Archive for the ‘Vol. 3: Spring Essays 2013’ Category

file0001249793741I still remember that day I got on the plane to move to O‘ahu. I recall being excited, scared, and happy all at the same time. It was the beginning of a new chapter for me, and a chance to prove that I could make it out in the world. I think it’s like that for a lot of people, especially for young adults going out to college. We are excited and ready for the freedom from parents and familiarity, but at the same time afraid to fail and afraid of being alone. I love hearing about other people’s experience on leaving home and comparing it to my own. Hearing other people’s stories also helps me learn how to deal with my own homesickness and how to make the best out of my own situation. Out of all the stories I’ve heard so far, my mother’s story has encouraged me to do my best and taught me the importance of having a home. She talked about going into the Navy right after graduating from high school. Through her story I learned a lot about her struggles while away from home, especially while she was in boot camp, and what she gained from this whole experience.

My mom graduated from high school in 1988 and got into Notre Dame in California, but she decided to go into the Navy. After getting the call from the Navy recruiter saying that she had got in, she told me, “My parents didn’t support me at all at first, but they needed to sign the papers for me since I was under 18, so I threatened not do anything if they refused to sign.”  When she told me this, I was surprised by my mother’s courage and determination. Everyone who knew my grandparents described them as really strict, so I was shocked to hear that they had actually given in. I’m happy that they did because if it weren’t for her experiences in the military, she wouldn’t be the strong and amazing person she is today, and I probably wouldn’t be the same person either since she met my father in the Navy. My mom says that she did feel bad about threatening her parents, and that she probably would have gone to school if they had not signed, but because she didn’t really know what she wanted to do at the time, she figured it was better if she went into the military. Even aside from her parents’ disapproval, it was a hard decision for her because she did have a boyfriend who said he would wait for her. I can’t even imagine what was going through her head during that time, but I’m happy she took the route she did.

“So I went to boot camp, which was six and a half weeks of hell in Florida,” my mom continued on. She was only allowed one phone call when she got to Florida and one phone call when she graduated. The rest of the time she and her parents communicated through letters. My grandparents didn’t have a message recorder, so if they weren’t home when she called it was too bad for everyone. I can’t imagine how my mother must have felt throughout her time at Florida. She had left her home on bad terms with her parents and could only express how sorry she was through her letters. ”Boot camp today is not like boot camp was when I was in it,” she explained, “There were a lot of mind games involved as well as physical stress. The only thing that kept me going was writing letters.”  I can’t believe that she continued with her training even though she knew her parents disapproved of her even being there in the first place, and how difficult it was to endure. I give my mom a lot of credit for going through boot camp and carrying that kind of weight on her, and it only increases my admiration for her.

Three days before her six and a half weeks were finished, she received a package from my grandma containing a letter and six boxes of chocolates. The letter expressed how proud my grandma and grandpa were of my mom because she was going someplace in the world. Just hearing my mom talk about that letter makes me smile because I can hear how happy that memory makes her. She told me that she still has that letter, which makes me happy, and I hope one day I will get the chance to read it. The eight boxes of chocolate were also a real treat since my grandparents didn’t allow much candy eating, but my mom was unable to enjoy those as much because they went against boot camp regulations. “The person in charge of me took the boxes away and gathered everyone,” she said almost laughing. I was a little horrified when she said all the cadets had to stand around the people in charge to watch them enjoy all the chocolates. I thought that was really cruel, and I felt really bad for my mom because she couldn’t even taste one. But after thinking about it, I figured that it wasn’t such a big deal to my mom since she knew her parents were proud and had shown that they cared about her.

After boot camp my mom had to go to technical training for a year, so she was unable to go home. Once she graduated from there, she took leave and all her money to visit home. “I remember it cost twenty-five dollars to fly from O‘ahu to the Big Island,” she told me, which showed how excited she was to get home. My grandparents didn’t realize she was visiting home until she had reached O‘ahu to tell them. She went on to tell me that she wore her uniform on the plane just so that her parents could see her. In my mind, I could see my mom smiling and looking so happy to return home. When she talked about seeing her parents at the airport, I could hear how happy she must have been, and how much she had missed them during her time away. My mom told me that the first thing she did after getting picked up is visit her grandpa, who was 94. That night, my mom said they had a family get-together. “It was so nice being surrounded by family and friends,” she said. This reminded me of all the get-togethers my family holds when I come to visit and how much fun and love the night would be filled with. “The best thing about coming home was being able to wake up in my pajamas and riding my horse with no saddle on,” she said. I’m glad my mom was able to go back home and do the things she enjoyed. She had worked hard at boot camp and at school and she was able to come home to a loving family.

My mom ended the interview by saying: “This is a great memory for me because we live in such a beautiful place and we take it for granted. I was one of those people until I went out to explore the world a little. Going out makes you appreciate home because when you are away from family and friends everything is new and different. You learn to appreciate your family more because they aren’t always there like they usually are. Home is home and that’s one of the things you cannot replace in life.”

Her sharing this with me showed me why she has such a deep appreciation for home. My family members would always tell me what a trouble maker my mom was as a kid, and a lot of times I didn’t believe them since my mom spent the majority of my life lecturing me about respect and listening to those older than me. She would tell me how once you lose the respect from your family, you lose everything since they are the ones that will help you out more than anyone. “A lot of the kids in this generation need to be put into the military,” is another thing she told me. A lot of times I think she’s right because many kids don’t know how to appreciate their homes and families. They think that they can make it out in the world on their own, but they don’t take the time to think that their parents are always there when they are in trouble, when they are hungry, and when they need or want something. I thank my mom a lot for implanting these types of good values into my brain before I went out in the world to live my life.

This experience also helped me understand why she pushed my older brother to join the military. Like my mom, he was unsure of what he wanted to do in life, but my mom wanted him to do something, not nothing. At first he was totally against my mom’s proposal that he had to either go to college or join the military, but it has changed him completely and he knows that my mom had good intentions at heart. Now he knows that he wants to be a teacher, and it’s because my mom pushed him out the door and into the world. “He tells me he loves me now after every phone call,” my mom said. This sort of amazed me because he had always been the type to hide his emotions.

For myself, leaving home was a much easier thing to do. I stayed at home and attended Kaua‘i Community College for a year. When I left, I was of course sad but I was only moving an island away, not across the nation like my brother had done. Also, my mom now works for the Air National Guard on both Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, so I get too see her at least once every month. Her advice has always helped me, and has given me a deeper appreciation for my home and my family.

In many ways, her story has made me understand my mom better as a parent and a person. She is a strong individual and I am grateful for all the things she has gone through to get to where she is now. My mom has taught me lessons that I would have only gained through experience if she had not gone through them before me. I thank her for passing on her knowledge to help me get through life much more easily than she had to. Home is now something I appreciate more, and I am grateful that I can see my mom often and go home whenever I need to. When I was a teenager, I didn’t have that kind of thinking. I was like any other teenager thinking that I was right and my parents were just there to make my life harder than it already was. Now my mom is the person I turn to because she always has some kind of story or lesson that can help my life, and I am truly grateful for everything she has done for me.

