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Thoughts on Federal Service and a Son in a Military Academy

I know people close to me have been wondering how I got to where I am now ideologically—how my ideology is expressed in my life choices and the choices for my children that I am supporting and encouraging.

When I left America in 1991 part of the reason was I did not want to live in or contribute in any way to the machine that allowed Iran-Contra to happen. It’s harder to find info about the death squads in Central America and America’s role in that ugly part of history on the internet, but I heard people who were witness to the events and I will never forget their words. American leaders were tried and convicted of treason over this incident. The United States had a sitting president who had to testify that he could not remember conversations he had had or else face charges of treason. I did not want my tax dollars supporting the economics of purposeful killing of innocent people in foreign countries, which is what Iran-Contra was very much about. No matter how unlikely it was that my miniscule tax payments were going to something like Iran-Contra, I just didn’t want to contribute to the machine. There were other reasons for me leaving America, but Iran-Contra was certainly a part of it.

America’s place in hegemony struggles of the world is as conflicted as a person might imagine it to be for a super power. Living abroad in South Korea I gained a deepened understanding of the political value of human life. I attained this wisdom by hearing witnesses, becoming a witness myself, and by meditating. I heard people talk about what happened during the Kwangju Massacre and I read about how America may have participated in that incident and why America may have participated—an incident possibly orchestrated by none other than Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former president Jimmy Carter. I also heard people talk about what it was like to live under Japanese colonial rule, the stories of comfort women, and how South Korea was brought under Japanese colonial rule. I studied how the Korean War came about, and the tragic loss of life and suffering on both sides and from all parties because people were afraid of dying. Each occurrence of the war, no matter how big or small, was an expression of a political game, and it was not morally perfect or sound.

In the end, the prevailing opinion and response I received from South Koreans was one of gratitude, especially from older South Koreans who had lived through colonization and the war: thank you for helping us make our country free, and not like North Korea, which was the likely alternative had America and the UN not intervened. It is powerful when someone comes up to you and bows (prostrates, really), says “thank you” because of what your country or grandfather did 40 some years ago. It especially has meaning because of the context: a people was in the process of having their culture systematically obliterated, their children trafficked, etc., and then as a nation of refugees, living without food or property, sometimes in caves or on mountains with no care or means of survival until the war ended.

A person might say that had the US and UN not intervened, there would have been a much smaller war and the suffering wouldn’t have been so dramatic. Who can say what the future holds? Would North Korea have been as paranoid and dictatorial had it won the war and controlled the entire peninsula? If no, maybe not having the war would be worthwhile. If yes, maybe it would. This of course presumes that war is ever worthwhile in the first place. But then that also requires moral judgements of scale on what kind of human suffering is worthwhile (i.e., what kind of suffering for what ends) and that’s really bigger than I can take on here. Suffice it to say that my time in South Korea led me to believe that American wars of hegemony weren’t all always entirely bad and the local people weren’t all always ungrateful victims. Compare South Korea and North Korea today. Compare their contributions to the world to date. How do we make informed judgments now about a past that did not happen, including measuring the scales of human suffering?

Moreover, and if we really want to go to the heart of the matter: what causes war and human suffering in the first place? No one except truth practitioners who meditate will agree with me here. From the point of view of the origin of suffering, everything—everything is an expression of suffering. What matters then is only how you survive and endure.

There’s something to be said for the American military community as a microcosm of American life: is there racism? Yes. Is it anything like what we experience in America? No. In fact, I find it strange that the rest of America can’t get it’s sh*t together like the American military has. I will admit there seems to be more hints of racial antagonism in the Army than other branches of service—at least so far as I have seen—but overall, still, the American military is a cultural melting pot of respect. Federal civilian service members and military members have access to clear procedural mechanisms and consequences for acts of racism, and so far as I have seen, the machine works better than it does in civilian life. I’ve hung out with (gone to dinners and parties, etc.) of all races and felt comfortable and had a good time. I’ve done this repeatedly and on many occasions, making friendships that may last a lifetime with black and Asian Americans. Living in my home state of Michigan, I can’t say the same thing about my experiences with as many racial or ethnic groups. This is just one of many examples of social equality that I have experienced and enjoy by working for the federal government. The environment that I do my job in is probably as close to socialism as an economic way of life that the American government currently sustains.

I think it’s also worth noting that those mechanisms of equality have always been at the forefront of the American social conscience as expressed in the US military, including the recent decisions about gender preference equality: it happened first in the US military.

And the American military isn’t always all about killing. I don’t know the numbers but when I think about all the military service members I have met and worked with, I think comparably few of them were on a firing line or involved in “kill or be killed” combat situations. Mostly the military is about the big machine and making it work so whatever needs to be done will be done. That includes building hospitals, schools, roads, power plants, and infrastructure so people of all walks of life can find a way to live in the world. That includes bringing food and medical supplies to impoverished people who would otherwise die without it. It also includes bringing Christmas presents to kids who, although being Christian, have no means or access to receive gifts of any kind. It’s a little thing to us, but not to the kids and families who receive.

In the super big picture, where is the world headed now? My big concern is the 6th extinction. How are we as a human race going to survive if we have already entered this period as some scientists claim? I’ve done a lot of things to hedge my bets and my bets on the lives of my children. It has been an incredible journey of world travels, many legal and personal battles of all kinds fought, and a life of constant questioning and self-evaluation. It has been a rich life, one that I am proud of if not entirely satisfied with (who is, ever?), and one I am grateful for. I’ve worked harder than I ever thought I would, and my children have achieved far more than I ever did at their age. Not too many regrets, really, for where I and my children are at now or why we are where we are.

So I am going to pray that my children are never put in harm’s way and that, should my sons both be admitted to military academies, that their jobs be jobs of noble service. And as for me personally, I still meditate, I still believe peace is the most desirable way, and I will always advocate for fairness, equanimity, and positive human life. I am so proud of my son for being admitted to a military academy and I am proud of the job that I have—in the spirit of President Kennedy—one of service, working for the US federal government. Amen, and peace!

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