Because of a current job with the National Guard I wear my uniform every day. At least until October 30 when our funding is cut and I’ll be out of a job again. At the same time I am attending Portland State for my last three classes for my degree in philosophy. So it is that I attend what classes I may, baring any other commitments, wearing my uniform. I’ve heard some veterans say that the campus, being a typical college campus and leaning to the liberal side of things is unfriendly to the military. I’ve not found this to be true. There are some people who might give me an odd look. This is to be expected and I welcome a dialogue with them. I walk by the tables with signs on it denouncing capitalism and other things where the staffers that table are trying to spread their message. So far none has attempted to say a word to me as I walk by. It might surprise them to know that I share more of their beliefs than they might first guess. However, while attending a conservative political training event for campus activists we were told that if you doing an event or table you want to avoid the obvious opponents to your message. The point isn’t on debate as it is conversion. You will not convert the base of the opposite camp. Trying to do so will be a waste of time and energy. Strength lies in having either the majority of opinion, or the belief of the majority. This is what makes politics so distasteful to me in that it equate truth with numbers. A majority of opinion does not mean a greater truth. If I must explain this I’ll simply point you to history books. And so it seems that the liberal staffers of this table have learned the same lesson. They view a uniformed soldier as an obvious opponent to their anti Capitalist position and so they do not approach me. Truth is, I’ve a copy of a socialist newspaper in my bag and would attend meetings on campus were I not in uniform. It is no more acceptable for me to be at a socialist meeting in uniform than it is for me to be at a republican, democrat, or any other political meeting in uniform. My political actions must always be separate from my military identity. Many do not understand this, but the military in this country must be apolitical as much as possible.
I was walking across campus to my first class and a student walked over to me and stuck out his hand and said ‘thanks for your service’. I always thank those that stop to thank me. Further down, someone yelled out from the cigarette station ‘thank you’. This particular day I must have gotten four ‘thank yous’. It has been two weeks of going to classes and I thought back over all the reaction that I’ve noticed. Because I wear the uniform I do not do many of the things that I might normally do. I do not do funny movements, weird behavior out of fun, obscene jokes, and any other things to give the uniform a bad image. I try to maintain military bearing in some respect while also portraying someone who is generally in a good mood. I’m not trying to intimidate anyone.
I was walking between some buildings and was on my way to my second class when I looked to my left and noticed a hand less than 10 inches from my face, flipping me off. A man walking a dog had passed me on my left (I had noticed he was passing by me by the sound earlier, noted it and shifted my observation elsewhere. When my mind registered what was in front of me, this guy holding his arm straight out to his right and behind him, in my face, flipping me off, I knocked his hand back. I might have yelled something at him, don’t remember, but I did ask him what his problem was. He said something like “I did more than you” and continued to walk. I was where I needed to go, watched him walk away, and I wanted blood. I was in an odd spot of wearing the uniform and trying to figure out, as angry as I was, what to do to keep my bearing and to also give the message that I wasn’t to be walked all over. I went up to him and pulled out my phone and I started recording him. He hid his face, wouldn’t face me, and I grilled him on what his problem was with me? He didn’t want to talk and tried to avoid me, tried feebly to bait me into a physical confrontation (which deep down inside I really wanted but decided against). I followed him for two blocks, yelling loudly at him what part of him putting his hand in my face was acceptable? What was he against? What was his theory? What purpose was it for? He wanted none of it and kept going. Students were watching me and some came running to me saying that campus security had been called. I told them “good, let them come”. The man with the dog kept going and I turned and went to the campus security office. There I met the head guy, told him I was turning myself in, in case there were reports of some mad veteran on a rampage. No reports were made. I explained what happened and said that this was a testament to my therapy, as two years ago I might not have been to control myself and would have likely broken something on this guy.
Walking back through the park blocks on my way to class I was hailed by a student who was prior Army. He just saw a uniform and wanted to come talk. As we walked and talked, the man with the dog was walking back through the park and stopped ten feet in front of me. We faced each other. In very clear language I told the man ‘you don’t want anything to do with me right now. Leave me alone”. He said something and I interrupted him, saying “you don’t want any of me right now… leave me alone”. He said that he was prior Navy Seal in the early 90s and asked if I was really in the service. Nothing about my uniform appearance, my bearing, my haircut, anything says ‘fake’. When I am out of uniform people ask me if I am military. I chided him (angry as I still was) over his attacking people in uniform out of the blue. If he was really a seal, what the hell was he thinking just messing with me like that? What was his problem. We parted, I told him I hoped he has a good day, and me and the prior army guy walked off. He hadn’t seen the original confrontation and I brought him up to speed. But he was now on edge judging from the body posture he saw between the man with the dog and me. We talked about the man with the dog and I started to think about him. My anger was dissipating out of me quicker now, being replaced by concern. Was he a prior S.E.A.L.? If so, what was going on with him to cause him to act like that toward me to begin with? What did he need from me? His behavior was of someone troubled over something and I had an urge to run back to him and inquire what could be done for him. But now I was late for class that I’d already missed twice this week due to other engagements. And I was still a bit angry.
Looking back at it now I see that I did some positive things. I wanted to hurt the guy at the first moment. Instead I tried to make him uncomfortable without touching him. Hence the video (which I still have but will not post). But I did not act in harmony. To borrow from Aikido, I did not foster an uke nage relationship. I was out of balance, not in harmony. This was, as everything else around me (as O Sensei would tell me) an opportunity to practice. The mat of Aikido is not only in the dojo but in the world. I could have done much better in my initial reaction. I do not rule out the possibility of striking a person (I am no pacifist and being in harmony does not mean never striking back). It is that this was my first desire and instead of acting out of harmony I simply tried to tone down the strike.
I shall have to meditate and find my balance and hope for another encounter with him so that I might ascertain the true nature of him and his needs and that I might act more in harmony with them.
Back to politics. It is a problem that if you get caught up in politics you start playing the game… and it is a zero sum game. Even the side of compassion, of respect for diversity, has no compassion or respect for the opposition. In our own political games it is the two sides of the chess board. You cannot play a game of chess collaboratively. There is no uke nage relationship in our politics.