The Day I Joined the Air Force – Part One

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There is a prelude to this story.  I grew up with a father who was abusive.  He was six feet four inches tall and weighed 210 lbs.  I was five foot eight inches tall and weighed 145 lbs.  He had been a professional boxer with 21 wins and two losses.  I lived in fear of him for many years.  During high school, I seldom dated.  I never went to a single high school dance or prom.  Shortly after the end of my high school years in 1964, I finally found a girl whom I liked.  She also seemed to like me.  We dated a few times and I planned a Saturday night out with her.  I had my own car and had funded my own expenses ever since I was sixteen.  I had just turned 18 in the September of 1964.

I arrived home late Saturday afternoon.  It was the first week of October (the day of my planned date) and my father was sitting at the dining room table with a couple of friends.  He said he needed a fourth for a game of pinochle.  I did not want to play since my father hated to lose and I knew he would blame me if we did.  Nevertheless, my father demanded that I be his partner and so I sat down with his two friends for a few games.  Sure enough, we lost the first game and my father started to complain about my play and that I had really screwed up the plays.  We started the second game and he started right in again complaining about my play.  I finally had enough of his berating me and I simply said, “I quit.”  He blew his usual fuse and told me that I was grounded and that I should go to my room.

I went up to bed and woke up about 2 AM in the morning.  I don’t think I ever went to sleep.  I packed a few things in a bag and climbed out my bedroom window.  I went over to a friend’s house and knocked on the door.  Bobby Fandetti (AKA Rock) came to the door.  He was surprised but he let me in.  I told him that I needed a place to stay for the night.  He said fine and that I could sleep on the couch.

The next morning, I told Bob I was going down to military row (where all the military recruiters had their office) and that I was going to join the military.  Bob gave me a ride and I made him promise not to tell anyone where I had gone or that I had stayed the night with him.

I knew I had no chance of getting into any college.  I had poor grades and no money.  I had two arrests.  The first for breaking and entry (a stupid robbery with six other guys from my corner) and the second for a fight leading to an assault and battery charge.  Fortunately, both offenses were sealed since they had occurred before I turned eighteen.

Upon getting down to Providence, Bob dropped me off and left.  I had twenty dollars with me and a few clothes.  I walked down the block looking in the various military recruitment centers.  The recruiters were desperate and would have taken a warm body since the Vietnam war was in full swing.  I started looking at the various uniforms in the windows.  My biggest criteria concerned in which uniform would I have the best chance of getting laid.

marines

I did not like the Marine uniforms.  They seemed too gaudy.  Navy was out since their uniforms looked silly to me.  They were bell bottoms before bell bottoms became in.  The Army uniforms seemed too drab.  Green was never my favorite color.  Then I saw the Air Force uniforms.  They reminded me of my high school colors which were blue and gray. It was an immediate hit.  I could see myself scoring lots of babes in this cool uniform.

navy

At the time this all occurred, my father was an American Legion Post commander.  He was a decorated and disabled WW II veteran.  He saw service in Patton’s Third Army as a tank guard.  He won a Purple Heart for his combat injuries.  My father hated communists and had drilled me with the evilness of communists.  My motto when I went into the military was “Kill a commie for Christ.”

army uniform

The recruiter did all he could to make my day.  He was friendly and helpful and gave me a coke and some snacks.  I had to take a test called ASVAB that he said would determine which job I got.  I did not really care which job since I thought that I could get into some combat group and go to Vietnam to kill some “commie gooks.”  I got an AFSC or Air Force Service Code as a Nuclear Weapons Specialist.  For some reason, this was later changed to a 30352 code as an AC&W Radar Technician and I was switched from going to military training in Chanute, Kansas to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.  But first, every Air Force recruit had to go to basic training at Lackland AFB just outside San Antonio, Texas.

