In the summer of 2004 I found myself and twenty other “classmates” doing push-ups, jumping jacks, and all manner of physical torture for over an hour, while my Marine Corps drill instructor (a five foot two black woman from Arkansas) screamed at us. She was inflicting upon our class a form of group punishment called “Remedial Physical Training” or RPT. This “training” usually consisted of doing one exercise after another all while the drill instructor yelled in our faces. This was a common occurrence during my twelve weeks in Naval Officer Candidate School, but this event stands out in my memory because the lesson our drill instructor was trying to drive home was the importance of questioning orders that do not make sense.
A female classmate was asked to get a soda and deliver it to a male drill instructor. Our female drill instructor did not like the perception that a female subordinate was doing “favors” for a male superior, and she insisted that the “order” was not legitimate. Most normal people would have used this occasion to discuss perceptions in the workplace, or what constitutes a valid order, but our drill instructor was not a normal person. She made our female classmate stand in front of our class holding a soda and watch as she punished the rest of us for this strange infraction.
While I don’t agree with my drill instructor’s methods, I must admit she drove home the lesson: “Question orders that don’t make sense.” I found this questioning attitude to be vital not only in my Navy career, but later as a civilian. It was something that I tried to encourage in the sailors I led, to keep me out of trouble, and keep them safe. If I told one of the electrician’s mates to energize a switch, I didn’t want them to blindly follow my order if they thought it might harm someone. The sailors working for me knew that they should question my orders if they didn’t make sense. One of the easiest ways for a subordinate to undermine a superior is to follow their orders blindly. Doing so will almost always have some unintended consequence that will make the superior look bad. Human beings are imperfect, and there was no way that an officer could know as much about a particular system onboard the ship as the technical experts, who had years of experience and training. A good leader will encourage critical thinking and a questioning attitude. No one is competent enough to do all the thinking for an entire organization.
As soon as I signed up for the Navy, people would go out of their way to thank me for my service. I served in the post 9/11 military and people were falling all over themselves to support the “protectors” of freedom. In many ways this connection to the military seemed to bring out the best in people. It allowed me to see the nicer side of complete strangers. How many other occupations have stranger’s thank you for doing your job?
The recognition was nice at first but, as time went by I couldn’t help but feel like a fraud. These people were looking at me like I had stormed the beaches at Normandy, but in reality nothing I did in the military has made America a safer place. The arc of my four year career did not make anyone safer, or protect the life and property of any American. Most of my time as a sailor was spent trying to comply with an endless number of inspection programs all designed to satisfy an equal amount of bureaucratic requirements. The main objective seemed to be advancing the careers of our leadership and making insane amounts of money for the defense contractors who supplied us with terrible equipment.
The realities I faced in the fleet forced me to think critically about other assumptions I held. Before joining the Navy I thought the leadership and equipment I was working with would be incredible. I was wrong about both. The equipment was inadequate, and our leadership was incompetent and sometimes evil. Before the Navy I thought George W Bush was awesome, and Dick Cheney was looking out for America. As my career continued I realized how wrong I had been. I began to question the wars we were involved with, and the motivations of our political leaders. Had all those crazy liberals who had protested against the war been right? While I was in the military this was not a position I could accept. If it were true it then so much of what I had come to believe was wrong. The truth was working against 16 years of state school indoctrination, and an intense brainwashing campaign conducted by the military. It would take an overwhelming amount of evidence and a good deal of “questioning orders” before I came around to the anarchist position. Ironically, it was the questioning attitude and skepticism of career military officers and enlisted personnel that got me to question my own statist beliefs.
Both the best and worst people I have ever met were in the military. I saw every good and bad attribute that you can imagine. I met some of the smartest, most reliable, and most caring people I have ever known. Among the best is a former shipmate who is now a lawyer, helping to fight human trafficking and modern slavery. Another friend holds a dual degree in math and physics. I knew sailors and marines who helped out on humanitarian relief missions, who brought food and water to people suffering from natural disasters.
On the other hand, there were those who bragged about killing civilians from 30,000 feet in the air. There were soldiers who laughed about kicking human heads around like soccer balls. I heard first-hand accounts of a drug and prostitution ring run by the Captain of a ship, who literally pimped out his sailors. Blatant stupidity and incompetence were a daily occurrence.
It’s not often in life that you see this juxtaposition in human behavior, the absolute best and worst working side by side. Imagine Ron Paul and Donald Rumsfeld working together in the same squadron. The analogy is not far off the mark because Dr. Paul was a flight surgeon, and Rumsfeld was a pilot. They both served around the same time. Yet the two could not be more different in their politics and moral outlook.
What is it about the military that attracts people of such wildly different character? In previous articles I have questioned whether a military is even necessary. My articles on Liechtenstein and Costa Rica present examples of countries prospering without a military, despite being located in violent regions. But, for all the military does wrong, it would be impossible for any organization to do everything wrong. The US Military has engaged in disaster relief, daring rescues, and the overthrow of more than a few violent despots (although the US usually put those despots in power to begin with). These accomplishments along with a lap dog media and an impressive advertising campaign have bought the military a lot of goodwill. At the time of my commissioning the military was one of the most trusted professions in the United States.