 

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II

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file2851306949895Young women in the United States are taught to finish high school, go to college, find a good career and settle down with a spouse to have a family. Sadly, many teens in this country get pregnant and give birth every year.  “In 2009, approximately 410,000  teens aged 15-19 gave birth in the United States, and the teen birth rate remains higher than in other developed countries,” a fact that has been true for far too long (Kann 414). It is generally accepted that teen pregnancy is not ideal; the common phrase you hear along with teen pregnancy is “babies having babies.” MTV has two television programs that focus on teen pregnancy, teen motherhood and the hardships that go along with it: 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom. MTV has argued that these shows help to curb teen pregnancy by showing the realities of being a pregnant teen and a teenage mother. The network claims that the rate of teen pregnancy has dropped since their first show, 16 & Pregnant, premiered in June 2009. More recently, however, many critics of the show have argued that it glamorizes teen pregnancy. Specifically, these critics argue that the show Teen Mom actually does not showcase the realities of being a teenage mother because the girls in the show are getting paid by MTV and do not have to work; this is in stark contrast to teenage mothers that are not featured on a hit television show. This paper will further examine these television shows and the claims made by both the network and critics of the network and their portrayal of teen pregnancy and motherhood. I will also go into detail about the different factors that make teen pregnancy and motherhood difficult. I will discuss the effectiveness of educational programs aimed at decreasing the rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. Teen pregnancy and motherhood is a national issue because often-times these young girls need some form of government assistance, such as welfare or WIC. We cannot ignore this issue and hope it just goes away; we have to get to the heart of it and find effective ways to prevent teen pregnancy. This cannot and will not be done by ignoring the issue; we have to face it head on despite that fact that it may not be comfortable to talk about. Effective education programs in our public schools are a great way to educate teenagers directly. Not all teenagers watch MTV, and shows like 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom can only reach a certain amount of teens. Teenage pregnancy will never go away; the best we can do is educate and hope our teens will get the message.

In June, 2009 I was 19 going on 20, not so much of a teenager anymore, fascinated by MTV’s first season of 16 & Pregnant. I remember thinking how thankful I was that I had made it through my teenage years without so much as a pregnancy scare. I had always been taught to practice safe sex and that there were many avenues for me to obtain contraception. It was my best friend who told me about the show and every week we watched it together; each week we became more grateful that the hardest part of our lives was making it to all of our college classes on time. It seemed MTV had succeeded in its mission, that is, until having a popular show became more important than their original goal of prevention. “MTV has a long history of taking sexual health issues head-on through campaigns such as “It’s Your (Sex) Life” and documentary series such as “True Life.” So, after many meetings with internal groups and consulting experts on the topic, “16 and Pregnant” was born [sic]” (Dolgen). MTV argued that it made this show in an effort to curb the rising rate of teen pregnancy. They wanted to show that being a pregnant teen is difficult and changes your life drastically forever. Specifically, they aimed to showcase the money struggles these girls face as their due date approaches and the relationship issues they face with both their own family and the family of the baby’s father. At the end of each episode MTV gave the name of a website (itsyoursexlife.org) dedicated to helping young women learn about safe sex and ways they can procure contraception. “These candid glimpses inside the trials of young parents apparently are making a mark on youth across America, as the series is being credited with helping to spur a decrease in teen pregnancy” (Dinh). The key word here is candid: 16 & Pregnant is a documentary series, so there shouldn’t be any personal involvement from the people in charge of filming the series.

The series Teen Mom is another documentary series that follows a few of the girls from the 16 & Pregnant series as they raise their young children. One of the biggest criticisms of this particular series is that these girls have already been paid by MTV for appearing on 16 & Pregnant, and as a result their ‘reality’ is skewed because most 16-year-old girls don’t get paid to appear on an MTV show. While MTV does not directly interfere in their lives, because they pay them to appear on their program, the network does affect their lives in a big way. The money they pay the girls takes away one of the biggest issues teenage mothers face in our society. As far as I found, MTV has done nothing to acknowledge this; they continue to film this show despite the fact that it does not accurately depict the typical teenage mother. It’s important to know in detail exactly what makes teen pregnancy and motherhood so difficult for both baby and mother.

Many 16-year-old girls that get pregnant have to rely on financial help from either their families or the state in which they live, or both. Women Infant and Children, or WIC, is a federally funded program which allocates grants to states to help young mothers and their children receive education on nutrition, meals at school and doctor referrals for low income families. Because young mothers struggle to provide for their family, it is harder for them to always have healthy food in the home because it is more expensive than buying cheap, processed food. WIC is intended to help young mothers learn better ways to keep their children healthy and to aid in providing avenues to better nutrition. Many young mothers also need to go on welfare and food stamps to help with the expenses involved with caring for an infant. This makes teen pregnancy an issue of national concern because it is the tax payers that foot the bill for programs like these. During 16 & Pregnant, most of the girls went through the struggles of figuring out how to financially care for themselves and their child, but the few girls that get on Teen Mom don’t exhibit these same problems. Many of the girls are able to afford new cars and their own places to live and day care for their infants. I noticed after the first season of Teen Mom that the girls no longer expressed concern about money, and it’s almost as if MTV is purposefully excluding this issue from their show. This does not show the realities of teen parenthood as the show focuses more on the drama these girls face, like dealing with the baby’s father and fighting with their friends. MTV has strayed from their message of prevention. It is more important for the network to get high ratings and keep their viewership up than it is to continue with their message of showing the hardships of being a teenage mother. Back in 2009, with the premiere of 16 & Pregnant, MTV argued that their show was credited with a decline in teen pregnancy rates: “a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy recognizes “16 and Pregnant,” specifying that 82 percent of teenagers credit the hit show in helping them understand the challenges that come with unexpected parenthood” (Dinh). I don’t think that MTV can make that argument anymore; their show has left the message of deterrence behind and has shifted their focus to the drama surrounding the girls’ lives they ‘document.’ Also, whatever MTV has to say regarding the effectiveness of their show in advocating prevention is going to be biased because they have to make their show and network look good. Even if they are able to produce statistics, they could have easily funded the research behind them, further adding to that bias. “Some critics say these shows glamorize teen pregnancy, but our survey data shows that’s not the case,” [Albert] point[s] out. “That not only do they not glamorize it, but teens who have seen it suggest it makes the realities of teen parenthood more real to them”(qtd. in Dinh). Here, MTV acknowledges the critics, but insists that ‘their survey data’ says otherwise, proving that they conducted their own ’research’ without using a separate, unbiased source. Other than what MTV has said, I found nothing in my research that supports this claim.

The efforts of MTV aside, this country needs to take a stand against teen pregnancy. Over the past decade states have taken a more proactive approach to preventing teen pregnancy by implementing programs in schools to educate teens about safe sex and available contraceptives. In our country sex has always been a taboo topic, even after sex education began to be integrated into the curriculum of schools in the 1920s. When schools first started educating students about sex, they taught abstinence and that’s pretty much it. That doesn’t take into account the students who have already had sex or the students who plan to have sex, despite schools attempting to teach them otherwise. This type of education may have worked in the beginning, but over the years our culture has moved to accept sex as a part of everyday life. We can no longer ignore that people are going to have sex whether we teach them to or not; this rings especially true for teenagers. An education that acknowledges that teens are having sex is the key to prevention. Once we get past the fact that teenagers are having sex we can aim to make sure they have safe sex. Studies show that teens are more willing to learn about sex in school, among their peers, than to talk to their parents about it. It appears as though teens would rather talk to their parents after they have already had sex and not before. “The percentage of teens who spoke with their parents about methods of birth control was higher among those who had ever had sexual intercourse (females, 70%; males, 64%) rather than among those who had not (females, 48%; males, 35%)” (Kann 417). It’s important that schools have effective programs for students because they are more willing to talk to a teacher or a peer than they are to a parent. I think that schools have caught on to this and are tailoring their sex education programs to teens, because, after all, they are the focus. This is reflected in this statistic: “approximately 60 percent of teenagers between 15 and 19 years old said they used ‘highly effective methods’ in the National Survey of Family Growth- an increase from 47 percent in 1995” (Dell’Antonia). A thirteen percent increase in less than 10 years is huge; it’s clear that more teenagers are getting the message that safe sex is the right thing to do.