air force

However, I was not in the military yet.  I had a bunch of papers to sign and then they sent me by car to an induction center where many other branches of the military also went.  At this center I was going to get a physical.  I remember fifty or more guys all in this big hall and all of us told to strip naked.  A few physicians then went around checking everybody out with a stethoscope.  Guys with obvious impairments were told to get dressed and go home.  Finally, about a half of the original guys were still there.  We were told to put our civvies back on and then we would be sworn in.  We went into another room, where we repeated some oaths and the Pledge of Allegiance.  We were now in the United States Military.

swearing in

I was then sent by commercial bus from Providence to New Jersey.  From the bus terminal I got a ride to the Newark Airport.  At the airport, I somehow (I do not remember how) met some other Air Force recruits.  We had all been given vouchers for ten dollars or so for meals while waiting for our flight to Texas.  We decided to go to a café at the airport for supper.   When we got seated the waitress came around with a menu.  We told her that we had these meal vouchers.  As we ordered. it appeared that even if the price of a meal was less than our vouchers, there were items that we (for unknown reasons) could not purchase with our vouchers.  I got pissed, since I felt we were being ripped off.  I gave my voucher away and left.

I had my twenty dollars and I went in search of another dinner venue.  The airport had this upscale dining area and I went in and seated myself down.  I was surprised that I was the only diner in the room at the time.  The waiter came and he gave me a menu.  On it was a boiled lobster dinner for $18.99.  I thought “Hell, I am going out in style.”  I had never had a boiled lobster dinner in a restaurant although I had caught and eaten many lobsters in Rhode Island.

boiled-lobster-dinner-CNH3FH

The lobster came and I put a bib around my neck and proceeded to eat the lobster.  I was quite adept at cracking lobster shells (having lived in R.I. from my 11th to 18th year of life).  After I was finished with dinner, I noticed a bowl with water and a lemon floating on it.  I was staring at the bowl thinking it might be some weird soup.  The waiter noticed my gaze and came over and very quietly asked me if I knew what it was for.  I said no and he told me that it was to wash my fingers in.  I will never forget his kindness for not embarrassing me or my own lack of knowledge of good etiquette.  This would come back many times to embarrass me in my later years even after I had obtained my Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota.

I then rejoined the other recruits and we waited rather silently for the plane that would take us to our new lives.

To Be Continued:

Don’t Tell the Truth, Hide Behind a Euphemism

Collateral-DamageI woke up at 3 AM the morning of January 2, 2015 with military euphemisms on my mind.   Knowing that I would forget the ideas I had, I jotted down a few notes on paper before going back to bed.   A few of the specific euphemisms that were running through my brain included:

  •  Collateral Damage
  • Surge
  • Village Pacification
  • Enhanced Interrogation
  • VUCA
  • Shock and Awe
  • IED
  • Drone Kill

Thinking that this was probably a very incomplete list of the euphemisms out there, I decided to Google the following:  Military Euphemism Examples.  Here is what my screen looked like:

Pages of Search Query

You will notice that I now had 254, 000 results.  I decided to go to “Glossary of Iraqi War Euphemisms” and I found a site full of euphemisms that I had not thought of.  At this point, I realized that any possible list of euphemisms I could compile far exceeded the limits of my concepts for this blog.  I had originally thought to list a few of the more commonly heard euphemisms and discuss the implications of these words in respect to our thinking and behavior.  I would still like to accomplish this objective but now with more deference to those who have gone before in this effort as well as increased humility with the extent of the problem we are facing.  (Following this blog, are two references which anyone who wants to explore this problem further should pursue.)  See the late great George Carlin on Euphemisms.

What is the problem you may ask?  David Bromwich put it very succinctly:

“The frightening thing about the use of euphemisms is their power to efface the memory of actual cruelties.  Behind the façade of a history falsified by language, the painful particulars of war are lost.”David Bromwich

Dangerous-LiarsLet’s take a concrete example to illustrate the problem more.  The United States Senate recently released a report officially titled as:  Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.   Unofficially, it has been called the Senate Report on Torture.   I downloaded and saved the above report (525 pages) which I assume is the condensed version or summary of the full report.  Just for curiosity sake, I searched for the word Torture in the summary.  There were 131 instances of the word in the 525 page summary.

