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Imminent Collapse To Be Or Not To Be All You Can Be?

By Bill Andrews
ASSOCIATE CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR

We begin today with a vocabulary lesson, perhaps your first @MIT.edu. The word “ambivalent” means having feelings in opposite directions. If you love Seattle but hate rain, you might feel ambivalent about going there. Many people think ambivalence is the same as apathy, but that’s not the case at all. Why do I mention this? Apart from giving a Public Service Announcement to my fellow engineers (we could all use better verbal skills), I want to be understood when I say “I feel ambivalent about the army.”

It’s all because of those damn recruitment ads on TV (and the radio, and buses, and probably blimps). There are so many it’s getting harder and harder to ignore them — as I’d always done. Well, not always: I considered joining the Army, many years ago, when I thought it would be nice not to have to pay off thousands of dollars of loans after graduating. What kept me from enlisting was the nagging suspicion that given my luck, the year after I joined we’d get some crazy president who would just randomly start a war. No, really. Ask anyone who knew me in high school, and that’s exactly what I said; it seemed so laughable then, but now … Well, I don’t have to tell you what’s going on.

Every time I see a recruitment ad now I am filled with contradictory feelings (i.e., ambivalence). I feel anger at and a tinge of loathing for the Army (or the Army Reserves, which is pretty much the same thing these days); they’re trying to trick people, young na ve people, into joining the army. They make it look all cool and fun or lay a guilt trip on ya’ if you don’t do it. “Plus, I think it’s time to be a man,” one young soldier says, implying that the only way to manhood is through violence, pain, and whatever else comes after basic training. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that if you’re tricked into buying a pair of pants, you don’t get shot at for it (unless they’re really ugly or you live in the wrong neighborhood).

And yet! I have nothing but the highest respect for the soldiers themselves. My father was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars; when he worked for the Veteran’s Administration I met countless other soldiers, whose kids I played with and everything. Our folks in Iraq are doing all kinds of unpleasant things just because their country told them to, stuff I sure don’t want to do. I appreciate their sacrifices, trite as it sounds to put it that way. Just because I disagree with what they’re doing (WTF are we doing in Iraq anyway?), doesn’t mean I hate them for doing it. It’s not like they want to be there either.

Here, we have the heart of the matter. I watch those ads, and at the same time I get two different feelings. I go “You suck, army!” at the same time I go “You rock, soldiers!” Strange. Kind of like, “Gosh I hate math, but I sure love those equations. But what do I do about it? What can I do about it? Nothing, that’s just the way things are. The army will continue to need people, and people (especially poor and underprivileged people) will continue to enlist. Maybe if I campaigned and wrote letters and protested, something might change, but hey, I’ve got classes to go to and problem sets to finish.

Why, then, go through all this? Simply for you, dear reader. You’ve had time to adjust to the semester already, bought your books and supplies by now, are starting to realize just how much work you’re in for. There’s always a chance you might not have seen these recruitment ads, ubiquitous as they are. Or you might not have given them much thought. But at the risk of bringing everybody down, there are people dying out there, many of them our people, folks like you, me, and your high school buddies. I think they’re worth thinking about. How do you feel about the army? How do you feel about our soldiers? How do you feel about Iraq? As “Star Wars” reminds us, it can be wise to examine your own feelings. After all, even ambivalent feelings are better than none at all.