Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Piers Anthony on The Army

Army

My family is Quaker, more properly the Religious Society of Friends, one of whose prime tenets is pacifism. So I had a thorough childhood indoctrination in the doctrines of peace. But I was small for my age, being the shortest person in my class in ninth grade, male or female (I later grew most of another foot), and that meant that I made early acquaintance with the bully in the schoolyard. In due course I learned to fight, and that improved my situation. I did not seek fights, but I could take anyone within ten pounds of me and some well beyond that, which actually helped me avoid fights. I remember once when a boy about 40 pounds heavier bragged how he had taken me in a friendly tussle. He had, but for some reason that brag didn't bother me; it sort of made my point for those closer to my own weight. I concluded from personal experience that pacifism ultimately did not work; you do have to stand up for yourself if you want to live in peace. It's a philosophy I carried with me when dealing with publishers. So in the end I did not become a Quaker, and when the time came for me to register for the draft, as was required in those days when you turned 18, I did so. The alternative was prison, and I concluded that the Army would do less damage to my person and my philosophy, not to mention my marriage, than prison would. So while my family was shocked by my decision—I saw the jaw of one acquaintance literally drop—I did serve two years in the US Army and I believe today that I made the correct decision. It is said that there's the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. That is true. I'm sure it's true in the other military services too. I remember in a humorous TV program someone said “The Navy works in mysterious ways its blunders to perform.”
As it turned out, the Army wasn't all bad. I had timed it cleverly between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, so avoided dangerous action. I expected trouble so wasn't surprised when I got it. I studied hard in basic training and finished first in my Survey class, and became a survey and basic math instructor. I got trough meals as a vegetarian by gulping down extra milk and stuffing rolls in my pockets to eat later, because they gave us seven minutes to eat and I'm a slow eater. But something bothered me, and finally I went to the Protestant (my specified religion was No Preference, which they took to mean Protestant) head chaplain with my concern. It was that while I was not a pacifist, neither was I a killer, and if they sent me to the front somewhere, put a rifle in my hands, and told me to kill some enemy soldier who I knew didn't want to be there any more than I did, I would not be able to do it. My tests with a rifle indicated I was close to an expert shot, but only at an inanimate target. It was a moral crisis, since the major purpose of the Army is to fight and kill if necessary, and I was a soldier in that Army. What should I do? He looked at me sadly and said “I'm sorry your patriotism isn't greater than that.” I did not argue the point; it was clear there was no worthwhile help or advice here. I saw that for all his religion the man was morally about knee high. That is part of what I judge religion on, and I remain firmly agnostic.
The Army paid my way at a time when my home area was in a recession and it was hard to get any job, let alone a decent one. I was newly married and wanted to support my wife. Prison surely wouldn't have done that. The Army gave me an allotment for my wife, and when she had a her second miscarriage it covered the medical bills that would have bankrupted us. For a time I was on orders for Ping Pong (properly Table Tennis), representing our battalion. But that too is another story. I also got my American citizenship with Army help; I had been born British, in England. Army life was not great, but it was a life.
Then came the time when I exercised my supposed right to say no. It is said that the Army can't make you do something against the rules, but it can make you wish you had. That is true. They had a campaign to make soldiers sign up for savings bonds, with about five dollars taken from your pay each month (of $168 monthly pay). We were exactly in balance, financially, and couldn't afford it, so I declined. What was the cost of that? They blacklisted me for promotions; I was a PFC at the time, due for promotion, but I left the army a PFC. They summoned all off-post personnel to report for early morning revile, letting them all know it was because of me. They hauled me from the survey class I was teaching and put me to work with a spade leveling the sand of the parking lot. Finally they kicked me out as instructor, though before I had been unable to take leave because they couldn’t spare me, and I was sent to another unit. Was any of this legitimate? Of course not, but this is the way the Army operates.
But when I got out, they paid me for about six weeks of unused leave time, and that helped us survive in civilian life until I could get a job. A clerical error put me in Ready Reserve when I was supposed to be on Standby, and so had they called up troops for the Cuban Missile Crisis I could have been called. Missed a bullet, that time. Overall the Army was a waste of time, but it did pay my way when I most needed it.


7 comments:

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  2. I enjoyed your take on the Army. I was in the Navy for six years. And we used to say "Never Again Volunteer Yourself." But it did get me out of a suppressed economic area and gave me some money and a job. (I was an electronics technician in the cryptologic field)

    My hubby did split service (23 years ) of Army and Navy. And yes, he was in the Vietnam war. We were doing some family history on his family and found that his father's family used to be Mennonite. It was a shock to my hubby because the family kept it secret.

    In fact a lovely lady (Mennonite of course) contacted my hubby. She had been keeping track of all of the branches that had left that church just in case they came back. Of course, like you, my hubby is NOT a pacifist.

    I can thank the Navy for a lot, but when I left I was NOT coming back.

    Cyn (I deleted the other post for grammar errors) Sorry

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  3. I just recently found your blog and I really hope to see many more posts in the future!

    I enjoy getting an authors take on life, and no one quite does it as honestly as you.

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  4. Well put, Mr. Anthony - in spite of the prejudicial treatment you got for not "playing ball" (I get funny looks for not donating to the Combined Federal Campaign), you see the positive in what Army provided you at trying times during your life. Not letting negative circumstances drag you down probably contributes to your success as an author.

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  5. I'd say things haven't changed much since you were in. I joined in 2000, and am currently a Staff Sergeant and a signal school instructor. I'm also a publishing author and editor (http://lincolncrisler.info), and have been since deploying to Afghanistan in 2006. I love the benefits, and being able to take care of my family while still making time for my craft, but the occasional mob mentality and inability to always speak your mind certainly gets old real quick.

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  7. Delighted to see that an old favorite author shares not only my Quaker heritage but agnosticism as well! (well, tbh, I'm totally atheist) - a refreshing read for my first visit to your blog.

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