I then typed in “enhanced interrogation” and found 997 instances of the term in the report.  Apparently our Senate is no fonder of the word Torture then its intended victims were.  Given our penchant for euphemisms, I am almost surprised that they did not call it the “Senate Report on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”  With such a title, they could probably sell it to Human Resource Managers looking for better ways to screen potential new hires.  Oh, I also typed in the word Victim to see how many times this was in the report.  It was found a total of 6 times and in each instance, it was related to the phrase:  “United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”  Apparently, the word victim is too harsh to use.  Maybe we should call victims of torture something like “unintended recipients of undesired attention.”   You must admit it has a sort of ring to it.  I think it sounds a lot more interesting than “victims of torture.”  We could abbreviate it as URUA which can then be used when needed so as not to offend anyone.

grave yard euphemismA euphemism is a word or phrase used in place of another word or phrase.  However, a euphemism is different than a synonym.  The difference is important because it is insidious and it strikes to the heart of the problem that we are facing here.   Here is an example from Baker Editing Services on the use of synonyms versus euphemisms which I think does a good job of illustrating the differences:

“You need to select your synonyms carefully.  Euphemisms are sometimes a good choice as a specific category of synonym when selecting an alternate word.  They are neutral, mild, or vague terms that can be used to express a more offensive or traumatic word or situation without giving offense.  Rather than saying a coworker is a competitive ass, you might say that he is “driven” or “very dedicated to achieving his goals.”

war picturesNotice the difference?  When we use a euphemism, we may be trying not to give offense.  We may also be trying to hide the truth or something that might be unacceptable if rendered in plain English.  Thus in war, words like casualties replace deaths and “suppressing the enemy” replaces “killing” the enemy.  American casualties are reported but not enemy casualties since we don’t really care about the number of freedom fighters (Oh, I meant terrorists) we kill.   We did not really destroy the village and all the women and children and freedom fighters (Oops, my mistake again, I meant terrorists) in it.  We pacified the village.

(‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.)Peter Arnett

We certainly pacified the town of Bến Tre which now has a population of over 140, 000 people.  Of course, back during the Vietnam War, they were not people, they were Gooks.  I was curious to find out just how many people were killed while we “pacified” the village but I could not find any specific figures.  (If anyone knows the number of people killed at Bến Tre during the offensive, please let me know.) 

Another euphemism or at least it seems to be a euphemism is the concept of “force continuum”:

force continuumA “Use of Force Continuum” is a standard that provides law enforcement officials and security officers (such as police officers, probation officers, or corrections officers) with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation.

excessive forceThe principle idea here is to use only the amount of deterrence necessary to protect oneself and also accomplish the objectives needed by the situation.  Practically speaking this means that if someone calls you a name, you do not shoot them.  If someone comes at you bare handed, you may use the minimum level of force necessary to protect yourself.  This might mean you would use tear gas or a Taser before you would blast them with a shotgun.  I mentioned that the concept of force continuum seems like a euphemism but perhaps it is more of a misnomer since it often seems like it is an upside down continuum with police shooting first and asking questions later.

