Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Sure Rains a Lot Here"

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder....And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles."

On the eve of leaving the United States and setting out for Samoa with the Peace Corps, all of us wide-eyed frightened little trainees were in a hotel in LA. Also at the hotel was a group of men in one of the military corps. An old man walked up to one of the girls in our group.
     "What are you all here for?"
     "We're leaving for the Peace Corps."
     He offered his hand. "Well, thank you for your service."

Let's face it, the Peace Corps was created by a president facing a war that was just around the corner. We'd all be naive to think Kennedy and Shriver created the Peace Corps just so some hippies could go plant some trees in Peru or teach English in Botswana. This is no Debbie-Do-Gooder mission. After being in the Peace Corps for almost ten months, I've certainly developed new ideas about this government Corps. We are in a battle. A preventative battle. One of the goals of the Peace Corps is to promote an understanding in America of other cultures and in other cultures of America. In short, we're in a subversive mind-battle. Of course, I'm not comparing the Peace Corps to being in war (however, I do think a lot of things soldiers and Peace Corps volunteers go through  culturally are probably similar), but we are providing a service to our country not completely unlike the military corps. As a matter of fact, when we were sworn in, we too had to take the "I will protect the US against enemies foreign and domestic" oath. I think some of the theory in originally creating the Peace Corps was just to put Americans in foreign countries to sort of make friends. Perhaps one day a world leader would say, "Hold up guys. Maybe we shouldn't nuke the US. I had a teacher once who was a Peace Corps volunteer and she was the best teacher I ever had." Bam. War averted. OK, obviously it's not that easy, but you get the idea.

The (perhaps correct) stereotype of Peace Corps volunteers is that we're all "Down with the man" and anti-war. But the joke's on us. The Peace Corps got the type of people who would never volunteer to fight in a war, to do just that. Let's travel back to the opening quote by Eugene Debs. It's no secret that the "elite" often get out of fighting in our wars and often lower-middle and lower class people end up dying in these wars that they can't so easily get out of. The easiest example is that if you were in college during the Vietnam War, you could not get drafted. Well, thinking about that master and subject class idea, where does that put Peace Corps volunteers? As far as I'm concerned we're serving our country too, nonviolently, and with a pen instead of a sword (ten tala to whoever can tell me who said that phrase because I can't remember right now). Unlike those who didn't go to Vietnam because they were getting a college education, one has to h ave a college degree to be in the Peace Corps. Are Peace Corps volunteers perhaps some third category? Not subject class because we had a choice and were not forced to do this out of some sort of necessity, but not master class either because if we were part of this category, we definitely wouldn't be here. But we've got the education of master and perhaps the wherewithal of subject. Maybe the secret is this isn't a subject class fighting a master class' war. Perhaps it is truly just a class of people who believes no class should have to declare or fight a war.

There is a poem written by a soldier during the Vietnam War that I consistently come back to when considering my current Samoan experience:

APO 96225 by Larry Rottmann

A young man once went off to war in a far country,
and when he had time, he wrote home and said,
“Dear Mom, sure rains a lot here.”

But his mother — reading between the lines as mothers
always do — wrote back,
“We’re quite concerned. Tell us what it’s really like.”

And the young man responded,
“Wow! You ought to see the funny monkeys.”

To which the mother replied,
“Don’t hold back. How is it there?”

And the young man wrote,
“The sunsets here are spectacular!”

In her next letter, the mother pleaded,
“Son, we want you to tell us everything. Everything!”

So the next time he wrote, the young man said,
“Today I killed a man. Yesterday, I helped drop napalm
on women and children.”

And the father wrote right back,
“Please don’t write such depressing letters. You’re
upsetting your mother.”

So, after a while,
the young man wrote,
“Dear Mom, sure rains here a lot.”

Imagine this next bit as a cute little footnote:
Here is another tricky thing the Peace Corps accomplishes with us. It's no secret that a lot of volunteers meet their future spouse in their country of service. But here's something probably lesser well-known. If a volunteer gets pregnant by a host-country national during her two years of service and decides to keep the baby, she is sent back to the US where she will give birth; she also cannot finish her two years of service. (You can also not get married while in service.) So this half-American, half-host country baby has conveniently been born in the US, which grants it US citizenship, but not dual citizenship. So this baby can only legally have loyalty to the US. Now say a volunteer in Samoa goes back home to have her half-American, half-Samoan baby and sixteen or so years later, there's a war in American Samoa as Samoan warriors threaten their lives (think "Boy Meets World" when Cory, Shawn, and Topanga are no that quiz show and get speared by Samoans for every wrong answer). Well, naturally America w2ould step in and this little child has to fight with American Samoa and try to kill his half-brother who grew up in Samoa. (Like the Civil War, pitting brother against brother.) Oh, tricky, tricky Peace Corps.  (If some of my logistics are wrong, at least this is only a footnote.)