Sunday, January 20, 2008

"What did you learn in school today?"

American kids grow up loving Ronald Mc Donald, his McNuggets and his mischievous buddy, the Hamburgler, heisting burgers from their Happy Meals if not vigilant.

Ronald and his gang hail from Mc Donaldland, a magical kind of landscape laden with volcanoes spewing thick shakes above plains of thriving apple pie trees and lush patches of hamburgers growing on bushes. That's because, in Mc Donaldland, there are no cattle and poultry slaughterhouses.

So is this some blog advocating vegetarianism? Oh, hell no. I still eat meat on occasions when I can divorce my conscience from the divergent images of green pastures and slaughterhouses (a place I've never visited).

Then what exactly is this about? Well, one of the first things I read on the computer this morning was an article I'd saved from yesterday. It was about Bobby Fischer who passed away this past Thursday at the age of 64.

Fischer, described as one of the greatest chess players to ever live demonstrated his genius at a very early age. As Edward Rothstein in his NY Times article said of Fischer, he possessed a gift that seemed otherworldly, making his "achievements effortlessly magical."

But Fischer's genius came at a price. He lived outside consensus reality. This became apparent over time as his ability to accept the world as it is grew more and more difficult. That's not to judge Fischer's "take" on things as right or wrong. But as a result of his view of things, the world became a hostile place for him. Fischer became angry. His world just didn't match the reality paradigm constructed by the majority of us; a reality that includes places like Mc Donaldland and things like Happy Meals.

And that's where I come to the point I want to share today. In Friday's El Paso Times there was an article proudly demonstrating how our community embraces those to whom we owe so much of our economic welfare - the United States Army. I found the story a little sappy, it's images a-lot-alarming.

I would hope you might find time to read it. But if not, to at least look at the pictures. To imagine the 13 year old (pictured) in the Bradley armored fighting vehicle as your daughter. Imagine asking her one evening at the dinner table, "What did you learn in school today?" And to give thanks that, unlike Bobby Fischer's tormented life, she will likely never have to suffer as he did. That's because we have schools married to our military that nurture our brightest students in our consensus reality.

So is the article from the Times my advocacy for peace? Oh hell no. No more than I advocated vegetarianism earlier. Basically for the same reason: I've never been to a slaughterhouse. In this case, the slaughterhouse of war. But I wonder if it might not be a nice field trip for the kids after their afternoon in tanks and flak jackets to go out on a real battlefield; to experience combat first hand. Of course, some of them might return very injured, maimed for life, or not at all.

That's OK, because that's the consensus reality we're molding them to fit into.

A lesson in armor
Fort Bliss soldiers teach 250 schoolchildren
by Chris Roberts / El Paso Times

A twelve year old adorns a Kevlar vest, helmet and rifle Thursday during a weapons demonstration
at Doña Ana Range attended by about El Paso 250 students. (all photos by Mark Lambie / EPTimes)

DOÑA ANA CAMP, N.M. -- The child-size cap with the captain's bars was at its smallest adjustment, but it still sat loosely on Diego Meza's head.

Diego, a kindergartner at MacArthur School, was selected to set Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks in motion Thursday as they rumbled through a training exercise on this Fort Bliss range.

The exercise was part of a community outreach program created by the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 5th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, in which about 150 of the battalion's soldiers demonstrated what soldier life is like to about 250 honor-roll students from MacArthur.

A 13 year old girl and fellow classmate, a 14 year old boy, from MacArthur school ride in the back
of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle Thursday with a Fort Bliss Staff Sgt. from the 1st Armored Division.

At the center of the activity was Diego, small for his 5 years and wide-eyed as he intently watched the action. Diego was born with his abdominal organs on the outside of his body, which required intricate surgery to "put him back together," said school nurse Terrie Bolt who has worked with Diego since he arrived at MacArthur.

Diego told people he wanted to be a soldier. So a meeting was arranged between him, Angela Carter, the school's Army liaison, and her husband, Col. Mike Carter. "He told my husband he wanted to be a captain in the Army, and that just made my husband's day," Angela Carter said. "He touched my heart."

The couple had a small uniform made with name tapes and all.

So Diego, wearing camouflage, and the other students rode in Bradleys, climbed into tanks and pulled the bolts on .50-caliber machine guns.

A MacArthur fifth-grader took aim with a .50-caliber gun mounted
on top an M-1 Abrams tank Thursday at the Doña Ana Range.

Then they settled in on bleachers for the main attraction, a live-fire exercise that shook the ground with cannon fire from tanks as missiles streaked through the sky before dropping on their intended targets, which included a helicopter hulk.

Diego kicked off the exercise by announcing over the public address system that heavy armor and infantry had been spotted in the area. "Engage and report, over," he said.

Capt. Noah Hanners, a 2nd CAB company commander, and others organized and executed the demonstration. "It really grounds my guys and reminds them of what's important," Hanners said.

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle carrying MacArthur students roars through
the desert during a weapons demonstration Thursday at Doña Ana Range.



D.K. Raed said...

I always had a secret crush on Bobby Fischer, until I found out later how more-than-eccentric his views had become. Another hero proven to have feet made of clay!

Those images from Ft Bliss are truly shocking. I guess they are in accordance with the old religious saw about getting 'em while they're young & you have 'em for life. Not having my glasses on, at first I misread & thought little Diego said he wanted to become a "chaplain" in the army. Guess you'll be expecting a lot more of these young recruitment images as Ft Bliss expands out to engulf the whole region. I assume the military wives will do their part, too. Just so sad ...