Despite our best efforts teenagers will get pregnant; this is something that we will never be able to stop. Cost is not the only issue associated with teenage motherhood; teenagers that have babies are at a much greater risk for subsequent pregnancies than older women. This adds to the social cost of teen pregnancy and makes their lives even harder. “A subsequent pregnancy makes it difficult for young women to return to school, complete a high school education, or attain economic self-sufficiency” (Subramanian S43). Young mothers, more often than not, either find it extremely difficult to finish high school or never graduate at all. Adding another pregnancy to the mix makes it near impossible to accomplish their educational goals. As I stated previously, many teen mothers require some form of monetary assistance whether from their families or from the state; having another baby only furthers that dependence on someone or something else for money. Most sixteen or seventeen-year-olds don’t have a lot of money saved up, if any at all. Many states don’t allow teens to work legally until they are fifteen or sixteen, and even if they do decide to go to work they will most likely end up in a job that pays minimum wage. This makes it near impossible to save up a sufficient amount of money to care for a young infant. Unless the teen had planned the pregnancy, which is not often the case, they don’t plan financially for an infant. In this economy, it is extremely important to have at least an associate’s degree or some sort of certification in a field such as culinary arts, nursing or dental assisting. Teens that become pregnant have a hard enough time completing high school; many of them either never go on to complete some form or higher education, or they begin to and drop out soon thereafter. This creates a vicious cycle: pregnant teens either do not finish high school or just scrape by; they often don’t go on to higher education and therefore have to rely on social services. The best way for them to get off of these social services is to attain some form of higher education to get a better job. “Some programs have aspired to enhance education and employment, thus lessening welfare dependency. Again, the findings are mixed across programs, although there is near unanimous recognition that education is key to self-sufficiency” (Waggoner 537). One of the girls on MTV’s Teen Mom, Chelsea, took well over two years just to complete her GED certification; she went on to enroll in beauty school but took a leave of absence after just a few months of enrollment. Another girl from Teen Mom, Leah, did complete her high school education and eventually enrolled in nursing school but dropped out completely after less than a semester. Prior to dropping out, her class attendance dropped severely and she felt that dropping out was her best option; she has yet to return to nursing school and has no plans to. While these two girls exhibit typical behavior of many teen moms, it’s important to note that despite the fact that their education is minimal, at best, they don’t appear to have any worries about securing steady work to provide for their children. This is not the case for the average teen mother, and MTV does nothing to make this clear to other young women thinking of having children at such a young age. The reality is that the majority of teen moms get stuck in a cycle of low education, low paying jobs and relying on social services. These problems are compounded for every subsequent pregnancy and young mothers are at a high risk for multiple pregnancies in a short period of time.

Struggling teenage mothers and high social costs are not the only symptoms of teen pregnancies; it is also the infants who suffer. Women that are either biologically too young or too old to have children put themselves and their unborn babies at risk for health problems, such as low birth weight, pre-mature births and preeclampsia in the mother. “A large study of over 340,000 British mothers found that teens under the age of 18 were at greater risk for delivering preterm than women 18-35” (Kramer 618).  Babies that are born at a low birth weight struggle in their first few months of life. It’s extremely important that they get their weight up to be able to survive and develop at a normal rate. This also adds to the high social cost because the child often has to stay in the hospital at least a few days longer than usual, which costs the hospital money and uses the resources of the doctors and nurses. Pre-mature births can be very scary for the mother and the newborn baby, who has to live in an incubator until healthy enough to go home with the mother. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Personally, I was born pre-mature and had to live in an incubator for two weeks after my birth, and I know it was very stressful and scary for my family. Babies that are born pre-maturely don’t always survive; sometimes the baby is so small and so underdeveloped that it does not live longer than a few days. Both low birth weight and pre-mature births can be very scary for the mother because the baby is not guaranteed to survive. Until that baby gets better and is able to go home with the mother, they have to call the hospital their home. Preeclampsia means high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy or childbirth and can be extremely dangerous for the mother and the child. Many women that suffer from preeclampsia have to either have a C-section or be given medicine that speeds up labor because the only way to cure it is to give birth. This is a great example of a risk factor that effects women either biologically too young or too old to give birth; both teens and women over 40 are at the highest risk for preeclampsia. A simplified reason for this is that teenagers’ bodies are not fully developed, which makes it more difficult for their unborn babies to develop as they should and puts a lot of stress on the mother’s body.”Findings collectively suggest that a biological constraint on pregnancy exists at younger ages” (Kramer 620). Leah, one of the girls on Teen Mom, is a perfect example of this sad scenario. One of her twin daughters, Aliannah, is dealing with some developmental issues that result in her legs not developing normally, impeding her ability to walk at the age that most young infants begin to take their first steps (9-12 months). She also has had to wear glasses from a very early age. It is likely that these issues will have long reaching effects that will affect her entire life, not just her infancy. It is not only financially difficult to have a baby at such a young age, but it is also difficult physically, on both the mother and baby; thus adding to the social cost of teen pregnancy.

There are many factors that make teen pregnancy difficult: dependence on social services, difficulty completing educational goals, and negative physical effects for both mother and baby. MTV’s 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom had such potential to be helpful in preventing teen pregnancy. I believe that they squandered an opportunity; the show could have been very helpful for so many. The concern for high ratings and viewership got in the way of what could have been a golden opportunity to educate. Instead, they showcase personal dramas and issues that are in contrast to what real teenage mothers face. “These documentary series tell the honest, unpleasant truth of teen pregnancy in America — the whole truth. It’s not a fairy tale where every girl ends up with the American dream — a loving husband, a white picket fence and the career they’ve always hoped for” (Dolgen). While this may be true, it does not show the reality of many teen pregnancies.  There are much larger concerns than finding the perfect husband or moving into the ideal suburban home. Finding the “perfect” job is near impossible without the proper education, something that teen mothers struggle with. MTV has done this country a huge disservice by not making this crystal clear in their show. I have heard stories about sixteen-year-olds that wish to get pregnant just for the opportunity to be on MTV. Where MTV has failed, our schools and our government can pick up the slack with proven avenues for prevention and increased contraceptive use. “Numerous sex education programs have been shown to be effective in delaying sexual initiation or increasing contraceptive use” (Kann 419).  The most important thing we can do, as a society, is effectively educate our teens about just how hard it is to be young and pregnant and to be a young mother. To MTV’s credit, they do offer a website to all viewers of their show that educates about safe sex. Who is to say if teens actually go to this website, or take it seriously; MTV can do so much more, yet they chose not to. Teen pregnancy is much darker than many girls would like to believe. We all dream of going to college and getting the perfect career, the perfect life. The fact is, teen pregnancy makes this extremely difficult. The best thing we can do is let our young women know how they can stop this from happening.

Works Cited

Dell’Antonia, KJ. “More Teenagers Use a ‘Highly Effective Contraception’.” NYTimes.com. NY Times, 3 May 2012. Web.

Dinh, James. “MTV’s ‘16 & Pregnant’ Credited for Decline in Teen Pregnancy Rates.” MTV.com. MTV, 22 December 2010. Web.

Dolgen, Lauren. “Why I Created MTV’s ’16 & Pregnant’”. CNN.com. CNN, 5 May. 2011. Web.

Kann, L. et. al. “Vital Signs: Teen Pregnancy- United States, 1991-2009.” MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 60.13(2011): 414-420. Academic Search Premier. 27 Jan 2013. Web.

Kramer, Karen L. and Jane B. Lancaster “Teen Motherhood in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Annals of Human Biology 37.5(2010):613-628.  Academic Search Premier. 27 Jan 2013.  Web.

