April 29, 2004

Echoes of a Fallen Friend

Here Comes the Draft
Down Comes the Kingdom

Lately my friend Rodney Wilson has been present in the spaces and times I pass through during the day. I don't know if that means that he is somehow conscious of that presence, or if it is only "in my mind," whatever that means.

Of course I know why he is on my mind, it is because the draft is coming again. We are getting the signals, they are unmistakable. The administration has painted us all into a corner where manpower to defend the country and meet the commitments it has made will make it an unavoidable necessity to turn to conscription. I dread it to the bottom of my soul. At the same time, I can't help but see something good about it. It will no doubt bring down the present regime.

Even if it happens after the election and Bush wins, even if Kerry is president, it will shake the foundations of this military regime that has consolidated power during the post World War II period, just as Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address. It will shake those foundations and very likely bring it down because it will force a metanoia on a massive scale.

I was one of the generation who came of age in the U.S. in the late '60s and found out that the government had the right to send me to a distant country, strip me of all my rights and force me to kill or be killed in a war that was widely seen as illegitimate, and even more widely recognized as unwinnable. Rodney was one of my closest friends during junior high and high school years. He was born exactly a week after me.

We went through many changes together during those years. We spent untold hours together in many situations in school and out of school. We were boxing buddies. He was better than me, but we were close enough to make a good match for each other. So we were invaluable to each other for that reason alone. We would bang each other up to build up our mutual defense.

Many of my first romantic experiences were double dates with him. We roamed the streets together in gangs of rowdy teenagers. There were many differences in our personalities and our backgrounds, but the biggest difference was that he died when he was 19, and I didn't.

I went to college, and he joined the army to enroll in helicopter flight training. But things didn't work out like he thought. He never was good with authority. In fact he was the most defiant person I've ever known. He couldn't stand taking shit. Period. He didn't like to give in. Apparently it didn't serve him so well in the Army. They busted him out of flight school, put him in infantry, sent him to Vietnam and in 30 days he was dead.

No one ever explained to me what he died for. The government barely acknowledged that it had to tell you why it was killing you, or killing your spirit by forcing you to kill innocent women and children that they called gooks. In the early days they claimed it was fighting Communism, but after a while they didn't even bother to try to push that one anymore. Then it was just inertia. We've got to stay the course. I won't be the first American president to lose a war and blah blah blah...

So like the French soldier in Vietnam tells the English reporter who was the narrator of Graham Greene's The Quiet American, We know the war is not winnable, but we just have to keep fighting until the politicians tell us to stop. The French knew it in 1952. Even the Americans knew it by 1968. But the politicians kept sending more Americans to die.

So now it is coming again. They are bringing back the draft. The draft put the issue right in the faces of the American people and forced the whole structure to blow apart. Control could not be maintained. Even soldiers in the field couldn't always be trusted not to shoot their own officers.

The so-called volunteer army, or the poverty draft, uses the impetus of poverty to channel young men into the infantry. Repealing the draft in this country actually helped the military-industrial complex to grow and consolidate power under the nose of the American people without being unduly noticed. Now it has grown to such a level of power that it has essentially taken over the American government, through the network of war-related industries represented by George W. "Mr. Corporation" Bush.

Now the Bush administration has made its play for world domination as outlined in the Cheney-Bush thinktank Project for a New American Century and its foreign policy position papers "The National Security Strategy of the United States" . In its eagerness to plunge the world into war it has blundered badly and its needs for manpower and resources have become massive. It is now ready to re-institute the draft, to repeat the errors of the past.

And when millions of young American men and women, cyber-savvy 21st century world men and women are told they have to give their lives for the Bush-Cheney wars, they will experience a psychic transformation that will crack the sky. They will see the utter insanity of it, and they will refuse to participate.

Metanoia. Great word. It refers to a radical change of consciousness, like a religious conversion. When you tell them they don't really have any rights, just watch what they do.

Now I've lived nearly three times as long as Rodney. He never lived to see the world we are in, computers, home video, cable TV. How much more is my life worth than his? Who knows? Maybe nothing. When the farther horizon is within sight, the whole thing seems like just a moment whether it's 20 years or 80.

A few times in dreams I have seen Rodney again, and it's always the same feeling, not like other dreams, not that fluid, phantasmagorical reality where all things may change form and nothing makes sense. They were different kinds of dreams, very focused, lucid. Extremely joyful on my part, to be reunited with my friend and to be fully conscious even in the dream that he is dead and something miraculous must have happened for me to be with him again.

And he is always the same. Calm, silent, never saying a word, just smiling, projecting some quiet serenity. Then it is over and I wake up. But it never feels like a dream. It feels like a real communion somewhere in space and time.

Lately he has been present and I don't know if it is just these events evoking his memory, or somehow a message coming to me that if I am going to make anything of this life, I should dedicate myself to helping to prevent his fate of senseless, untimely death from happening to some other innocent teenager. Even if I can save one life, I will have done something.

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