By Solomon, Norman
The Humanist , Vol. 62, No. 5
If you call the toll-free number posted on the television screen during one of those upbeat U.S. Army commercials, a large envelope will be sent to you containing a white T-shirt sporting the slogan in big block letters: "AN ARMY OF ONE."
The only other thing in the package will be a videotape called 212 Ways to Be a Soldier. A hard-driving rock soundtrack propels all twenty minutes. Graphics flash with a cutting-edge look (supplied by a designer who gained ad-biz acclaim for working on a smash Nike commercial). Young adults provide warm narratives about their daily lives in the army. From the outset, the mood is reassuring.
Sometimes, the screen fills with helicopters, intrepid soldiers rappelling through the air, men advancing across terrain as they carry machine guns--always accompanied by plenty of rock `n' roll--all in the service of a country much more comfortable dishing out extreme violence than experiencing it. There's no talk of risk and scarcely a mention of killing.
Carefully multiracial and coed, the video gets a lot of its juice from an undertone of foreclosed civilian possibilities. It beckons the nonaffluent who feel trapped by a lack of appealing options.
"Probably if I hadn't joined the army," says a nineteen-year-old woman, "I would be doing the same thing most of my friends are doing, which is working fast food." In contrast, her story has a happy twist. Army recruiters "told me about the college fund that I'd be getting.... And really, that was the kicker for me, `cause college was priority."
Another soldier cites dollar figures: "I got my degree from George Washington University--a degree that would have cost me $40,000 but cost me about $500 through the army." An African American medical tech says that the army permitted him to "get to see some cool things in the O.R. [operating room] as far as the surgeries are concerned." An army-trained chef looks forward to the day she can open her own restaurant.
"Basically," says a male reservist, "I get to play James Bond in the army. I participate in stuff like conducting liaison interviews with potential spies. I love my job. It'll also help in my civilian job in that I work a lot with computers." A female soldier, identified as "interrogator" and "Spanish linguist," also beams with pride as she tells the camera: "I can't really tell you a lot about the job, `cause it is secret."
Few could doubt their youthful energy. Or the hopeful stamina. Or, beneath the surface, the numbed capacity for immense cruelty.
When a helmeted captain, seated at the controls of a helicopter, speaks about being part of the army's "air cavalry," her voice is a blend of military fervor and adolescent zest. …