Subramanian, Siva, Kathy Katz, Margaret Rodan, Renee Milligan, Sylvia Tan, Lauren Courtney, Marie Gantz, Susan Blake, Lenora McClain, Maurice Davis and Michele Kiely. “Efficacy of A Randomized Cell Phone-Based Counseling Intervention In Postponing Subsequent Pregnancy Among Teen Mothers.” Maternal & Child Health Journal 15.S1 (2011): 42-53. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.

Waggoner, Sharon, Susan Philliber, Linda Brooks, Linda Phillips Lehrer and Merry Oakley. “Outcomes of Teen Parenting Programs in New Mexico.” Adolescence 38.151(2003): 535-553. Academic Search Premier. 27 Jan 2013. Web.

 

Written for Dr. Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 200: Composition II

IMGP4715When I learned that we would be interviewing someone for our next essay, I instantly knew that I would interview my mom about her immigration from Asia and about starting life in the United States.  To be honest, I knew that her family (her parents and brother) left a communist country for better opportunities in the States, but I didn’t even know exactly where she came from, horrible as it sounds.  I always assumed she was from China since she is full Chinese, but I vaguely remembered her talking about Laos, Thailand and Guam in the past—never mentioning China.  With all this confusion in my head, my interest was sparked to learn more.

I don’t live with my mom, so when I asked her to do the interview, she offered to come over to the house I live in with my dad and brother.  My mom seemed excited to answer questions, perhaps because we don’t have a very close relationship, and we don’t get many opportunities to connect.  She eagerly asked what I wanted to know, and what started as a structured interview soon became bonding time.   My intention was to construct questions to ask my mom that I could relate to Chinatown, because when I was a child, I remember going to Chinatown to eat lunch, buy groceries, and visit my grandpa’s workshop. I figured that since Chinatown had played such a role in my early life, it must have played a significant role in my mother’s life as well.  I mean, what better person to ask about the importance of Chinatown than a Chinese immigrant herself?  Not only that, but I assumed that since my grandpa worked there, she might even be able to provide me with firsthand information on the Chinatown evictions that I planned to research for a later paper.  However, my mom revealed so much more than I was asking for.  I had gone into the interview simply searching for answers that would aid me in writing another essay but came out having learned so many amazing things about my Chinese family.  I was really shocked at what my mom had to go through growing up.

As we began, I confessed to my mother that I wasn’t really sure where she came from.  She appeared shocked and her jaw dropped, exclaiming, “Hell-ooo, I was born in Laos.”   She went over details nonchalantly, providing short, direct answers like she had the interview in the bag: from Laos she had traveled to Guam, and then to the United States as a refugee.  It was all very monotonous; her arms were crossed as she recited answer after answer.  However, when the questions got deeper she began to open up, and her short answers became stories filled with gestures and emotion.

My grandparents and their two children, my mom and her brother, came to the United States in 1975 with a mere 600 U.S. dollars.  My mom was only five years old.  “We were on food stamps,” my mom revealed.  “Your gonggong and popo”—my grandpa and grandma—“delivered newspapers for a living.  We used to sit in the car with them while they delivered papers.”

“Really?” I exclaimed.  This seemed crazy to me; I always pictured delivering newspapers as a job that high school students took on to earn a little extra pocket money.  How on earth did my grandma and grandpa make a living off that?

My mom shared that after this, my grandpa found a job at a furniture company.  From there, he trained to become a self-employed handyman who worked out of Chinatown.  My grandma was able to save up enough money to buy their first place; she found work in the restaurant business.   “So where did you live when you moved here?”  I wondered.  What kind of home could you get with $600? Had they been homeless?  My mom replied: “We lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment right by the old Hard Rock Café on Kapiolani.  It’s still there in fact, that little two-bedroom apartment.  Then we moved to Palolo, expanded, but it was still two bedrooms.  And then your popo was able to save so much money that we could move to Salt Lake, and it was a three-bedroom apartment.  And then, she saved up so much that she was able to buy us cars.”

I watched my mom intently as she shared this recollection.  I could tell that she remembered each place fully by the distant look in her eyes, plus the fact that she did not stutter or pause once while sharing.  She even said that one day she’d take me to her old apartments to see them.  I thought that it was tremendous how much money my grandparents were able to save after coming to the United States with basically nothing.  They were even able to afford to send my mom to private school, and they bought a house in Kunia that they paid off in half the loan time. They still live there today.

So now, I had a new question: “Was this life in the U.S. really even much better than what you had in Laos/Guam?”

My mom cocked her head to the side and seemed to stare into space as she pondered.  “Well, honestly, I was too young to remember much of my childhood there.  But I don’t really remember feeling like I was suffering.”  When my mom lived in Asia, she was not old enough to attend school or really understand that she was living in poverty.  She couldn’t have a job, so she didn’t experience having to work hard for little money.  However, one thing that my mom did remember was having fun playing in dirty rainwater.  Her uncle would pull her in a raft in the flooded streets, and she would have the time of her life.  I was appalled!  The water was probably contaminated with diseases; how could my grandparents let her play in that?  My mom explained that they didn’t have much, so they had to do whatever they could to have fun.  Since they were already living in such a minimalistic way, living here without having much didn’t seem bad.  When I think of the areas my mom lived in, I picture terrible living conditions: dingy, dirty, and run-down; nothing I have ever had to experience for myself.  I don’t know how she and her family did it, but they got through it and it must have contributed to their work ethic and the appreciation they have for everything today.

After hearing about my mom’s childhood, I decided it would be the right time to ask if Chinatown played any role in making her feel at home in Hawaii.  “So what about Chinatown?”  I asked.  “I know you never lived there, but did it play a big part in your life when you came here?” I asked.  “Like, if businesses had gotten evicted and Chinatown closed down, would it have changed any aspect of your life?”

“Oh, of course,” replied my mom.  She began to explain: “Your gonggong and popo used to go grocery shopping for dinner in Chinatown everyday.  The local Chinese businesses have the freshest vegetables, and at wholesale prices.  We supported these businesses.  If they had been taken away, I don’t know where we would have gotten our food.  Not only that, but Chinatown also helped me to realize that there were other people like me.  There were other families like mine.”

I could have assumed this, but it was a confirmation to hear my mom explain what an impact Chinatown had on her life.  Since we had started discussing Chinatown, we moved on to talk about how my grandfather had run his handyman business there as well.  I wanted to know how this came about, and if he had been at risk of eviction.  Although my mom did not know about the evictions personally, she shared all that she could.  She started off by describing how my grandpa began doing small jobs here and there for acquaintances in Chinatown, using the knowledge he had gained from working at the furniture company.  His friends began referring him to do jobs for their friends, and so on; that’s how it all began.  Eventually, everyone around Chinatown knew of my grandpa and his quality workmanship, including the owners of Chinatown property.  One owner, Campbell Estate, offered him an alley workspace in one of their buildings—free of charge!  However, this was short-lived.  My mom explained: “They [Campbell Estate] let him run his business there because they knew he was such a good worker, but because the new ownership came in, he had to slowly move his stuff out.”  I was shocked.  I knew the workshop had closed down but never would have thought to connect it with the Chinatown evictions.  The beauty school next to his shop closed down as well.  It’s crazy to me because I remember visiting these places myself when I was a child, never realizing what might have been going on at the time.  It seemed that my grandpa had gotten evicted himself.  After the shop was taken away, he lost a lot of his clientele in Chinatown.  My grandfather passed away in 2003, and my uncle (my mom’s brother) and my dad took over the business.  They now have trouble finding work to do.  However, there are a few faithful clients of my grandpa’s that always hire them back and give them cookies, fresh fruit, and money every Christmas.  During this whole portion of the interview, my mom was very wistful.  I could tell she missed her father a lot but was proud of him for what small legacy and life he had left behind for her.

