When I was in the third grade I lived on the island of Crete, Greece. I went to school at a Department of Defense (DoDs) school, where all of the American kids went up until the 6th grade, after which they went to Dormitory Schools in Zarzamora, Spain. The very first day of class I walked in and it was a madhouse, children climbing all over the seats, screaming, shouting, and I distinctly remember a paper airplane flying through the air as I stood at the door. It sounds like a cliched memory, perhaps, but was indicative of a free and exuberant learning environment in the mid-1970s. The entire time I lived there is filled with wondrous memories and life lessons of a seemingly magical and poignant nature, but the one I’m concerned with now happened on the playground.
It must have been soon after my arrival, days or weeks, because in the memory, I still feel ‘new’, as if I don’t know many people around me. I remember standing on the concrete playground (of a kind you won’t find these child-proofed days), spazzing out like 3rd graders do, looking around. There were kids playing jumprope, 4-square, girls running around, boys chasing, all of the stuff you’d find on any playground when, suddenly, I’m on the ground. My head is ringing and I can’t hear a thing. I look up and around and see two boys, one tall and blonde, the other shorter and dark-haired, looking at me and laughing, and I notice one of the red, plastic balls that we played with for dodgeball and 4-square bouncing away from me.
I saw red. I charged that kid and knocked him down and, before the teachers pulled me off of him and through the gathered crowd of screaming elementary schoolers, I had pounded the back of his head into the pavement a good 5, 10 times. I remember being in the office afterwards and, rather than the Principal’s words, or some feeling of shame being my primary memory, it is the expression on this kid’s face – chastened, and kind of scared – of being beaten by someone younger and smaller than him. Neither of us got detention, or kicked out of school, or sent home for the day. It was a playground fight, and that was it. I’m not even sure if our parents were notified. And even though i saw that kid around after that, he made sure to avoid me until his family left that duty station. It was a conflict based upon power; he thought he had it, but found out he didn’t. Nice and simple. No complications.
Maybe a year later, I got another lesson after we moved on base and, in defending a smaller friend, I knocked down another, bigger boy, sending him home crying. Somehow my mother found out about it and sent me next door to their house to apologize and, as I entered the gate and walked to the open front door, I could see the boy in the dark hallway with his father bending over him, berating him, “You let that nigger beat you?!”
Needless to say, that apology did not happen. This was an unforseen complication and left me confused and wondering about this new dimension that obviously trumped and complicated our simple, interpersonal conflict.
I had no idea at that age what that word meant. I found out soon enough though, because I heard it plenty more times when we left Greece and moved to Del City, Oklahoma. There were two major conflicts there; one with a little racist who lost his steam when alone (and I left him, weeping, after knocking him down) and another with a kid who threatened my position in the nerd-herd that I avidly grazed the late-70s standards of fantasy and sci-fi with which – along with increasing bullying by larger groups (entire classrooms and friendship groups) – solidified my impression and experience of ‘my Self’ as an ‘outsider’.
O’Fallon, Illinois was just as bad. There, I was one of eight black kids in a middle school of eight hundred, which gave me a true sense of the meaning of oppression as I felt the effects of bullying and the intensity of emotional and psychic attacks while being subjected to pervasive, race-based hatred by children (again, entire classrooms) and neighborhood adults (who would not let me play with their children, come in their houses, or walk on their grass) alike. Moving onto Scott, AFB, was an intense relief, and conflicts there were based upon normal, teenage issues and decidely non-race based.
The last ‘childhood conflict’ occured as a senior in Medical Lake, Washington when I was attacked by a kid who was too slow to hit me (I left him, bleeding from the nose, tagged by a chair that he fell into, after swinging and missing me by a mile), which pretty much ended my experience with the ‘sweet science’ of pugilism. He was also decidely racist, although our conflict was primarily one of insider versus outsider, with him being the outsider in that situation. Late teenhood and skill at atheletics – as well as the birth of hip hop and my identification with the b-boy & girl movement – brought me out of the shell I had formed in response to the hostile environments of my early teen years, with the skills learned during that time period, in art, music and reading, allowing me to empathize and interact with many different social groups while still remaining popular enough to be voted ‘co-Most Talented’ Senior year.
In the totally integrated environs of Air Force bases, overt expressions of racism were legislated against and could cost the military member of the family rank or pay, which is why many who grow up in the environment come to believe that they lived in a color-blind world. In a sense, that was true, and it is definitely the closest example of the American Dream that America has come up with so far, where everyone achieves according to their work ethic and the content of their character, even though there are many individual examples, as well as group examples, of where this is less true than the ideal and yet, still, better than in the civilian world. There remain allegations and experiences of a racial nature, which are decidely hard to prove and impossible to litigate, since, when signing your original contract with the military, you give up all of the rights of civilian entities, including the right to sue the government.
When I graduated from High School and went to Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia, I saw and broke up more fights there in one year that I’d ever seen in my entire life. Being an all-black environment was also a major paradigm shift for me, but there were many other boys there, and girls, from Spelman – the girl’s school across the street – who had grown up in a similar type of situation. Even though I was not a pacifist, I was never challenged directly during that year. The year after that, I was in the Army myself and certainly not a pacifist. The only serious incident(s) during this time came as social groups on the first and second floors of our basic training barracks became divided by race and I, as de facto leader of our floor and Assistant Platoon Guide, was pit, face to face on numerous occasions, with my Country and Western singing and Break Dancing opposite, who probably would have been a friend in any other context.
