Verlaine on Rimbaud (London, May 1873):
“It was my turn to go buy the groceries. I come back with a herring in one hand and a bottle of oil in the other. And I was carrying them the way I should, right? Anyway, perfectly normally. I get back to the house and I see Rimbaud watching me from the open window. He starts to snicker. There was no reason for it, right? Anyway, I go upstairs and go in. ‘You look like a real asshole with your herring in one hand and your bottle of oil in the other,’ he says to me.
The new senator (and media darling) Jim Webb presented an interesting side of the army in questioning a U.S. General. Webb, from a military family, talked about how people don’t generally join for political reasons but because they have ideas about serving their country, have a family tradition, are attracted to the lifestyle etc.
Webb talked about how that makes the army vulnerable to politics. The army depends on others to make the correct political decisions regarding its use.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with Paul (aka Sergeant Wasserman). Paul said that in four years in the army, he’d never had a political conversation, and that for his fellow soldiers, the army was essentially a job.
I think the army is the largest largely working-class organization in the country. The soldiers I’ve met – mostly non-coms – have working-class values. They’re interested in making decent money, becoming homeowners, raising families in safe environments. They see the army as their best bet for attaining these things. They’re not intensely ideological, or even all that political, consciously anyway.
I think this is something the left tends to the forget (and the right shrewdly exploits).
My neighbor and friend Paul is leaving for an air-force base in Pennsylvania tomorrow. A month after that, he’ll be shipping out to Iraq – Tikrit to be exact – for a year. He joined the army reserves after 9/11 and is about two years short of his term. He’s a sergeant in military intelligence and will be flying in small planes, using new technology to spot IED’s on roads there, the biggest killer of U.S. troops.
Unlike many others, Paul volunteered for this assignment. Although he was originally supposed to leave in the spring, he did everything he could to have the departure date moved up. For Paul, it’s part of why he joined the army in the first place. He sees himself doing useful work there, socking away some money, and coming back to get a degree on the G.I. Bill.
Paul is actually a fine painter and poet – having published in some reputable journals. I think his stuff is quite good. Paul is that increasingly rara avis in American life – an educated artist from a lower-middle class background. For his day job he teaches ESL. He’s 31 and not married; in fact he hasn’t had a girlfriend in the four or so years he’s been living downstairs (although I’ve seen plenty of women leaving his apartment in the morning).
Tonight he came up to have a beer and say goodbye. We talked about his assignment, the Vietnam books we like, and the new David Lynch film. Like me, he sees Lynch as the most important contemporary American director, and like me, had mixed feelings about ‘Inland Empire’ (so he must be smart!).
We’ll be corresponding and, if he agrees, I’ll post his letters here.