This was pretty much the close of the interview, as we moved on to irrelevant topics.  I was really glad that I got to talk to my mom about her life growing up, something we had never really discussed before.  I was also thrilled that I got some information for my research paper.  Despite my mom’s struggles and experiences throughout her childhood, she stayed positive and content.   Now, I can see what made her the strong woman I know today.  My mom sacrificed so much to give us the lives we have today; she is a hard worker, following in her parents’ footsteps.  She appreciates everything she has and tries to teach my brother and me to do the same.  I admire her so much for this and am glad I got to learn more about her.

 

Work Cited

McDowell, Karmen. Personal interview. 28 Feb. 2013.

 

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II

file0001278575198Women in the Military face oppression in many different ways, oftentimes without even realizing it. This ranges from a woman’s job or position in the military, to the sexual abuse that she encounters from men. I will begin by explaining what oppression is and then relate it to the types of oppression that women in the military face every day.

Oppression is defined as “cruel or unjust treatment or control” or, in simpler terms, “subjection and hardship.” In her text, Karen J. Warren discusses the “Logic of Domination,” which is a conceptual framework that consists of three key features. The first feature of Warren’s theory is a value-hierarchical thinking, which only sees things as up and down. According to this thinking style, one person will always be above the other. The person on the top is the one with all the power and control, while the person on the bottom is the one who is subordinated and, therefore, oppressed. This value-hierarchical thinking can be seen in the military in the types of jobs that women are “allowed” to have, in comparison to men.

The second key feature is value dualisms, where two things are seen as opposed and exclusive. An example of this would be male vs. female, since males are automatically seen as superior to females in society. In the military system, women are automatically below men, due to their sex. Value dualisms can be seen in the military, where women are treated differently from men.

In the article “Sexual Assault in the Military”, women speak up and speak out about a sensitive issue that plagues thousands of women soldiers each year and is often swept under the rug. Over the years, this issue has become more of a concern as “military sexual trauma, which encompasses everything from sexual harassment to rape, is now the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among women in the U.S. military” (“Sexual”). The psychological and emotional wounds that sexual abuse leaves on a woman damage her from the inside out and leave her traumatized for the rest of her life.

Petty Officer Rebecca Blumer shares her story with us in “A Double Betrayal of Trust.” On the morning of Feb. 13, 2010, Blumer woke up to find her body bruised and swollen, her insides sore, and a burning pain in her buttocks. She was certain she’d been “roofied” and raped, but she soon found the Navy’s response almost as distressing as the attack itself: the basic assumption was that it had somehow been her fault. After three days of medical leave, Blummer was transferred from intelligence analysis to janitorial duties. “I was a problem, and they wanted to be rid of the problem,” said Blummer. She was shunned and disparaged, and the military officials eventually ruled there had been no rape. “Maybe it was just heavy petting, or you imagined it?” they suggested. Discharged from the Navy, Blummer spiraled into depression and homelessness. She still has regular nightmares. “I loved everything about the Navy,” she said. “Now I hate it” (“Sexual”).

According to the article, females today are 180 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than killed by an enemy. Even when an abuse case is reported, there may not be enough evidence to follow through with it. Ninety-two percent of reported assaults never come before a military court, due to a fear of the plaintiff being dismissed and ridiculed. “Last year, two thirds of all reported cases were either summarily dismissed as unfounded, or resolved by the perpetrators simply being given extra duties or having their pay docked” (“Sexual”). This leaves the victim shamed and in pain, with nothing being done to claim justice for the crime that has been committed against her. Too often, nothing is being done to prevent the sexual assault and oppression of military women.

The third and final key point is logic of domination, where there is a structured argument that justifies subordination, involving a value system. The logic of domination can be seen in the military when men misuse the power that they have and use it to abuse others below them (usually women). The problem with these features is not that they exist, but how they are used in the logic of domination to support subordination. Some conservatives contend that women would be at greater risk for sexual assault in combat, but the Pentagon says that having females on the front line would more likely reduce the military’s sexual assault rates. Currently, says General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “you have one part of the population that’s designated as warriors, and another part designated as something else.” Giving the sexes’ equal roles would dispel that disparity and the dangerous “psychology” it fosters, promoting a real change in military culture. For Jenny McClendon, a Navy officer raped by her superior, that can’t come soon enough. “I don’t want another generation to feel like they’re alone,” she says. “Those serving today, I don’t want them betrayed” (“Sexual”).

The above excerpts demonstrate the struggles that women face in the military and the strength that they need in order to overcome these hardships. Twenty-seven-year-old Sergeant Patricia F. Bradford, a psychological operations soldier, says that these are simply “a matter of discipline, maturity and professionalism rather than an argument for separating the sexes.” Sergeant Bradford remembers her first tour day while she was then engaged to another soldier whose convoy moved north, while her convoy was forced to move south on the same highway. While they had to split paths and travel two separate directions, she recalls listening to the radio as his convoy came under an attack that continued until she was out of range. “For four days, I had no idea what happened to him,” she said, “but I still had to continue my mission, because that’s what you do when you’re a soldier. Women in today’s military say they do not feel the same pressure to prove themselves. They adapt and expect others to adapt. They preserve their femininity without making much of it” (qtd. in Myers).

According to the U.S Army website, “women have served in the United States Army since 1775.” Some duties they have performed include nursing the sick and wounded back to health again, doing the laundry and repairing damaged clothing, and preparing meals for the troops in camp on campaign. “Women are an invaluable and essential part of the Army. Currently, “women serve in ninety five percent of all Army occupations and make up about fourteen percent of the Active Army (“Women”). While women in the military may not get the credit they deserve, they do play a vital role in protecting our country and fighting for our freedom.

A common myth that most women believe is that “military service will make you a strong, independent woman.” What most people don’t know is that in reality, instead of empowering women with a voice to be heard, the military suppresses a woman’s voice, thus leaving her oppressed.

You don’t have to look very far to find oppression in a military woman’s life. This can be seen just by looking at the roles and positions that the majority of the women are in. For example, one major difference when comparing men to women is that women are perceived to be less qualified to fight in combat positions. Men are able to serve on the front lines automatically, if they chose to. But this is not the same case for women, who have to earn their way to the top. Men are given top positions by default, just because they are men. However, women are not able to have these same rights. Women in the military are oppressed because they have to fight for their rights, whereas men in the military are handed the positions they want, without as much work or second thought. This is different for women who have to work extremely hard for their freedom in the military. A woman’s place in the military depends on how hard she is willing to work and if she is tough enough to fight for her right to be there.

 

Works Cited

Myers , Steven Lee. “Living and Fighting Alongside Men, and Fitting In.” New York Times. 16 August 2009, A1. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.

“Sexual Assault in the Military.” The Week. 5 April 2013: 11. Print.

Warren, Karen J., “The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism.” Environmental Ethics: The Big Questions. Ed. David R. Keller. Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 282-283.

“Women in the U.S. Army.” U.S. Army. Web. 7 March 2013.

 

Written for Julia Morgan’s PHIL 220: Introduction to Feminism

UnbenanntYou want to know real Baby Mama Drama? Try being harangued and chastised by folks who insist on calling you so-and-so’s baby mama, or the oh-so-endearing abbreviation “B.M.” Let’s get one thing straight: I’m nobody’s Baby Mama. I am, instead, the mother of a beautiful and brilliant seven-year-old boy, and yes, I happen to be a single parent and, brace yourself, a native Hawaiian born and raised in Waianae!

