The Way Out

This picture has been making the rounds on Facebook after President Trump’s decision to reinstate the ban on transgender people serving in the military. This may be a person who exists; I can’t say with 100% certainty that there are no people signing up for the military for the chance to flout international law. I’ve never met this person though, or anyone like them. Let me tell you about the people I have met who have served.

My mother was born in Sylvester, Georgia fifty two years ago. I visited my family there when I was eight. A town like Sylvester is about as far away from the glitz and opportunity of Atlanta as Connecticut is physically far away. There were 3,600 people in Sylvester in 1960, and nothing else. While growing up there, she and her nine brothers and sisters experienced the most grotesque abuse, the kind you read about in memoirs. Her way out of that place was the United States Navy, where she met my father, a Marine with a GED and a desire to see more than the streets of Hartford where he’d been all of his life.

I have friends who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times, when it was a very real possibility that you might not come back from a tour there. Friends with confirmed kills. Friends who have seen their buddies die. Friends who deal with the physical and psychological trauma of war to this day. They didn’t join the military to “slaughter poor brown people.” They joined for the GI Bill. One of them joined in the summer of 2001, right after high school. It was still peace time, and he needed help paying for college. He told me that he cried on September 11th because he knew it meant he was going to war.

There is an eighteen year old walking into a recruiting office right now somewhere in the United States because they believe their best option to better their life is to risk their life. They’ve made the choice that killing someone else is the path that leads them out of the misery they’re experiencing.

Before you cast your moral aspersions on that kid, you’d better have an alternative for them. Today. Right now. You’d better be prepared to find that kid, and take them yourself to that alternative which will pay them, shelter them, feed them, and offer them the potential for help down the road. You’d better have something more than a platitude for someone who has decided that the potential good of their decision outweighs the monstrous evil of death.

The world is a hard, cruel place. The poor kill the poor, and the rest cast judgment. If you’re opening your mouth with something other than an answer, you might want to consider what else you can be doing besides talking.

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