Going AWOL

Maybe I’m picking on the wrong person here, but I really don’t understand Jeremiah Adler:

He made solo treks into the Oregon woods for days at a time. He stood on the front lines of downtown anti-war protests. Then, shortly before graduating last June from the alternative Waldorf School, Adler did what his friends and family considered unthinkable.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army — not just a two-year stint, but a five-year commitment with a chance to attend the U.S. Army Airborne School.

“I didn’t want to be the average infantryman, the average grunt,” says Adler, now 18. He wanted to make a difference, he says, not only to the Iraqis he hoped to help liberate, but to the military itself.

But only hours after arriving for basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., he had a change of heart. The Army, he says, wanted to turn him into “a ruthless, coldblooded killer,” and he wanted no part of it.

You think you are going to change the Military?

After nine days, Adler fled, running into the Georgia forest in the middle of the night with a friend. As he did, he joined thousands of other would-be soldiers who bolt from their units each year, risking everything from a blot on their employment records to prison time. Since 2001, more than 15,000 people have gone AWOL, or absent without leave, from the Army, according to statistics provided by a military police official at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Most of whom I have much more sympathy to than Jeremiah Adler… the cases where someone goes to war and has a conscience change. Or realize suddenly what the military is and what it is you are doing. Or realizes that it is not worth the college money. Frankly, they are often brave people for deserting against such a political backlash. Jeremiah Adler, on the other hand…

As a high school senior, Adler seemed as unlikely a candidate for the military as one could imagine. He not only marched the streets of Portland to protest the war, but his mother had to talk him out of a plan to scale a downtown crane and hang an anti-war banner from it. Growing up, he was forbidden to play with toy guns. To schoolmates, he was a jokey, sensitive social activist.

But there was another side to Adler. He had served as a cadet for the Beaverton Police Department and spent enjoyable nights on ride-alongs with officers. He didn’t play organized sports, devoting himself to art and music, but he loved working himself to his physical limits.

He thrilled to the possibility of joining the Army. He told his mother, he told his teachers, he told his friends. They all tried to talk him out of it.

Perhaps his mother, his teachers, and his friends saw the difference between the military and himself? Egad, he could have been a perfectly good police officer… might have helped solve some of the Portland Police Burea’s problems.

“He said, if it’s only warmongers in the military, that’s how the military will stay,” Wasson said. “He believed he could tip the scales. It was a very, very idealistic attitude, but my son is a very articulate, convincing kind of guy.” […]

He was giddy on the airplane to Fort Benning in September. He arrived late at night and filed with 103 other recruits into an auditorium. A drill sergeant welcomed them with a story about why he joined the Army. Not for the education, not for the camaraderie but, as Adler recounts him saying, “to shoot (bad people).” The auditorium erupted in hoots.

Over the next few days, Adler says, pretty much the sole topic of conversation with anyone was about “shooting Arabs.”

“It wasn’t about preparing you to kill,” Adler says about basic training. “It was about instilling inside you a desire to kill.”

That’s the culture one has to know they’re joining with when signing up for the military. A bit disillusioning, I imagine. Except if you throw out all your idealistic illusions and realize… that is the culture you’re about to encounter.

Have I ever shared my military recruitment story? It’s only vaguely interesting, but that may be good enough to throw back up.

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