Tina K. Russell

June 30, 2007

Suicide bombers

Filed under: afghanistan, war — Tina Russell @ 10:37 am

Boy, does this ever make me sad. The New York Times profiles Afghan suicide bombers. Next up, the Washington Post interviews malnourished babies orphaned by Hurricane Katrina before being abducted by aliens and forced to fight in the Kree-Skrull War. Anyway…

I guess what makes me sad is to learn that these kids… teenagers… are sort of convinced, at a young age, that nothing is more important than jihad, against America, against us… and if they don’t go and blow themselves up before infidels, then they aren’t going to heaven and getting the Tenchi Muyo smattering of virgins and all that.

It’s just… it’s sad because I know that feeling is very powerful, that feeling of belonging to something, that feeling of knowing that there’s right and there’s wrong and that you’re on the “right” side. I guess that’s pretty powerful, knowing that you’ve made your choice, you’re on the Autobots or the Decepticons or something, and that you’re going to stand by it, make it count. It’s just that these fanatics have stolen these kids’ childhood from them, their teen years… it shouldn’t be about blowing yourself up. Get into fights in the hallway, stay up too late talking on the phone, have massive videogame parties, slave away at math homework while listening to U2… spend evenings by the skatepark, I don’t know, I don’t care, I guess I just have a certain idea of what it means to be a teenager and I’m pretty sure strapping a bomb to yourself isn’t it…

And this stirs up another emotion in me, because America’s military recruiting machine is on overdrive thanks to the dwindling number of army volunteers (huh, I wonder why?)… regret. We tell our teenagers to fight and die for our country, for some vague, amorphous sense of duty, and that you’ll be rewarded, perhaps not with virgins but with career training and college money that seems to dry up as soon as you come stateside (just as Islamic suicide bombers tend to get pitiful, perfunctory burials rather than the grand send-offs they were promised). I mean…

Here it is. When you’re a teenager, and you’re lonely, and you don’t fit in, the idea that you’ll be invited in, you’ll be accepted, you’ll be given a mission and a duty, and you’ll be part of a team, a part of a movement… that’s incredibly powerful, and I can’t really describe it. When religious fanatics convince teenagers to do this… for some vague notion of “jihad” (which I detest)… it makes me sad because they’re using this kids, manipulating them, kids who could do great things but somehow have been led to believe that the greatest accomplishment a human can do is to become a bomb. That is… I don’t know, it’s sick, it’s tragic, and it makes me angry as someone who was an awkward teen herself.

Maybe it means we need to be providing alternative means for these kids to feel like they fit in, they have a mission and a duty, that they’re protecting their country from outside influence or whatever. It’s just… I feel like, in here, in America, we do the same thing. We dupe our own kids into fighting and dying for a cause that none of us believe in and nobody could really name if pressed… just something about duty and honor and “country.” I… that makes me sad, because nobody seriously believes we’re about to be invaded, and most people don’t even seem to know about America’s global, ubiquitous military presence, her hand in every pie, much less support it (as it goes against the carefree, easygoing nature of the American interior; no, I can’t really back that up, but I’d wager that us Americans are pretty accomodating people). It’s not like we desperately need new recruits for any other reason than to push up Bush’s approval ratings.

It’s just that… we don’t really tell these kids that they’re going to die, or that they could, easily, and their lives will be forfeit to the US military… they died for “the cause,” a cause that nobody knows what it is and certainly nobody believes in, any more. In ten years, if we’re not out of Iraq, people are going to wonder how this war got started. WMDs, huh? It will seem absurd, like the straw that broke that camel’s back. What extraordinary claim could justify sending our children, one by one, into such a collossal meat-grinder as post-invasion Iraq? Well… we haven’t figured it out, yet, but we’re trying.

So, we make our kids these grand promises, and don’t follow through on them as our streets fill up with homeless veterans begging for spare change and attention… I don’t know. I’m not saying that people who recruit teenagers for the US military and people who recruit teenagers to be Afghan suicide bombers are the same thing. (The Afghan recruiters are more honest; they say up front that you’ll die.) The US military is at least trying to do good… trying to stabilize Iraq, make life better for Iraqis, make Iraq a model for the Middle East (all pipe dreams, but worthy ones). You’ll just have to forgive me for feeling like US military recruitment and Afghan suicide bomber recruitment are arms of the same beast… we can’t, and shouldn’t, sign up our children for impossible tasks like stabilizing Iraq, and shoring up Bush’s approval ratings, and yet we do anyway. It’s a powerful force, that need to belong, especially when you’re a teenger, and to manipulate that… well, it’s beneath contempt.

I read Wolverine: Civil War yesterday… when Luke Cage–soon to be converted to the side of the doubters–tells Wolverine that maybe federal super-hero registration won’t be such a bad thing, Wolverine–memories of his whole life, stretching back to the early 20th century, recently restored–notes that he had good friends in Germany until they got registered. Luke Cage argues that you can’t compare the Nazis to the US government.

“Yeah,” Wolverine says, “we should know better.”

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