I don’t have a pathological obsession with political correctness, but when anyone refers to me as a Baby Mama, I cringe so hard you’d think I was back in school dissecting a nasty ass frog. See, the imposed “Baby Mama” tag suggests I had nothing to do with my child’s conception or his subsequent rearing; instead it defines me by my unwed status and the absence of my son’s father. As if that headache isn’t enough, I have to deal with the stigma and stereotypes that accompany the term: that I’m a promiscuous, condom-tossing hood rat; a conniving gold-digger, a block-hugging welfare queen; a gum-smacking birdbrain decked out in gold bracelets, tattoos, and giant gold bamboo earrings; or a love junkie who pines after her philandering ex-man and threatens all of his other female conquests with angry phone calls and neck-twirling diatribes.

Now, I do love my tattoos and earrings, but those things aside, I’m none of the above. And neither are most single moms out there. And being Hawaiian or from Waianae hasn’t helped my case either. Truth is, if asked ten years ago about motherhood, I would have whipped out a PowerPoint presentation detailing how I’d meet the perfect man, get married, and after becoming financially stable, start a family. But as John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

So as life would have it, at 17 I fell madly and blindly in love, moved with my boyfriend into a two-bedroom apartment and got pregnant all in the span of 3 years. Problems ensued, and he was repeatedly unfaithful, so I did what any self-respecting woman would do: I bid him adios and kept it moving. I should be applauded for having the courage to leave an unhealthy, domestically violent relationship, but instead I am often viewed with skepticism and sometimes even contempt. It kills me because this happens daily to women everywhere. But here’s the thing: my hatred of the term “Baby Mama” won’t make it disappear, and I can’t magically erase it from Hip-Hop vernacular. So instead, I celebrate my own strength and resourcefulness and praise myself for being a caring and doting mother. When someone refers to me as Baby Mama, I always let them know…

“My name is Cassandra, and I am Jadis’ mother.”

 

Written for a 2008 Poetry Slam

file0001082442294Drone warfare is relatively new whereas warfare itself is not.  The crossbow, machine gun and nuclear weapons were supposed to end warfare because of the level of inhumanity they posed at the times of their innovation.  Like these weapons, drones are simply tools of warfare, nothing more.  They are wielded by states that have the technology and capital, regardless of governmental ideology.  Drones are employed by their societal organizations, so any controversial activity such as employment over American soil, or illegal cross-border operations, remain controversial or unethical with drones or with “boots on the ground.”  Illegal or unethical acts aren’t altered by the mode of delivery.  In the US, the controversy surrounding the use of drones is misplaced.  The true question is, does our distanced and cynical society have the resolve to both wage and suffer through war with an accurate internalization of the conflict?  On the other side of the coin, do we as Americans have the desire and sense of duty to restrain and control our government from dictating flawed and unethical policy? Oscar Wilde declared, “As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.”  He posits war seen in its true form is indigestible, and societies’ cultural positioning of the face of war is easily distorted through multiple distractions which avoid the reflection in the mirror.  If we are to engage in and swallow vulgarity in support of a righteous cause, it must be distasteful and hard, and the projected rewards of our actions should be tempered with pain and sacrifice. To sweeten the medicine by numbing ourselves to war moves beyond vulgarity.  Drones are moot.  The decision to use drones, arrows or nuclear weapons is our collective responsibility.  Salvation or destruction is delivered by the power that wields the weapon; damage and bereavement are inescapable byproducts.  Accurately assessing this cost and deciding if it is worth the price is the technical core of the controversy; drones are on the periphery.

Prior to 1980, when the US was at war, the American public was conscripted, mobilized, subject to rationing, and nearly everyone had a loved-one in the service.  Casualty rates were high, and most folks knew somebody in the neighborhood who had been killed in action.  The public was reminded daily of the war, and citizens had a personal attachment and connection to the conflict, regardless of its popularity (i.e. WWII vs. Vietnam).  Americans took ownership, were actively involved and ultimately wanted the war to end.  In WWII, the public majority desired unconditional surrender of the Axis; in Korea and Vietnam a cessation of hostilities was imperative and transcended political boundaries.  Today the US military is comprised of 1.3 million personnel with +2.1 million dependents (3.4 million total) (“Military”).  These servicemen and their families are scarcely 1% of the US general population of 314 million, and they have been recycled through multiple deployments over the past 11 years.  The numbers in WWII were 12 million troops, not including civil defense assets, plus an estimated 22 million dependents equaling 34 million servicemen and direct family.  In 1945 at a population of 139,928,165, about 25% of the population was directly connected to the war (Dear and Foot 1192, 1198).  Today we fight the war on terror which has sparked massive legislative and policy change as well as continue to conduct two ground wars.  But what is the level of public commitment?  Today a stereotypical US citizen bares a “Support the Troops” bumper sticker, yet scoffs at TSA for insisting on shoe removal.  The public, largely out of collective guilt over the treatment of Vietnam Vets, dares not disparage troops, lest they be considered politically incorrect. Afghanistan and Iraq are stories that have oozed down the hierarchy of headlines behind the Kardashians, DWTSs and Honey Booboo, save a quick eye-catching headline like Belambai or General Petraeus.  Remember the political pundits before the presidential election who continually pointed out that neither candidate was talking about Afghanistan?  Afghanistan is the longest war America has fought, ever.  Microsoft spell check wouldn’t let me connect those two thoughts in the same sentence without a green underscore that displayed “overly hypocritical, consider revising.”

Drones are a tool of modern warfare.  There are several variants from tactical, handheld man portable units, used in small tactical engagements, to larger more sophisticated variants such as the Global Hawk, Reaper and Predator, which are equipped with high-resolution optics, IR capability and various sensors.   As the technology became more reliable, weapons systems were added, allowing commanders in removed Tactical Operation Centers (TOCs) to monitor, assess and directly react to developing situations on highly fluid battlefields.  Most importantly, they offer low cost (relative to alternative assets), low risk, long station time with eyes on capability and no possibility of operator casualties, save carpal tunnel syndrome.  All reward, very low risk.  DoD’s core strategy is diligent care with the lives of soldiers, allies and civilians.  Force protection (the preventative measures against fratricide) is highly considered in all operations as are the risks of civilian casualties.  The pragmatic answer as to why is simply publicity, funding and, not to be contemptuously dismissed, ethics.  In simple terms, if ISAF kills 10 insurgents, few media outlets will carry the story to mainstream America; if US soldiers are killed, the failure requires explanation and often mid-level regulatory bureaucratic change. If civilians are killed (a distinct victory for the insurgency), world opinion, international and Afghan political machines are revved into full gear.  Now we have a major crisis.  When it’s in the headlines, people arise from their slumber to see dead bodies being pulled from destroyed structures, women with hands raised skyward crying and the standard media graphics of drone footage and smart weapon engagements.  Rainy day citizens see these images and disparage the politicians, greedy oil companies and conglomerates.  After some vicious tweet-rioting and civil disobedience via Facebook (primarily to our like-minded friends), the story is soon forgotten with the entrance of the next attractive controversial issue that makes the news.  The “I’m against war” public pats itself on the back and feels content in a personal righteousness, shirking any further responsibility for American policy.  Hands freshly washed, a new hip cynicism is crafted and shared amongst the intellectual and progressive elite at Starbucks.