The problem of euphemisms is evident in policing as well as in military situations.   However, it is more insidious and subtle here and thus more difficult to recognize.  Nevertheless, it plays an important role in police efforts to prevent crime and violence.  If instead of a looking at someone as a human being or a citizen, police label them as “violent perps”, then they will be likely to use more force than they might need to.  Many of the recent examples in the news of “police brutality” reflect this overuse of force due to the stereotyping of African Americans as more violent and dangerous than Whites or other ethnic groups.  Again, we see the problem here is that we are labeling people not as they really are but as we are programmed for them to be. Human life becomes cheap.  Maybe we should call it a “killing” continuum instead of a “use of force continuum.”

euphemismMadison Avenue has become an obscene part of the communication process in both the military and law enforcement.  Hide it.  Obscure it.  Obfuscate it.  Give them what they won’t understand.  Make it sound benign.  Sugarcoat it and they will buy it every time.  We did not kill the man.  We neutralized him.  We did not choke him to death.  We used acceptable deterrence procedures.   We did not abuse the woman; we used standard assault control techniques.   Let’s not say what we mean.  Let’s not call it what it really was.  He injured himself in the course of our investigative process.   She was injured while we were restraining her for her own safety.

Euphemisms are dangerous.  I would go so far as to say they are evil.  They hide the truth.  They convey a message which does not fit reality.  They paint an inappropriate picture of what is happening in our lives.  They distort the facts.   Without seeing things as they really are, we are lost in a fog of illusion.  We are navigating in a maze without any sense of direction.  We are looking in a mirror that shows us what others want us to believe and not what is really happening.   Here is a recent news story about a 90 year old war veteran who was arrested for feeding the hungry.  Notice the euphemisms:

“While video available on YouTube shows Arnold Abbott and ministers being taken away in police custody, the Mayor states that Mr. Arnold had not been arrested, but rather was detained, cited, and ordered to appear in court.  Those cited face possible jail time and have taken the city to court to fight the ordinance.”  CNN,  11-5-2014

Should you get arrested, I hope you will remember the difference between detained and arrested.  It might help in your plea to the court.   Here is another example of a euphemism that has evolved over time.  It is from the pen of the famous cartoonist Scott Adams known for his Dilbert series.

“You’re fired.”  (1980)

“You’re laid off.”  (1985)

“You’re downsized.”  (1990)

“You’re rightsized.”  (1992)

Do words matter?  Of course they matter.  Why would advertisers, marketers, PR people and political pundits go to such trouble to use words to disguise meanings if they did not matter?

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’  (From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.)

bank exampleThe golden rule applies unilaterally when euphemisms and misinformation must be spread.  The golden rule is “he, who has the gold, makes the rules.”  In most cases, this easily answers Humpty Dumpty’s question about who is to be the master.  The person who has the most gold is the master.  The poor, the underprivileged, the defeated, the economically disadvantaged, the bottom of the pile minorities and lower income groups do not get to choose the words and make the euphemisms.   If they did, it could lead to some type of new grammar which I would have to call “reverse euphemisms.”  This means euphemisms named by the group that has nothing to hide or would really like to see the truth out.  Thus, in Michael Brown’s case it would have been said that he was:

  • Indiscriminately slaughtered
  • Butchered in cold blood
  • Executed
  • Assassinated

Eric Garner did not die from aspiration or asphyxiation or not being able to get a breath while in a police restraint.  Eric (it would be more accurate to say) died from:

  • Being strangled to death
  • Choked to death
  • Unwarranted and unnecessary application of dangerous and lethal police procedures

article-eric-garner-wife-1203All lives matter:  Black, Brown, Yellow, White, Blue, Pink or any other color.  No exceptions.  No one’s death is a cipher.  When we diminish the victims meaning and their importance through the use of sophistry, euphemisms and carefully crafted words to hide behind, we increase the probability that no lives will matter.  We must not allow others to hide behind words designed to conceal the truth.   Start speaking the truth.  Say the truth.  Change the words you use to reflect the truth.  The truth may just set you and the world free.

Time for Questions:

What is your favorite euphemism?  Why?  What do you think would happen if we stopped using so many euphemisms?  Would we have more truth or less?  Do you think euphemisms are helpful or harmful?  Why?  Can you trust what anyone means anymore?   What is the difference between a lie and a euphemism?

Life is just beginning:

Here are some good sites to visit if you want to explore this subject further:

 

 

 

 

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