Down with the shame
Down with the shame
Carried the flag in some other men’s name
Loaded my weapon and swore to them vengeance and
Stepped with aggression right into the fray
Into the haze
Into the murk
Told me to prove to them what I was worth
We’ll teach you to move without mercy and give you
The tools to go after the causers of hurt
You’ll become death
You will take breath
This is for everything you’ve ever loved
Use all the pain that you’ve felt in your life as the currency
Go out and trade it for blood
You are not you
You are now us
We are the only ones that you can trust
You’ll become fear
They’ll become dust
Before this moment, you didn’t mean much
You are the smoldering vessel of punishment
Born to do nothing but justify us
Give us your empathy, we’ll give you lust
Let yourself go, my son, time to grow up
Give up your childish obsession with questioning
Anything we don’t tell you is irrelevant
Everything you’ve ever been is replaced by
The metal and fire of the weapon you clutch
-“Crown”—El-P, Run the Jewels
We speak frequently about what military service has taught us. The reality is vastly different from the multi-million dollar advertising fantasy that the U.S. Armed Forces work mightily to maintain. It goes far beyond the entertainment industry-abetted efforts at obfuscation and the use of its considerable talent to slap a patriotic smear of Vaseline on the lens of truth. To the hundreds of millions of Americans who have never and will never serve in the military, and for the majority who lack a close relation who has, it is not clear how massive a gulf there is between words and images and actions and results. Sometimes learning is like having a searing-hot iron branding a concept onto your mind—it is painful and permanent.
Stripped of the empty platitudes about honor and service, it all comes down to the exercise of power–most often the kind of power that rips apart and incinerates men, women, and children on the wrong side of a Hellfire missile. But it is also the same kind of power that enables a commanding officer to sweep sexual assaults under the rug or to legally strip a servicemember of their educational and medical benefits because they self-medicated with cannabis. The fact that military service is traumatizing to so many, despite statistically so few being involved in direct combat, is indicative of how power is regularly abused by those charged with leading our nation’s more than 2 million active and reserve servicemembers. It’s not lost on us, for example, that high-ranking officers in the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet were being bribed with Lady Gaga tickets and prostitutes by a corrupt contractor as 17 sailors were killed in preventable collisions under their command.
You read the surreal classics from American veterans—Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carry—and you get a sense that it is extremely difficult to communicate just how brutal and stupid war and military service can be, directly. Describing the circumstances that men-and-women-at-arms have experienced at war over human history in a matter-of-fact way flattens the horror and chaos that war represents. Only at an angle, then, can we see the true, terrible details of war.
Politics, to turn a phrase by Carl von Clausewitz, is war by other means. We do not perceive it the same because it lacks the visceral violence of armed combat, but politics can destroy individuals, families, and societies far more effectively than bombs or bullets. The stakes in politics are literally our lives, our wellbeing, and our future. We are pressured by the elite toward apathy and conformity, but there is that eternal spark that exists telling us “things can be better—if we try.” Ending cannabis prohibition in the United States, for example, would turn the ripples of reform into a tidal wave that could sweep out the anti-human, anti-science ghouls that have installed themselves in our global institutions. Millions of lives could be vastly improved, if not saved outright, through cannabis research, education, and free access within a few short years.
Veterans, like cannabis advocates, are often used as props by the wealthy and powerful to protect themselves from criticism or co-opt the suffering and messages of others to serve themselves. The elite within both of our communities frequently get held up as representative of the common experience, enabled by the fact that the media has so little interest in challenging anyone positioning themselves as speaking ‘for the troops’ or ‘for the patients/victims of the Drug War.’ This has resulted in existential challenges like the veteran suicide and overdose crisis getting plenty of ink and funding, while the VA office in charge of suicide prevention languishes in mismanagement and Congress resolutely ignores the role played by toxic and addictive legal pharmaceuticals in early veteran deaths. The same could be said for every unfunded equity program, every person still in jail with a cannabis-related conviction, and every non-profit cannabis co-op and collective forced to shutter because of legalization.
What are we fighting for? Creating corporate monopolies that deliver expensive “recreational” cannabis and inaccessible “medicinal” cannabis? Destroying non-profit, non-commercial activity of a plant and medicine that humans have used for thousands of years? Continuing to steal away the lives of people incarcerated because of prohibition? Turning a blind eye as veterans continue to die, day after day, thousands by the year, while politicians debate and special interests block reform and research?
We did not choose our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger and in virtually every other corner of the world any more than our fathers choose their wars in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. We volunteered to serve (or were coerced by the law to serve) as millions of voters reaffirmed year after year that they were A-OK with committing a generation of their sons and daughters to fight in wars of profit. Does anyone know the plan as we approach the 18th anniversary of invading Afghanistan? Does anyone care?
We have chosen this war: the war to end the war on people, on a plant, on those who have had the heavy boot of authoritarian policy on their necks for too long. We all have seen the enemy, we know the stakes, and we know what it will take to achieve the just and compassionate future we want. We are not doing it alone. There is an opportunity everyday for every individual to step up and advocate, to join and organize with others, to hold ourselves and our representatives accountable for the actions we take and that are taken in our name. We have found purpose in service to this cause. We see the chance to give meaning to all the senselessness we have seen…so it goes.