The actual employment of drones is a win-win for politicians and military commanders.  It is surgical and flexible, a perfect weapon to harass and destroy the enemy, with minimal chance of a hostile response, more characteristic of a larger military footprint.  The Rules of Engagement (ROE) are extensive and religiously respected by military commanders and their subordinates. Hostile act and/or hostile intent need to be established prior to engaging a suspected combatant as well as continual PID (positive identification).  This means if an insurgent ducks into a building, he cannot be engaged because visual contact could not be maintained.  In addition, patterns of life in an area are observed and studied for extended periods of time, minimizing mistakes.  In a cockpit under NVGs (Night-Vision-Goggles) with crewmember lives at stake, these decisions are difficult, stressful and subject to error.  In a secure TOC, an informed commander who sees the big picture and is connected to multiple sources of information such as intelligence, engagement capabilities, viable alternate courses of action (COA), location of friendlies, civilians and No Fire Areas, can better maintain situational awareness.  Additionally, questionable engagements can be delayed and pushed to higher levels of authority for a more standardized and consistent determination on a COA.  Drones are arguably the most humane instrument of war ever devised, yet they are muddled in controversy because they are used in conflicts and activities that are controversial, waged by citizens who are concurrently unaware of what warfare is and what they are doing.

Cross-border operations are not new in warfare.  They are accidental or intentional, covert or unconcealed operations that vary in scale and objective.  Infringement of state sovereignty is a serious violation of numerous international laws, yet the employment of this strategy is commonplace.  These actions are generally justified by the violating state with nationalistic rhetoric that ultimately boils down to “the ends justify the means.”  In Vietnam, Vietcong utilized Laos and Cambodia to conceal and transport logistical supplies; America in response conducted B-52 bombing raids and small tactical infiltrations to neutralize the threat.  Israel flew into Iraq and destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad in a proactive move to prevent their perceived annihilation by Saddam Hussein.  In Afghanistan, porous borders are effectively utilized by the insurgency to conduct cross border operations.  The scope of these violations can be a violation of territorial waters[1], terrain or air.  Without question these practices are ethically controversial and deserve a detailed discourse with the full attention of the media and the society conducting the operation.  If this policy is carried out by a nation-state, then by default, like it or not, it is supported by all the citizens of the state.  All are accountable, from the executive leader citizen to the staunchest opposing citizen.  A drone is simply the method of violation and the degree of controversy doesn’t change between drone and B-52.  If it is unethical, it is unethical. The weapon is inconsequential with exception of accuracy.  Destroying a single vehicle driven by enemy combatants has a low risk of collateral damage, while an aerial engagement with a larger manned platform has a higher risk of unintended casualties.

The objective of war is not killing your enemy; it is removing his capacity or desire to continue to fight.   Drones are capable of surgically removing high-level enemy threats from the battlefield, producing this desired effect.  Drone operators and commanders make mistakes and people die, but that’s war and we are all still accountable.  Now the images we see on the internet and TV from our detached war sicken and surprise us.  We ask, how can we assassinate people without due process yet fail to realize we declared war on them.  Or rather, our leaders declared war, and we polarized into partisan groups and pointed fingers.  War is now an executive decision. Americans slowly ceded the power to declare war from congress to the executive branch.  The Constitution ensured war was an activity that was difficult to initiate, involving both Congress and “we, the people.”  In a letter to General Washington on Dec. 4, 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The power of making war often prevents it, and in our case would give efficacy to our desire of peace” (“George”).  This branch-balancing organ has been discarded like an appendix in favor of haphazard resolutions designed to produce immediate gratification.  Now we don’t pay attention to the wars we are engaged in and then cry foul when reminded by issues such as drones that it’s bloody and savage and not what we aspire to emulate.  We are at war, like it or not.  If you disagree with the war, fantastic; grab a picket sign, organize a march, yell through a megaphone.  If you support the war, fantastic; give to the USO, publicly vocalize your stance.  Drones are a tool of war, and we’re at war, whether we slipped, jumped or were pushed into it; take responsibility and wage it or get us off the pot.

 

Works Cited

Dear, Ian and M. R. D. Foot. The Oxford Companion to World War II. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.

“To George Washington Paris, Dec. 4, 1788.” American History: From Revolution to Reconstruction and Beyond. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.

“Military Personnel Statistics.” Military Personnel Statistics. Department of Defense, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.


[1] Often maritime incursions are further complicated by each state’s separate claim over the recognized boundary of division as in the case of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  In addition, with increased globalization, cyber attacks could also be viewed as a border incursion and a damaging one at that.

 

Written for Aimee Ilac’s ENG 200: Composition II

file0001004907422I imagine the walls of the room are covered with either cheap wood paneling or wallpaper printed to look like a deep chocolate wood grain.  The ceiling is that sprayed-on shit that looks like rough sandpaper.  The whole place looks like it was built back in the Seventies.  I’m imagining this, but in actuality, it probably isn’t too far off the truth.  They don’t really concern themselves with keeping VA hospitals up with the latest design trends.  Or hygiene standards.  I’m probably lucky if I don’t have a family of rats as roommates.

I imagine all this, but I have no way of confirming it.  I don’t even know how long I’ve been here.  Days?  Weeks, or could it be months?  I can’t imagine they would keep me alive that long.  All I know is that I’m still breathing (though it doesn’t feel natural).  I’m trapped between the blackness of sleep and some crimson fucking wolf that breathes and shows his face out of the darkness once in a while, as if to remind me that he’s still here.  The breathing.  That constant, rhythmic, breathing.  He looks hungry.  They must be giving me some good drugs.

I haven’t always been here.  I guess you could say, though, that I put myself here.  And I saw it coming.  The only blank left to fill in was where and when it would happen.  Sooner than my parents, later than my big brother.  I just hope my old buddies will step up and take care of the dogs.  They’re the only thing more loyal than my Marines.  They deserve better than some washed-up jarhead who could never avoid confrontations with the county constable who seemed to have a hard-on for fucking with servicemen.

What do you do with a Marine when the Marine Corps decides they no longer want him?  I’ve been asking myself that question for about four months now, but it seems longer than my time in the Corps (20 years, one month, and 19 days, to be exact).  One day, they just show you the door and tell you where to pick up your pension check.  And don’t let the door hit you on the ass.  Sure, your buddies throw one last kegger to let you know that you mattered to someone while you were there, but beyond that, you get a three-day course on how civilians function, then they send you on your way.  You’re welcome, America.

They even gave the ex half of my retirement.  How fucked-up is that?  The lying, cheating bitch.  Files for divorce while I’m in theatre, then the judge gives her everything she wants because her husband is a no-show at the hearing.  Never mind the fact that he’s half a world away defending the people who are royally fucking him right now.  Fucking whore told me she’d been cheating on me since the first deployment.  And for that, she gets fucking half.  At least she hasn’t shown her face here.  I think that would piss me off enough to open up my eyes and lips, spit in her face, see her reaction, and then fade away.  Some things are better left undone.

Since the last rites were paid to my liver one night that wore into the daylight hours, I’ve been laid down to rest in this stale room where familiar voices come and go.  Or maybe it was all part of the same sick play going on in my mind.  I think I recognized the subdued voices of Danny, Moe, Brian, and Jimmy.  There may have been more, but I can’t remember.  I miss those guys.  They really did feel like long-lost brothers.  But their tone disgusted me.  They all whispered as if they didn’t want me to hear.  Judging from the pathetic display of emotions that us jarheads normally leave at the door, it probably would’ve been best if I hadn’t been able to hear.  But a funny thing happens when you become a drooling vegetable.  Your sense of hearing is amplified.  Probably because you can’t see shit.

“At least one case of Bud, two fifths of Jim, a pint of gin, and I think they said there was an empty bottle of something they couldn’t identify.  Probably moonshine,” Jimmy was saying.  I couldn’t tell if he was upset or impressed.  That wasn’t all of it.  None of them could do half of what I did that last night.  They never could keep up.

“Fuck, dude, I’m amazed he still has a pulse.”  That had to be Moe.

“Some chick over at his house panicked and dialed 911 when she couldn’t wake him up.”

“Who was she?” Danny asked.

“Hell if I know.  She was long gone by the time the medics showed up.”

“How much time does Doc say he has?”

