking of stars, the first I can remember wishing on a star was when I was seven and I wished it was over with. Even then I found it gut-wrenching.
    Glad you didn’t have to go.

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