For an idealistic young person who wanted to save lives, protect property, and defend a free way of life the military seemed very appealing. If you are a sociopath obsessed with power and authority, the military is also appealing. It is one of the few occupations that appeal to both the best and worst in human nature. The propaganda enjoyed by the military is convincing, and the truth often gets drowned out like a voice of reason on a cable news show.
As a veteran of the post 9/11 military community, I can’t tell you how many discounts on hotels and restaurants, free meals and drinks. It has been a plus with employers, and I still get free health care from the VA (however, you get what you pay for). Being a Veteran that has served post 9/11 has its perks.
The veterans I feel bad for are the ones from the Vietnam era. Imagine getting drafted to fight against your will, come home to get spit on and shunned by large portions of the public, then have to deal with PTSD and any disabilities you may have through the broken VA system. In large part I think the anti-war movement missed out on a huge opportunity by demonizing the Vietnam veterans. To be sure The Mei Lai massacre, killing civilians, and the destruction of the Vietnam countryside are all horrible acts that were committed by individuals. But the policy that got them there was put in place by the State. Vietnam vets were the tools used to carry out those policies. Instead of attacking the individuals who carried out these orders the anti-war crowd should have gone after the State which put those men in that terrible situation.
It is hard for anyone to admit they are wrong when challenged about deeply held beliefs. When elements of the anti-war movement began spitting on troops returning home from Vietnam, and attacking them physically or verbally, is it any wonder that many Americans, including the Veterans, wrapped the flag around themselves even tighter? This was a huge missed opportunity to go after the power of the State itself.
All members of the American military, and law enforcement swear an oath to the US Constitution, and while that document is flawed, it does reinforce the concept of natural rights. It is a good starting place for a conversation. The good news is that a number of law enforcement officials are refusing to comply with unjust laws. I am encouraged to see many local Sheriffs around the country refusing to enforce Federal gun and drug laws. I am thinking specifically of the Sheriff of Mendocino County in California who refused to raid marijuana growers who had registered in his county, and the rising numbers of local Sheriffs who have sent letters to the Department of Justice refusing to comply with Federal gun laws. To be successful in the liberty movement we need to reach out to troops and law enforcement. They are the tools of the State who are entrusted with carrying out their actions.
Ferguson, Missouri is a glimpse of life under a police state. This is what happens when the police become disconnected from their communities and turn into an occupying military. The day may not be far off when military units are ordered to fire on US citizens. To avoid this we must convince the trigger pullers to question the orders they are given. Having been through the military I can tell you they do not train troops to blindly follow orders. Having talked my way out of more than a few speeding tickets I can tell you that law enforcement officers can be reasoned with, and even convinced to take actions which might even go against their best interests (like meeting a ticket quota).
Anarchists today must not repeat the mistake of the anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s and directly attack the troops and police officers who are only the tools of State policy. Instead, let’s give these people an out by welcoming them to join the liberty movement. By all means continue to document their actions, but let’s not alienate these potential allies by verbal insults at them, or calling for them to be physically attacked.
The truth is on the side of the liberty movement. The truth is that power corrupts, and a monopoly on force is an enemy of freedom. Fighting against truth we have at least three generations of State school indoctrination, and the institutional brainwashing that military or law enforcement go through. Add to that the fact that their pay check comes from the State, and we have a lot working against us!
Here are my tips for non-violent outreach:
Stay calm and be polite. The person perceived as being in the wrong is the one who starts yelling first. If you can remain calm and appear reasonable this will go a long ways towards winning over anyone you are trying to convince. Especially if the interaction is caught on camera.
Try and find common ground. It’s harder to arrest someone (or shoot them) if they see you as a person.
Give them an out. No one likes being backed into a corner or being humiliated. When speaking with a government agent by all means give them something to think about, but if you force them into a situation where they have to admit that their occupation, and the means by which they feed their family is fundamentally wrong, you’re probably not going to win them over.
Suggest other options. The police and the military are often employers of last resort. People often choose this occupation because they feel like they have no other options. For those with a military background headhunter firms like Bradley-Morris, Orion, and Lucas Group all specialize in placing veterans in jobs with corporate America. For cops there really are high paying private security jobs. Some power plants for example employ heavily armed security officers that make over six figures a year.
Ask them to consider their family life. I have yet to meet anyone who has spent 20 years in the military who is still married to the same spouse. Divorce rates for cops are similar. Ask them if their current occupation is really worth losing their family over?
Ask if this is what they thought they would be doing when they joined? I know when I joined the military I imagined I would be battling the enemies of America. Instead I spent most of my time making defense contractors, and the politically well-connected loads of money. I think most cops think they will be catching murderers and thieves, but instead spend most of their time writing tickets, and busting non-violent people on drug charges.
Above all keep in mind that you never know what circumstances have transpired in a person’s life to bring them to where they are today. The agents of the state have gone through decades of indoctrination, but even the most brainwashed can’t completely give up reason. I believe that through encouraging them to question orders, we can get many of them to fundamentally question the validity of the State. If we can do this then a huge strike will be made toward abolishing the State peacefully.
This article was originally published on The Daily Anarchist.