Saturday, August 11, 2007

Combative Philosophy

During my last post, I mentioned that I was considering a return to the military, possibly utilizing Reserve Officers’ Training on campus to facilitate such a future move. As this is, no doubt, a life-altering decision, it is also one that is causing me to do a lot of thinking.

For example, I really love a good war movie. But did I love war movies before I joined the military? Or do I love them now because they play on feelings that I can personally associate? More pointed: why do I yearn to return to the military? Is there something about the action that my being necessitates participation? Or is it because the military is means to a relatively financially-comfortable lifestyle?

While I am not feeling at my most philosophical currently, these are questions that have been tumbling in my mind for the past few days. For that reason, I am going to develop them here as it is on “paper” that I find the best medium for my deepest thoughts. And, via this method, the reader, too, can understand what motivates one to fight.

Additionally, I have questions that I need answered. I need to know if the thoughts that I feel, if the drive that motivates me, are isolated dynamics – all of my own – or common among soldiers. Do people outside of such highly life-threatening professions feel these same tugs at the soul?

Let’s start the analytical process with an example. I have found that I really enjoy the movie, 300. If you are unfamiliar with the film, you can substitute any of your own from this same genre. That is to say, the intended genre is that that categorizes films such as 300, Gladiator, Braveheart, et al. While this will tie into the thought-process at hand, it is worthwhile noting now that all of these movies are amongst my very favorites. But, what is the reaction that one has upon the completion of any of these movies? Is it only satisfaction in the sense that one finds that they have been well entertained for a few hours or is there more? Because, for me, there is most definitely more.

Sure, when the intensity builds and the drama is at its highest during the movie, I get motivated, often to the point of voicing such pleasure audibly. However, I feel so much more. I watch a movie like 300 that, in only the most indirect ways compares to soldiering today, and I feel a very real personal association. I get a stomach-tightening pang that yearns to be part of a Spartan culture. I am getting a similar feeling in simply describing the phenomenon currently. It’s not as if I live in some fantasy-world of a 20-something male, imagining that I am borne into a certain caste or set to do a certain thing, but yet, I walk away from such movie-going experiences and want to do more.

My thoughts get deep when stimulated by these subjects that are hardly intended to be thought-provoking. To the one that relates, they are. If, say, Leonidas dies at the Hot Gates in the movie 300 as he did in reality during the Battle of Thermopylae, I am stuck with a feeling not of sadness over the loss of the heroic character, but a deeper inquisitive feeling: What is one’s life in the long telling of the world’s combined lives? If everyone dies at some point, and surely we all do, what is the difference in the method we die or the lives that we lived? Moreover, what is that life if it is only recorded and spoke of among small groups of close relatives and friends? Surely, in this case, any single life would eventually fade from existence in the expanse of time.

And, at this point, my thought process comes nearly full circle. There is a reason why the name Leonidas echoes throughout time. It is the same reason that people still talk of Patton, Pershing, Stonewall Jackson and so many others. They made their life mean something. And, by doing meaningful things, their lives will forever be recorded throughout the halls of time. Of course, one doesn’t have to choose military endeavors to leave such profound impact, but if one finds himself strong at such a profession and has any enjoyment in pursuing it, than the option becomes very much viable.

Now the mind shifts to a different question: What is it about military life that is enjoyable? And, really, this is the quintessential question presented to a man dealing with such a drastic decision. I mean, if we remove legacy from the question and deal with only the complexities of enjoying the only life that one is provided, than there is no more profound question. So, truly, what do I enjoy about military life?

And here is where my own personal thoughts become muddied. What seems fun from a distance can conjure utterly different emotions when put into personal practice. This is to say that, while I enjoy watching movies at Grouchy Media of aggressive field problems with motivating rock music, I have found that I don’t always find participating in aggressive field problems particularly fun. However, on the same note, for every ounce of pain that I felt rucking with 100 pounds pulling down on my shoulders, I certainly felt satisfaction at levels ten times that weight once the mission was completed and once I considered myself successful.

And it is the action in the war movies that gets everyone going. The dynamic here is exactly the same as the one just described. Very few people (although, I can attest that I personally know *one* person that does) enjoy life or death battle as it is occurring. In my experience in such situations, there is hardly time to distinguish enjoyment from fear from any feeling otherwise. Yet, on numerous occasions, I have returned to a base-camp after such an adrenaline-draining event happy to be in relative safety but, yet, yearning to return to action.