Almost 5 years in the Army and the onset of Desert Storm, now also known as Gulf War I, forever ended my martial aspirations although I still love a good Chinese martial arts film and feel my military pride stirring anytime I think about, talk to or watch anything having to do with the soldiers of our Armed Forces. Growing up how I did, on military bases across the country and world, and being in the military myself has left me with a deep and broad understanding of the Soldier’s life, while my own personal inclinations and experiences have always been more peaceful in nature. This contradiction strikes to the core of me as an individual and, these days, whenever I tell anyone I was in the Army, they look at me strangely and tell me how they can’t believe that I was a Soldier.
I smile and nod, because I know what they mean. But the fire of combat that girds the loins of those inclined toward national service once filled me as well, and the closeness to deployment that I came in 1991 – being stationed in Kaiserslautern and Nurenberg, Germany, for most of that time – was a sobering time period, called to constant Alert, Unit prepared to move out as we simultaneously moved troops through the European Theatre southwards through Italy and Turkey, into the Gulf on a daily basis. Listening and reading about the stories of young and idealistic soldiers today gives rise to a pang in the heart as I recognize my younger self in them, although their experiences do not mirror the American Soldier’s general experiences in the Gulf during that 3-week period in the Spring of 1991, when that ‘conflict’ was at its most intense.
Shock and Awe was a precursor to a new generation of American weapons and capabilities and my more mature perspective, despite being formed by my own and my cohort’s life and military experiences, forces me to view these globalist conflicts as an evolution of an Agenda that has been millenia in the making. But, as a small child, traveling the globe to Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases across the country and around the world, my own personal conflicts held more importance than those that my father was supporting, as an expression of his sworn duty, the oath that he took, and that I took in my turn, to defend this country unto the Ultimate Sacrifice.
Despite the world-spanning nature of current world conflicts, warfare remains as basic as human instinct. When living in Greece, off-base, me and the other American kids would skirmish in the backstreets of Hersonissos with the Greek kids, chucking dirt clods and rocks, cursing each other and sticking to our own small clusters of America and friend groups, while retaining that distinctive American trait of ‘owning’ the ground we stood on, no matter what country we were living in. Those childish fights were fought on the basis of difference and territoriality and, even though none of us American kids were from that country, we viewed their incursions into the space we considered ours as deadly challenges. Even at the macro-level of geo-politics, the United States feels that the world is its ‘Hood.
Despite our individual and group differences, the ability of Americans, on an individual level, to break down the conditioning of social and ethnic belonging when it comes to the greater good prevails, in this sense, being the kinship group formed by those who train and prepare for the hardships of warfare. As a more mature expression of my childhood battles with other kids who were reflecting the prejudiced viewpoints of their parents, my encounter with my redneck contemporary in basic training was trumped by our shared training and there is no doubt that we would have had each other’s backs if we had been deployed to a combat zone straight off of Tank Hill, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Despite the remonstrations of that boy’s father back in Greece, he performed his job to the standards of his Squadron, also despite the fact that he had to work, day in and day out, with niggers whom he, apparently, thought little of in personal life.
Perhaps America should bring back the draft. Perhaps, by inculcating this younger generation of Americans with a shared sense of duty and the experience of living and dying besides other Americans of diverse backgrounds would give our country that final push into making the societal changes that need to occur in order to move us past the strict racism and classism that still permeates our society. Perhaps when a Senator’s child fights alongside brothas from the hoods of Philadelphia and New York, and the child of New England wealth serves beside the children of undocumented immigrants from Mexico, their shared experience will nullify the effects of the growing gulf between the haves and have nots in this country. Perhaps when the children of Illuminati die beside the children of the World, the senselessness of intolerance will finally make sense.
Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy G-d, as thou temptedst him in the place of temptation.
I have not been to the place of temptation (Massah), but I certainly don’t plan on testing G-d in a martial fashion, even if the situation comes to me, as they always seem to have. The choice not to fight is one that comes from either fear or strength. Having the strength to move past fear means accepting the consequences of not responding in a ‘normal’ manner, which can be dire. But it is a choice that brings peace, in and of itself, no matter what the thoughts are of those who don’t agree. And life is filled with those people, is it not? Conflict is never-ending, but this life we live is not. I think, maybe, the life-experience of the entire world, at this point, is one in which conflict has seemed never-ending. The weight of the world lies within us all, and, in the end, the fate of the world does as well.
We’ll see what happens with the any new conflicts this nation finds itself in in coming years. Libya, Congo, maybe Syria or Iran. But I know that I ain’t gonna study war no more, no suh. I experienced enough conflict during my child and young adulthood, and have experienced conflict of a different, but just as psychically damaging, type as a man. But there are those out there, perhaps some of you reading, now, who have experienced so much more. We all have to decide when enough is enough, and when it is time to count our blessings and cry out, “Peace, be still!”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been blessed beyond belief. And to test G-d by succumbing to the sensual temptations of rage and conflict would certainly leave me lost and, at this stage of life, probably end in the loss of my life. In this perspective of life, running with the bulls only makes sense if you’re caught in an improbable event, such as a stampede of escaped cattle, and not a conscious decision to subject yourself to a life-threatening albeit popular cultural event on a whim or, worse yet, a drunken binge. Life is too short, our destinies to great to waste them cultivating thought processes and ways of Being that do not result in the elevation of our minds and souls.