College is no escape from the war

Attending a Socialist-organized rally doesn’t make me a Socialist any more than eating at a Chinese restaurant makes me Chinese.

John Hoff

I might possess some small, precious piece of mental real estate where I can still escape for a few moments, and stop thinking about this stupid war. Maybe escape happens when I read about the saga of Anna Nicole Smith. Maybe I can wrap a noodle around a fork just so, and only think about the noodle, the fork, and satisfying my hunger.

But, sooner or later, the war intrudes into every normal, peaceful moment of routine reality. One day, working as a teaching assistant, the instructor and I needed to show the class an example of active versus passive voice. Only the war sprang to mind. “Mistakes were made in the war,” is passive voice. “Bush made mistakes in the war,” is active voice.

Momentary mental refuge from the war is becoming quite rare in class, at meals, on the No. 16 bus, or anywhere with a television nearby.

So maybe I should stop trying to escape. Maybe I should let this wave of anguish and mental disturbance wash over me, and accept the fact that normal life at the University for me and for many people might soon mean being completely caught up in anti-war efforts.

Yes, life might become shouting until your voice is hoarse, wearing buttons, distributing flyers, meeting all your potential dates at rallies, marching until the war consumes every aspect of college life. I’ve had long, frank conversations with some old anti-war organizers from the 1970s. I’ve heard what it was like.

These are reasons I avoided going to an anti-war protest until recently. Well, another reason would be posters lacking information about bus routes. You can’t expect a transplanted country boy to find his way to some unfamiliar location in Uptown without more specific guidance. But when a rally took place Tuesday in front of Coffman Union, I ran out of excuses.

Am I really going to do this? I wondered. Am I going to march with my short military-style haircut, my old army ID card tucked in a corner of my wallet? I couldn’t help but notice how heavily the rally was influenced by socialists. The posters I saw were red with a raised fist, and “Socialist Alternative” was listed first among the endorsing groups.

I decided attending a socialist-organized rally doesn’t make me a socialist any more than eating at a Chinese restaurant makes me Chinese. Somebody needed to organize the rally, and the socialists (among others) were willing. Bless the socialists. One of the women with a megaphone was, um, really hot.

The moment of commitment was not marching, because anybody might walk along with a group for a few moments with a socialist paper tucked in their back pocket. No, commitment was shouting slogans in unison. I thought for a moment about whether I agreed with the slogan and could, in good conscience, shout it. And then I let loose, “Stop the funding, stop the war, what the (expletive) is Congress for?”

This became a little game for me, a game called “Can I shout louder than a bullhorn?” Well, of course I can. I was trained by my army drill sergeants how to shout loud, to bellow out an order in the middle of gunfire or deliver an inspiring marching cadence. “If I die in the promised land / put a rifle in my handÖ”

I remember a day when shouting loud really mattered. We were on the firing range in army basic training, and two privates named Dobier and Self were shooting in front of me. Without warning, Dobier’s M-16 rifle simply blew apart. A 20-round magazine blasted out the bottom, flaming, and looked like it would cook off and spray bullets in every direction. Dobier was rolling around in the dirt, his hands over his face. Unaware, the other soldiers kept firing at targets.

“Cease fire!” Self shouted, but he was quiet down in the dirt. I took up the shout, loud enough for the whole firing range to hear, “Cease fire!” The instructor in the tower heard and realized something was wrong. The official order came down, “Cease fire!”

What a moment that was when every rifle fell silent. I fully expected to see blood, bone, hunks of eyeball and brain matter as the drill sergeant pried away Dobier’s grasping hands. But Dobier only had a slight injury to his face, though he was given a CAT scan. Some of the gunpowder gave him a small, permanent tattoo, a black line on his lip. Dobier’s rifle had a hole in the side as large as a grapefruit.

How I wish something I could do or say would make all the guns of this war fall silent. On Tuesday, we walked all over campus and, for a few moments, ended up at the Dinkydome. I have to question the effectiveness of directing protest at the Dinkydome, since army recruiters no longer have offices there. In my view, the only logical targets for campus anti-war protests would be ROTC and military recruiters on Washington Avenue Southeast.

Near the end of the protest, I also didn’t see the point of marching through Coffman Union, where students were studying. I refrained from that action because, (with all due respect and deference to the dedicated organizers of the protest) I didn’t support disrupting homework with signs and bullhorns.

The protest ended with an announcement of further planned protest. The hot socialist woman said there would be acts of civil disobedience on April 3, at Sen. Norm Coleman’s office.

It seems we are entering a time when anti-war rallies and marches might become a routine part of campus life. College is no escape from the war. What choice is there but to embrace this historical period, and make a personal decision to speak out in favor of war or peace?

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]