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The Militarization of the Mind

My son called for me through the house, “Dad!?” half questioning, half exclaiming. “Come check this out.”

Before I got out of my chair, I heard him rumbling across the living room floor toward me.

He showed me a gun that he made out of Legos. “It fires real bullets, see?” He had fashioned a rubber band for a trigger, and fired a couple of Lego-pieces-as-bullets across the room. He reloaded and aimed the gun at me, jokingly. I rolled my eyes (he didn’t shoot), and he ran back to his room, or to go torture his sister.

Not a strange occurrence in my house. My children, like most children, are naturally playful and engaged in their worlds. Not a strange occurrence at many other households, I would bet. And a young boy’s fascination with building guns and weapons out of things is certainly not new.

“Just don’t go taking that to school or to the park.” I yelled through the house at him, recalling Tamir Rice, the young boy who was murdered by police while playing with a toy gun at a park.

Walking down a long hallway at work, I saw my friend Jenna way at the other end. She saw me and smiled. We were walking toward each other.

I pointed my finger at her like a gun and pulled my thumb trigger, just as a gesture to say hello. But as we approached, I felt strange having just shot my friend. Fake gun or not, the gesture gave me an “ewww” feeling.

I wondered what Aaron Alexis’ co-workers thought when they saw him walking down the hallway at the navy shipyard. Did they wave at each other first?

While my intent was innocent, such gestures are not cool anymore. Joking about killing people is just not funny, is it?

I bike to work fairly regularly. Lately there have been a string of bike thefts, and so I have been taking extra precautions while locking up: Weaving the lock through both wheels, frame and all. I’ve even started taking off the fancy new bike seat my wife bought me as a gift. I unclip the quick release and tuck the seat under my arm as I walk into my campus office building.

The bike seat sits snug behind my shoulder, and the seat stem points out in front of me from under my armpit. I’ve done it a few times, and never really thought anything of it.

Just the other day, when I was rounding the corner with my bike seat tucked under my arm, a young woman saw me and the seat stem sticking out from my armpit. A look of shock and uncertainty washed over her face. She immediately stopped walking toward me. She raised her hands and slowly backed up a few steps.

Our eyes connected, and in that split second I realized what she was thinking. “It’s my bike seat.” I called out. I twisted my body so that she could see the seat part behind my shoulder. The seat stem does look like the barrel of a gun.

I wonder what Chris Harper-Mercer’s classmates thought when they saw him entering his college campus buildings at Umpqua Community College. Did they think it was a bike seat?

One of my students had a gun slogan tattooed across his knuckles. Like Harper-Mercer, this student did a short stint in the Army.

I grew up on military bases. My father was a career Air Force enlistee, and my mother worked as a secretary for the US Army Europe Inspector General. A military brat’s life was an easy life. Sheltered. I still have fond memories of my childhood, and I formed some strong bonds with my school mates. Being a brat is a great way to connect with other brats, no matter the age or the bases and places we lived. We share similar stories about security, about training exercises, and lock downs.

While my own childhood and my own formative years were militarized, I quickly and easily dropped that notion when I moved out on my own. Or so I thought.

Unlike most of my progressive liberal friends, I hold military personnel and leaders in high regard. I still expect to stand for the national anthem at the movie theater, and I can recognize people who have served. Even in their civilian clothes, service men and women carry themselves differently than most. I imagine it’s like a cultural thing, like recognizing a fellow American when traveling in a different country.

I have nothing but respect for our service personnel. They are just like many of us: real people with dreams and obstacles.

I recently read some research that noticed the connection between mass shootings and military personnel. The research couldn’t conclusively state that such tragedies are as a result of conscription, because the number of incidents committed by military personnel were similar to the number of incidents committed by non-military personnel.

Having grown up in the military, when such incidents are committed by former or present military personnel, I feel a bitter twinge of embarrassment for my country and for those who serve and have served.

Maybe this feeling hearkens back to my mother warning me, “Don’t be the ugly American.” Even as a military dependent, I knew that I represented my country wherever I went.

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