Back when I was a young man, at least I thought I was a man at the time, I received an invitation to join Uncle Sam’s Merry Band Of Pranksters. Of course the invitation was not very exclusive as it was delivered to a great many young men like myself. Some respectively declined citing a previous engagement. Those of us who had no previous engagement to speak of found ourselves conveyed at government expense to the next coming of god and man. Perhaps if one was really lucky one could find accommodations at some seashore resort in south Carolina or just north of San Diego. The majority of us might find accommodations is some nether regions where the balmy breezed skimmed along the grasses and giant sand traps filled with mechanical monsters trying to make par for the course.
Becoming a Merry Prankster was all about making the grade and there well those men of good intent willing and waiting to help you along that path to success. They were really very friendly people with infinite patience and pride of manner. It was here, among the other young men who showed great promise that we all learned how repression was good for the soul. It tends to make a man out out you, unless one is a woman. But Uncle Sam had special facilities set aside for those of the female persuasion. Sometimes I think their repression was a little more special. But back to business, the business of learning just how a bit of repression is good for one’s soul. I think the best times to learn the true meaning of repression is either the sunny skies of summer or the shaded skies of winter. That’s when the true meaning sinks in. For my own part, the last weeks in June through the first few weeks in September we filled with great adventure. I remember it well.
If one played sports in high school, most particularly football, then one’s adventure in becoming a Merry Prankster is anchored in a futile knowledge of what one could or might expect. There are no private showers in the locker room and certainly the time to bathe is greatly restricted since coaches have wives waiting supper on them. One might wash the sweat off and then go home and do a more through job of it. Or one might take a full half hour actually scrubbing some of that dirt and mud off the body. That option was left to individual hygiene consciousness. But one learns the first day that not only are there no private showers, there is only ten minutes allotted to the entire process of shit, shower, and shave. and if your side of the room is last, there may not even be hot water available for that sacred worship of face scraping with a dull blade. Well, it’s not like your friendly sergeant was to kiss you good night. I never knew the military could be so mathematically possessed. It loves numbers, worships numbers, and everything is done by the numbers, usually one, two, three, and four.
Time in the military is a rather schizophrenic affair. There is never enough time to bathe, dress, eat, carry out an order, and so forth, but we quickly learned the real value of time as we constantly hurried in order to wait indeterminable amounts of time for things to be just right for our advancement to the next order of business. Of course waiting was equated with the number of cigarettes one could smoke before wait time was exhausted. “Smokem if you gottem.” I had quit my boyish habit of using tobacco. Needless to say I learned how to misuse that habit in ways I would never have thought possible. But this is merely a side trip down memory lane without the fanfare. No, one is introduced to the Merry Band Of Pranksters with that chilling realization that one no longer possesses a life sole his own. Uncle Sam has laid first claim and intends that you should know that from the outset. You will be stripped bare, most literally. You no longer have a personal will. Your friendly sergeant will see to that, personally. Pay attention for he has only your best interests in mind and will not care to see you fail. The only possession one may lay claim to is one’s clothing, the ones with your last four personal military id numbers stamped on the inside. You also get to claim a kit that consists of a bar of soap, a safety razor, a comb (not that one really needs one, almost a useless artifact, really), a can of shoe polish and brush and shine rag, and a couple of other odds and ends of little or no value. All civilian objects are put in safe keeping by the friendly sergeants.
For the next twelve weeks anyone who is not a slick sleeve (boot, recruit, trainee, person of lowest possible status) will be treated as god by you. Doesn’t matter if you are an atheist, and by the way, the religion of last report goes on your record and dog tag, no one is exempt. You will speak only on command and go only where you are directed. If you are a good study and your group doesn’t screw up, then you will be allowed a few hours of actually acting like a real human. I am told that even the inmates of federal prisons have more freedoms than we did during that initial twelve weeks. There are countless items to learn and remember, items that can be very humbling. And the friendly sergeants have ways to make you feel very humble, a great many ways. Yes, twelve weeks of extreme repression. I doubt these new generations could ever make it. But they tell me it’s a new volunteer Army and Air force and Navy and whatever. The old ways just are relevant to the current generation. Perhaps the current generation is just too weak to endure such repression.
But there are other hells of repression other than that initial twelve weeks. Advanced training can be a repressive experience all its own. The rules of engagement have changed but the repression still remains. Advanced training gives one a foretaste of the way of life that could last twenty or thirty years. One prepares for a more skilled position in the Merry Band. Sometimes one’s choice of skills are from a shitty list of left over openings. funny how all the good jobs are already taken and you get left with a choice of three. So toss a coin and hope for the best. That can mean that if you got one of the good jobs you could be in training for upwards of eight months and get to advance in rank automatically. If you go a shitty job your training was short and any advancement was likely to longer that the norm. For me, E-3 was the next rank and at that time I needed time in grade of 12 months to advance. In that twelve months they had lowered time ing grade from 12 months to 8 months to 6 months. I made it in 14 months. You see, the good jobs have far fewer people doing them and so promotion is quick. shitty jobs have lots of people doing them and there is always a shortage of people and well as a shortage of openings for the next rank.
Life goes on if you draw stateside duty, but there’s a war on and guess what, you’re it. Serving time in hell is another repression. One leaves the land of the round eyes (yeah, I know, that is a little racist, but that is the way it was, and it represents not so much a racist ideal as that feeling of being a stranger in a strange land one never wanted to visit. It express that ultimate sense of frustration at the repression one had to endure without much comfort) and heads to the land where round eyes are at best a handicap and at worst a death sentence. You are fighting for everyone else’s freedoms but your own and you grab what creature comforts are available. Even that weapon you are suppose to love doesn’t love you back. think about that for a minute. Your time in hell will last for twelve months unless some excitement causes you to leave early. That event is either death or a severe wound and the preference may be debatable. You now must live in close contact with several hundred or several thousand others who have much of the same fears as you. A mortar round has no feelings and doesn’t care if you live or die, so don’t get in its way. Every full metal round has no apologies, it’s a hit or miss proposition with them. One finds that this new type of repression takes on an impersonal nature. Charlie says;”You’re there, I’m here, nothing personal but you die, not me.” You begin to feel the same way except you hate even being here. Hate is another side of repression. It leaves scars on so many, deep scars. Some never seem to heal.
Then one day your time in hell is up, the repression is lifted. Freedom is a hard time to become accustomed when you have lived a brief life of repression. So you come back and heal or at least try to find a way back to normal. Sometimes a life of normal may take a few literally a life time. Others come back and pick up where they left off. Maybe they get that good job and appreciate it. Maybe they go a little further in life because they did more than survive hell, they overcame a portion of it. No matter, for them repression was good for their soul. One learns a bit more about the value of life, cherishes freedoms a little more, and isn’t so quick to risk life and limb, let alone one’s mind, for some empty idealist shouting from the rooftops. They tell me that there are heroes in war and I suppose it’s true. Guys who take some great risk and either live of die accordingly to help other to live. But for every hero there are a thousand or so non heroes, guys, who through the throw of the dice come home in a bag. Without them heroes wouldn’t exist. That is the nature of war. It is not a rational exercise of the mind or the body, for that matter. It exerts a repression on those who go through it whether they survive it or not. Oh, I know, some idiot will want to correct me and say I should call it oppression. But oppression is a more active experience. It is done for objective reasons even if such reasons are entirely stupid. Repression is the more passive result to oppression. Repression is more of a by product that we may not always understand or become aware of its existence. No, I think I use the word correctly. In country one of our favorite sayings was: “A little repression is good for the soul. A man don’t know what he’s lost until it’s gone.” This much I know is true.