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Tomgram: Andrea Mazzarino, The Boot Camp of American Life

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Yes, the Senate gave him its nod of approval, 98-0, including Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan, who had previously placed a hold on his nomination. ("The right man at the right time" was the way he now put it.) And so General Charles Q. Brown became the Air Force chief of staff, the first black man to head any U.S. military service in a history that goes back a long, long way. He will also be the second African American on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a military that, by the way, is almost half servicemen and women of color but whose top officers have generally been white.

If you wander the web in this Black Lives Matter moment, you'll now find top commanders claiming that the time has come for the U.S. military to embrace racial change. If, however, you also happened to check out Military Times, you'd find that its latest polling suggests white nationalism and white supremacy are actually on the rise in the very ranks of those forces. Asked at the end of 2019 whether they had witnessed "examples of white nationalism or racism," 53% of service people of color and 30% of whites answered in the affirmative, a significant jump in both cases from 2018. "Poll participants reported witnessing incidents including racist language and discriminatory attitudes from peers, but also more specific examples like swastikas being drawn on service members' cars, tattoos affiliated with white supremacist groups, stickers supporting the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi-style salutes between individuals."

In that context and in this embattled moment, consider the thoughts of military spouse, co-founder of Brown University's Costs of War Project, and TomDispatch regular Andrea Mazzarino on the way war and racism play out in her life and those of people of color in that military as America's wars finally come home in a big way. Tom

The War Zone Is America
A Military Spouse's Perspective on Racism and Armed Violence in the United States
By Andrea Mazzarino

Recently, in this Black Lives Matter protest moment, my five-year-old son looked at me and asked, "Mommy, where did all the brown people go? Did the police here shoot them?"

We'd just moved to the outskirts of a more affluent rural town from a city where my son and three-and-a-half-year-old daughter mixed daily with black, Latino, and Asian American kids and were among a minority of whites at their preschool. Now, it was whites to the horizon: the white UPS guy, the white neighbors nearly a mile away on either side of us, the white motorcycle gangs zooming down the road in front of our house, sometimes sporting confederate flags on their seatbacks.

As I fumbled to explain racism, the general mistreatment of people of color, income inequality, and redlining in the simplest terms I could imagine, my son tried to clarify things: "So white people steal? Is that what they use the guns for?"

In his young life he's already absorbed way too much talk of guns, bombs, weapons, and war thanks to the news he catches in passing, as well as discussions of my husband's work on nuclear and ballistic-missile submarines and now as a Pentagon official, not to speak of my own work as a therapist in military communities, a human rights activist, and the co-founder of the Costs of War Project. I think, by now, he assumes that things in this country happen mainly thanks to the brute force of white guys with guns.

At his young age, he already struggles regularly with thoughts about how it feels to be treated badly because of the way you look. Late the other night, when he should have been asleep, he called me in and asked, "Mommy, what does it feel like when someone kneels on your neck?" And when, while riding in our car with the radio news on, he heard about the pepper spraying of protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House, he asked, "Was that coronavirus they were spraying? Does that make you not breathe, too? Is the world bad?"

Later, he wondered aloud: "Does daddy have a gun? Is he scared?"

I guess it's logical enough for the child of a man who has served on three subs and an aircraft carrier during his 17-year naval career to assume that the people with power and the mandate to kill are white men. Certainly, whenever we've attended a Navy gathering, we invariably face a sea of white officers and their white, J.Crew-clad wives.

And -- not to cast aspersions -- the four of us look as if we belong on the cover of a Muesli box with our pale skin, fair hair, and long, well-nourished limbs. The rare people of color we've come to know among the officer class in the Navy have had their own stories to tell about the commonplace nature of the racial slurs like "raghead" they've heard in the service and of being threatened with racially motivated violence by peers and higher-ups alike, sometimes under the guise of "training" exercises.

To report such threatened or actual violence is usually futile in the submarine force, as to do so you have to identify your rank and so open yourself up to further retribution. In other words, my son is already experiencing a system in which 43% of the men and women on active duty are people of color and yet, in practice, one that has regularly culled its officer class down to white men, as Helene Cooper's recent striking investigative piece in the New York Times made all too clear.

It's hardly surprising, then, that my son and other children like him tend to assume that the bad things that happen in this country do so through violence, armed and otherwise. Like more or less everyone in the U.S. now, he knows that George Floyd died on a street corner in Minneapolis because a police officer knelt on his neck. In my son's short life, he's also experienced a military world in which old missiles are painted bright colors and repurposed as street lamps and benches at military bases, not to speak of seeing whiskey bottles in our own dining room shaped like ballistic missile submarines.

At three, I remember him standing beside me as I anxiously watched the nightly news during one of his father's sea deployments to an unknown location, as Donald Trump threatened to release "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on the Korean peninsula. I've found him looking over my shoulder as I sifted through photographs of burnt and bloody Iraqi and Afghan children in my work for the Costs of War Project. Relatives have snuck G.I. Joe figurines into some of the toy trucks they've given him as gifts -- in their quest to one day make him "like his daddy." And let's not forget the active-shooter drills that were a regular part of preschool until Covid-19 struck, making the threat of weaponry an aspect of any child's life away from home (and dodging them a kind of game).

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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