Oh on the vegetarian thing, what is a person called who won't eat beef or pork, but all else is on the menu (except sushi & snails)? That's what I've become after an unfortunate incident involving being parked next to one of those big cow transportation trucks in some parking lot in ... yup, TEXAS (sometime in the 80's, as we drove from Amarillo to Dallas)!

eProf2 said...

Unfortunately, the military-industrial complex requires huge numbers of military personnel now and in the future. Like the police who come to our schools, the military uses the same model. In this case, the military has huge government purchased machines to impress the heck out of our children. It is definitely one-sided in terms of socialization.

The questions you raise for me include: Are the children really being set up for military service? If yes, why are the recruitment numbers so far down from earlier levels and why aren't the sons and daughters of the middle and upper classes joining up a few years after their indoctrination?

The answer to my own question might be that most of the children subjected to this field trip are intelligent enough on their own to see the death and maiming behind the machines' existence. Chalk one up for the present day kids. Another point of view might be that all this socialization to war machines fits more into the video gaming industry than the military where the children see the machines of death in person and then relate to their video war games where they know they won't actually be killed or maimed. Again, children might be smarter than we give them credit.

As to the McDonalds part of today's post, the only comment I would make is that parents should be more involved in the eating habits of their children, if they are at all concerned about their own habits. Advertising and choices are very often at odds with what is best for us. It's the nature of the world we live in.

You have written a very thought provoking post today. Thanks.

Border Explorer said...

Yes, great post. The news article demonstrates the "normalization of violence" in our ed system. The same school system and set of educators who hauled the kids into that situation will turn around and decry physical fighting at school. Obviously, there's a 'disconnect' at work here.

Regarding advertising: the less an item is a "need" the more it will be hawked in marketing of all sorts.

Regarding healthy food: I recommend The Omnivore's Dilemna for a cool read. What an eyeopener! And I'm only partway through it.

Fran said...

Where'd MY post go?? (thus explains the test post)...

Holy Hell! Since when do elementary schools have Army liaisons? I would never sign a permission slip for my 5 year old (or any age) to go to a military base. 5 year olds should be learning the alphabet & how to read.
Plus they are only taking honor students? Cruising the gravy?

I don't imagine their field trip includes a Vet hospital where people have lost limbs & are dealing with grueling therapy, or a homeless shelter with Vets suffering with PTSD, or a cemetary.
No, not as fun as "playing" with tanks & guns.

As for MsDonalds Happy Meals- if they had truth in naming rules- it would be mediocre meals, funky meals, or coronary bypass meals.

Those photos are troubling.

dada said...

Thanks for all the fine comments on this one. This particular newspaper article hit really close to home. That's because Mrs. Dada has been working counter-recruitment efforts with 5 local school districts for the past 8 months now, the goal of which is to ascertain how these districts are implementing notification requirements to parents to "opt out" from contact of their children by recruiters as required under the No Child Left Behind Law.

Mrs. Dada wants parents simply to know their rights under this law. She is not trying to antagonize the systemm just verify districts are complying, leaving parents (not the school districts) the ones who decide whether or not it is okay for military recruiters to contact their kids.

Results have varied, but one of the least responsive districts has been the one (EPISD!) that placed their children in tanks and armored personnel carriers last Thursday. Worse, was the revelation in that article their campuses have military liaisons! I got the sinking feeling this is an Amerikorps-like recruitment of our kids for the Fatherland.

Another interesting episode occurred Saturday when Mrs. Dada went to a movie. (We usually go during the week, so what happens on the weekends is new to us.)

She was solicited to join the National Guard by receiving a "Hooah" card in which she answers an obvious multiple choice question which earns her "Hooah points" she can redeem towards prizes!
Amerikorps indeed!

eprof: I hope you're right, i.e., about the kids being smarter than to fall for this. Of course, you know my bent toward pessimism, but I pray you're right. And maybe those parents who frequent McD's with their kids are the ones who aren't that mindful about opting their kids out of recruiter's clutches, I don't know.

d.k. Back in the 80's, we had a CB radio. We learned those cattle trucks carried loads of "Go-go girls." Yet, despite that, it always pained me as we'd pass them, big brown eyes staring out at us from inside unimaginable cramped conditions. To think where they might be headed, esp. cows whom I consider
some of the gentlest animals to walk the planet. (Don't tell me what happened next to a load of those girls in Texas. I can pretty well imagine.)

B.E. loved your point about physical violence in our schools but loadin' 'em up with 50 cal. machine guns to slaughter brown people on the other side of the globe is ok. (Thanks for the "Omnivore's Dilemma" recommendation.)

Fran: I had thought of using a vet's hospital as a possible field trip for these same kids. In fact, homeless vets also crossed my mind after a particularly unpleasant encounter with one of my era vets (Vietnam) downtown last fall who was pissed because peace demonstrators had taken over his panhandling "work site" for a couple of hours. (I had invited him to join us but it was like taking a day off w/o pay for him and he wasn't the least bit pleasant. But both excellent suggestions.

But in the blog I decided to take these kids straight to the battle field and maim and kill some of 'em just hoping someone would accuse me of being out-of-bounds with children. But, of course, we don't draw that kind of crowd. This is the choir here (For which I'm thankful).

azgoddess said...

wow - i know from listening to my 8 yr old grandson - that they are preparing the kids to go to war making them think it's like playing a video game - god i wish...

but you already know - this Nana set him straight...