If it is not distinguishable that it is the field-craft of the military that I find particularly enjoyable, than what is it? There is something to be said for the life that one lives as military personnel outside of the actual work required. Financially, I most definitely lived more comfortably while in the service than I do now while in college. Of course, this is to be expected. But the point shouldn’t be taken lightly. If I were to follow through with ROTC until commissioning, I would achieve the rank of 0-1E. This is good pay. Combined with benefits and the funding provided for housing and meals and, ostensibly, I could be living a rather luxurious style. Moreover, I know as much as anyone that the world is open to the single soldier. A pay-stub proving one’s employment by the military is worth 1000 times its weight in gold, especially if the military member is willing to purchase on credit. And with today’s high rate of deployment, it is ever so easy to amass money while stuck in locations where one is unable to waste their financial accumulations. So, certainly, comfortable lifestyle plays a part into the decision-making process.

These are things that I can tell you: I yearn for adventure, I am a work-out obsessive individual, and I fail at standard repetitive tasks. Moreover, the possibility of working "normal" nine to five hours is likely to be met with an utter lack of success. I desire stability; however, I spin towards chaos when such stability presents itself. I am thoroughly enigmatic, in the sense that I am always just a bit off center from the herding crowd. While I am in a fraternity, I am certainly the atypical frat-guy. I keep distance, yet I make good friends. However, as strongly as I bond, I quickly disconnect. I was always popular whether in high school or in platoons. But upon leaving both, I severed all ties. I thirst for independence, and often do well when given it, but – ultimately – find myself being bailed out of given negative situations by my propensity for strong networking.

I sat with a friend, Joe (described in the latter half here), and discussed our future lives many months ago under the Ramadi sun. In both of our cases, it was decided that if we were to do what it seemed we were molded to complete, we would surely be following future lives unlike that of the typical Americans. Joe was the product of adoption and never found solace in his family life. While I have a strong family, I have always found my own solace in independence. It was figured that either or both of us could drop off the face of the Earth and continue enjoyable lives despite total disconnection from all that was familiar. In my assessment, this is an ability rarely found in most Americans. If only such an attribute could be positively tested for and determined and, surely, our nation’s clandestine services would be of great benefit. This is all building to the climatic idea that I am not only destined to be single but that I would also rather be. I desire a life without restriction to any sort of home-base as represented by the customary wife and kids. I absolutely live for my ability to be sporadic. If I choose tomorrow to enlist in the Army to finally attempt and complete Special Forces training (as I continuously contemplate) than I want it be a decision that will only hurt or benefit me solely. I am much too selfish and much too little responsible to have others depending on my stability in life.

Now the challenge remains to funnel all that has been described above into some suitable category. Does all this mean that I am destined to a life of military duty? Is that what I truly yearn? Or does better opportunity await? And, more prominent currently, when do I decide? When is the day that I make the decision that shapes my entire life? Have I made it already? Did I do so when I enlisted in the military with much less thought than I am delving now? These are important questions and ones that present challenging paths to the revelation of answers.

Ultimately, this is the dynamic that most interests me: I am hardly typical by any means. My dedication to physical fitness is probably mirrored by a rather small percentage of the nation’s population. Yet, I combine pure meathead desires with an obsession to write. And, oddly, as I do so tonight, I listen to Arvo Part and, currently, Mendelssohn. A book lies before me, on my desk. It is the biography of Vincent Van Gogh which I am reading ferociously. The reading wasn’t directed; instead, I find myself fascinated with Van Gogh’s method of antagonized thought and how this thinking led to his artistic productions. All this is being completed in a fraternity house where I participate very actively and socially. These factors combine to describe an individual that is more unique than any other I know. Which, in my limited ability to reason successfully, dictates that I shall follow a career path that is also unique. I would want nothing less.

The final, most daunting question remains: Is there something more, however, than what the military offers? I want to participate in the most defining challenges of our time. I am committed to the effort that our country has chosen to participate. Are there other means for me to engage myself so? If so, will they offer the adventure, action, and satisfaction that I desire? Is the military my glass ceiling prohibiting me from more grand aspirations or the height of my desires?