“He’s amazed he’s held on this long.”

“He always was a fighter.”

Hell no; not this time.

“Fuck, dude.”  Brian was never a man of many words.

“I told him this would happen.  VA warned him right after he retired.”

“Frankie, buddy, if you can hear me, we’re here for ya, pal.  Hold on.  We’ll help you out of this mess.”  He grabbed my arm as he said it, his grip firm.  A Marine’s grip.

They had pity in their tone, and it made me want to scream.  If I wanted pity, I would’ve asked for it.  No one could ever get it through their heads that I’m done.  They’ll realize it soon enough.

How it happened is pretty simple.  When you get out, you have to go to the VA so they can process you into the system.  Kind of like when you join the military, but this time it feels like you’re watching the time clock on your life run out.  And they’re in no hurry to get anything done.  You’re damaged goods to them.

“Mister Davis, we found a problem.”  I hated people calling me “mister.”  After being called Gunny for the better part of the last decade, I felt like I’d been court-martialed and demoted to Private.  The doctor continued.

“Your liver looks as if, well, as if you spent twenty hard years in the Marines.”

“…meaning…”

“…meaning that you have essentially lost all liver function.  I’m sorry.  I really hate to tell you this, but you have about a year to live.  If you clean up your act, you may be able to extend that number, but your body has taken a lot of abuse.”

So much for retirement.  Half of me thinks that’s why they promise a pension after twenty years.  Most of those dumb enough to stick it out for twenty won’t live enough to collect much of a pension.

One year.  Twelve months.  Looks like I’m gonna prove him wrong.  I’ve had longer deployments.  As it turned out, it wouldn’t take me a year.  I’ve still got two months to spare.  And I’d rather go out on my own terms than die like a bitch.  What’s left for me?  Lying here on a feeding tube.  Pretending like I give a fuck.

When you have all the time in the world to think, you really don’t want to.  You have to face the harsh reality that you really weren’t that important.  In fact, sometimes you think that the world would’ve been a better place without you.  Some of my boys died heroes.  Died with honor.  Died for their country.  Not me.  I just attended their funerals, dressed in the high-collar blue coat and fighting off the tears.

That fucking wolf.  Can’t even die in peace.  He’s driving me nuts with that breathing, non-stop and in perfect rhythm.  His visits seem more frequent now, like he’s circling an injured fawn in the woods.  I’m more annoyed than frightened.  Marines don’t feel fear.  They create it.  Only a matter of time.  Bring it on, you bastard.

I think there were a few cousins that came by.  Not much emotion from them.  I really wish I could’ve said something because just the feeling in the room while they were there was torture.  Like it was a chore.  Like they cared.  My Marines cared.  They always cared.  These people?  They might as well be strangers.  They’ll attend the funeral, feigning mourning, accepting condolences like we were good friends.  No loss to them.

If I hadn’t joined in the first place, I probably would’ve avoided this.  I could’ve been normal.  I could’ve knocked up Mary-Jane, bought a house, had our 2.5 kids, raised them up to be all-Americans, and retired happily at sixty-five after a long life of fixing old Ford pickups whose owners refused to pull them into the junkyard for their last road trip.  Instead, Daddy said I had to do my duty.  I had to do my time.  I had to stand there at attention in Parris Island, South Carolina, sweat rolling down my temples and soaking the back and armpits of my camouflage utilities, rigid as a statue as the sand fleas attacked my sunburned arms and some dude with a Smokey Bear hat yelled at me that I wasn’t Momma’s boy anymore.

I wouldn’t have seen my bunk-mate in boot camp fall thirty feet off the rope climb, his forearms giving way from a day’s torturous training, hitting the ground with a dull thud.  They said he didn’t feel it.  Sounds like a line some bureaucrat made up to make the news easier for his mother to digest.  Just another day in the suck.

I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t enjoy my service.  You meet a lot of guys who come from all walks of life but wind up chewing on the same dirt, rolling through the same mud and sand, dealing with the same stupid games as you.  You really do become brothers, and you learn to rely on every one of them.  They are all unique pieces of the same fucked-up puzzle.  They are all Marines.  The few, the proud.  All that recruiting poster bullshit.

It took me seventeen years before I saw a war.  You can train until you fall to the ground, but nothing prepares you for the first barrage of bullets from non-friendlies.  It didn’t even take a full day before those raghead fucks had taken out four of my guys.  They didn’t have time to acclimatize before bombs were separating my Leathernecks from their trigger fingers.  We weren’t even grunts.  We were air-dales.  Some guys said we weren’t even real Marines.  Sure, we were trained for this.  Back in boot camp.

How many days you’ve been in the suck usually doesn’t matter; they’re all the same.  Some live, some die.

Like this day.  It seems like yesterday, but I can’t remember how long ago it actually happened:

“Gunny, she ain’t gonna fly today,” Jones said.  He’s one of those guys who could rig up an ice machine to work in the desert with a barrel, a pair of pliers and a roll of duct tape.  He was sitting up on the wing, wearing his olive drab shorts, t-shirt, and steel toe books scuffed to the point that they’d never shine again.  He’d almost always get passed over for promotion, but could get an entire squadron of aircraft out of a bind.

“She is gonna fly today, and it better be before evening chow.”

“Unless you can shit me a turbine and an igniter, this bird’s down.”  Of course he was right.  Made no sense to risk a flight crew’s life just to refuel a couple fighters in mid-air.

Fuck.  Back home, you could leave a plane on the ground if you didn’t have the parts to fix her.  You had to take an ass chewing if she was grounded for more than thirty days straight, but you could do it.  Tonight was a mission-critical flight.  She had to fly.

“I don’t care what happens after she takes off, but there’d better be four props spinning by sixteen hundred.”

We didn’t make the 1600 deadline, but shortly thereafter, she was taxiing down the gravel-strewn airstrip.  She took off, and we never saw her again.

Reports said the number 3 engine blew after taking a few stray bullets.  They had to shut her off, leaving the starboard wing with one engine.  With a turbine that was ready to fail and one igniter short of a full set.  I don’t think that part was in the report.  We chopped down a couple trees on the desolate mountain top where they crashed and made a makeshift memorial.  It would probably be the only one they’d ever get.

All men were lost.  All seventeen of them, including Ronnie.  We went through boot camp and flight engineer training together.  That dude could drink like a fish.  I should’ve been the one who donned the dress blues and drove out to his house in the middle of bumfuck-nowhere, North Carolina, to tell his wife that she was now a widow.  At least she was still young enough to find someone else.  Hopefully not another jarhead.

I buried too many of my boys.  Some were hardly half my age.  So fresh you could still smell the boot polish.  Most died horrible deaths, some instantly, but too many suffered before they couldn’t fight anymore.  They don’t teach you how to deal with that in boot camp.  Or maybe I never developed that leadership trait.  At least I won’t have to live through that ordeal again.  I don’t miss that part.

What does a Marine do when the Marine Corps no longer wants him?  Danny moved on to the railroad.  Tim moved over to the Army.  One of my guys even became a squiddy.  Some left on their own terms, others were handed the same shitty deal as me.  Most of them made peace with their time in the suck and stashed their memories in a sea bag stashed in the closet, never to see the light of day again.

I guess things are different for me.  Die like a bitch?  Hell no.  Marines are fighters.  But I threw my last punch on this earth.  There are other battlefields ahead of me.

You know that line in the Marine Corps Hymn, If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes, They will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines?  I wonder if hell is the same way.  I’m guessing I’ll find out real soon.  That rabid, red-eyed wolf is back.  That rhythmic, constant panting is gone.  Now it’s a low guttural snarl, and he’s salivating.  You ever tasted Devil Dog, wolfie?

Fuck him.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Creative Writing