They Shoot People, Don’t They?
“‘They don’t really advertise that they kill people,’ Funk said. ‘I didn’t really realize the full implications of what I was doing.'” — Marine Reservist Stephen Funk, on why he refused to report for active duty, “Marine: ‘I refuse to kill’,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/2/03
You have to be a really interesting sort of ignorant not to know that the Marines kill people from time to time. Your first hint: The big rifle so many of those Marines carry around. Your second hint: All those movies, books and television shows, widely available to the general public, in which Marines are shown, you know, killing people. Your third hint: The fact that the Marines are widely acknowledged to be a branch of the military of the United States, and militaries are likewise widely known, by most people who are smart enough to stand upright on two legs, to kill other people on occasion (typically members of other nations’ militaries, though sometimes they’re not so picky, depending on country and context).
This rather goopy column on Stephen Funk describes a kid who got over 1400 on his SATs and got accepted to a number of excellent colleges, including my own University of Chicago, which is widely known (when it is widely known at all) for being the sort of school that remarkably stupid people don’t usually have high on their wish list of collegiate destinations (Funk eventually landed at University of Southern California, which is not nearly as an encouraging indication of intelligence, but never mind that right now). In short, Funk is portrayed as a very smart kid, not the sort of person who, for example, needs a reminder that coffee may be hot, so please don’t place it near your genitals, or, as another example, that the Marines occasionally go to war and kill people, being that they are an arm of the military.
The column piece suggests that the Marine recruiter filled Funk’s head so full of tales of wild adventure and technical training that our young hero couldn’t even contemplate the idea that Marines might go to war, which I would expect is true as far as it goes. The armed forces of the US spend a lot of time and money in their recruiting commercials pushing things like skills training, money for college and seeing the world, and less time pushing things like no showers for weeks, endless Meals Ready to Eat and the possibility of having to put a bullet into the gut of someone who wants to do the same thing to you but is slightly less quick on the draw, and who will then go down screaming because you’ve just turned a large portion of his small intestine into a crimson mess with the consistency of Libby’s potted meat food product.
But even then, there’s always the indication that the military is not exactly a peaceable organization. Take the Marines recruiting site. On the front page are three pictures, one of which features Marines handling rifles. Put your mouse over the pictures, and Java script pops up text. “Those Who are Warriors. Those Who are Driven. Those Who Belong.” Click on “About the Marines” and the text that pops up reads, right from the beginning: “Marines are warriors. Comprised of smart, highly adaptable men and women, the Marine Corps serves as the aggressive tip of the U.S. military spear.” The picture on this page is a squad of Marines, rifles sighted and ready to shoot, stalking the photographer. To be strictly accurate on Funk’s immediate point, there’s nothing on the Marine recruiting site that I can see that specifically says anything about killing people. But on the other hand, all this talk of warriors and pictures of rifles doesn’t give the indication one is signing up for day care training, either.
The part of Funk’s quote above that rings true is the second part: “I didn’t really realize the full implications of what I was doing.” This, I believe. I think it’s entirely possible to sign up, get into training and then realize, holy crap, am I ever in the wrong place. Moreover, I think there’s absolutely no disgrace in realizing that — indeed, it’s better for everyone if you do, because the last thing I would want if I were a Marine would be a squadmate who’s not sure he’s ready to kill if he absolutely has to. Moral quandaries are fine, just not when an Iraqi Fedayeen is shooting at you wildly from the back of a fast-moving technical. Out with him.
But Funk and others in his situation should place the responsibility for this where it belongs: Not with a fast-talking recruiter, who promises adventure and fun and sort mumbles the fine print about having to shoot people under his breath, but with himself. He may not have realized what he was made of, but he almost certainly knew what he was getting himself into.
Update: More details to flesh out Funk’s reasons for wanting out. It’s looking less like he didn’t know killing was involved. Also, a gratifying admission: “Ultimately, it’s my fault for joining in the first place.” My respect for Mr. Funk has just gone up a tick or two.