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    Shepherd's Avatar

    "The Extreme Differences of Being Raised in Military & Civilian Families'

    Following is the draft of a presentation that I will give this afternoon to a class at Sonoma State University, where I used to teach. The short lines are not meant to be poetry, but to be easier to read.

    The Extreme Differences of Being Raised
    In Military and Civilian Families

    Take Michael’s poem, “Meditation on Being a Baby Killer”

    I appreciate your professor inviting me to speak again to
    Your diversity class, as I have twice before.
    It is good to be back at SSU,
    Where I used to teach.

    My presentation today is based
    On one that I gave in 2010 here at SSU
    At a conference.
    I will pass the program around.
    Please be sure that it reaches back to me.

    I spent a decade at Harvard,
    Where I directed a program called Education for Action,
    Did some teaching,
    And did my Post-Doctoral study
    At the School of Education.

    After SSU, I taught at Dominican Univ. in San Rafael.
    Though I am officially still on the faculty at Dominican,
    I am not currently teaching there.
    Classes have gotten too big for me.
    I appreciate small classes, such as this.
    What I miss most from teaching
    is regular contact with young people,
    Such as yourselves.

    I also want to appreciate my new friend Debbie Melmon,
    A therapist, for joining us today,
    And invite her into the conversation.
    My sweet dog, and protector, is resting in her car.

    I am basically retired from some 40 years of college teaching.

    I teach from a Socratic Dialogue method,
    Which is question-based, rather than lecture-based.
    So I welcome your questions, arguments, and disagreements
    With what I will be saying.

    Your professor’s invitation gave me the chance
    to do what the study of aging calls “life review,”
    for which I thank him.

    I’m 74 years old now and have been remembering
    Things I have not thought about since childhood,
    Where my nickname was “Go-Go.”
    Now I feel as if I am in another gear,
    Which might be called “Go-Slow.”

    How many of your were born into a military family?

    Very few, which means that we who were
    Born military are a minority,
    One of the most powerful in the U.S.,
    Especially with the current rise of the South
    And more generals in the cabinet
    and as part of the current presidency
    Than under any other president.

    Police forces are also being militarized,
    With weaponry designed for wars,
    Now being used on U.S. citizens.

    Military culture is quite distinct from civilian culture.
    I want to give you a sense of the culture into which I was born,
    And eventually left.

    A large percentage of senior military officers
    are from the South.
    Some are racists and white supremasists
    still fighting the Civil War.

    My father is from Kentucky
    and went to Lousiana State University.
    My Dad was Air Force.
    I followed him into the Army.
    His Dad was Navy.
    I am the 3rdBliss with my name.
    Ft. Bliss, Texas was named after our family.
    My brother is Marine.
    My sister married military.
    My other brother was a world-class football coach.

    I served during the American Wars
    On the people of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
    The U.S. lost all those wars,
    Against small, weak countries.

    So what have we been doing recently?
    Waring against other small, weak countries—
    Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan—
    And not winning those wars,
    Though we are killing a lot of innocent people,
    Including children and woman.

    But some benefit from wars-
    Like weapons manufacturers.
    U.S. corporations supply
    Most of the weapons to the world,
    Often to both sides in combat.
    It’s all about profit.

    The military budget of the U.S.
    Is about the same size as the combined military budgets
    Of all the other countries in the world.

    So having lost to weak countries,
    The U.S. threatens strong, nuclear-armed countries-
    China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea.
    The American Empire is not likely to continue.
    May the basic American values
    From our revolution continue.
    Everything that lives dies,
    Including all empires,
    Like the Greek, Roman, British, Dutch, Ottoman,
    And other empires.

    2. My childhood

    I was taught to play chess at the age of 4,
    To learn military strategy.
    I was defeating adults by 8.
    I was also taught how to play ping pong—
    A favorite game for military members to play to relax,
    While still being competitive.

    I went to military schools for my first few years.
    It was required that I play baseball and football.
    I was a defensive linebacker in high school.
    Coach buffed me up to 180 pounds,
    So I could red dog and tackle the quarterback,
    Bringing him to the ground.

    Decades later I learned that under-nutrition without malnutrition
    Is key to living a long life.
    I learned how to grow berries from Scott Nearing,
    Who lived to be 100 years old,
    Which I would like to do.
    So I scaled myself down to 135 pounds.

    When he came home from work,
    My father called me by my number, not by my name.
    X story

    Speaking of names,
    While in basic training my wise sergeant taught me,
    “Don’t learn the first names of the men under your command,
    until they have been in combat.
    Some will die.
    Grieving that many death would be difficult.”

    3. ML King

    As a college student, like you,
    My first serious girlfriend, Marilyn Yoe,
    Kept working on me to leave the military.

    One day she invited me to go out of state
    To a gathering of college students.
    I accepted, in order to be with her.

    It turned out that the keynote speaker,
    someone I had never heard of—
    was Martin Luther King, Jr.
    It was when he was beginning to speak out against war.

    I had a strong response.
    Back then they called in a “nervous breakdown.”
    Today it is described by some
    As “a spiritual emergency.”
    I decided to go to seminary, following Dr. King,
    was ordained a Methodist minister,
    Thinking I could become a military chaplain.
    I finally decided that I could not even do that,
    Since it would imply approving of war-making.

    I eventually resigned my officer’s commission.
    My father disowned me.
    I was denounced in Congress by a Southern Representative.

    While I was in college, when I was on campus in military uniform
    I was called a “baby killer” and “death merchant”—
    Not a good strategy to change a person’s ideas.

    The anti-war movement finally matured into a peace movement.
    It opened up coffee shops.
    We soldiers went not so much for politics,
    But because the food was better than military food,
    And there were girls there.
    One of those young women, Marilyn Yeo,
    organized me out of the army.

    She showed me pictures of napalmed babies
    And implored me not to go to war.

    Here is the sample of a poem
    by a member of the Vets Writing Group
    that I have been with for 25 years.
    X Meditation of a Killer

    Marilyn and Dr. King saved at least my soul,
    and perhaps even my life.

    4. “Wanna Fight

    However, you can take the boy out of the military,
    But it is more difficult to take the military out of the boy, or girl.

    Being raised military means that you move every 3 years or so.
    Your family is the nation itself, rather than your family of origin.
    We so called “military brats,” for we boys in particular
    Were brats, as in this book.

    Every time you move,
    When the boys go to military school,
    Some one comes up and says, “Wanna fight,”
    To which there is only one answer.

    One time a boy on crutches came up and challenged me.
    “Fight, fight,” the chant went up.
    X fight story

    Though I have been a non-violent activist
    For half a century now,
    I do agree with some of the so-called “military virtues,”
    Such as duty, honor, country love, discipline,
    Caring for one’s buddies, and being on time.

    Living as I do, in Sebastopol,
    The lateness of some of my laid-back friends
    Drives me crazy.

    Though I am a peace activist,
    I am not anti-military.
    We do need to protect ourselves and our families.

    While teaching at Dominican,
    I had 2 female students who were Marine cadets.
    I supported them.
    We need more women in the military.
    One asked me for a letter of recommendation
    To her commanding officer,
    Which I gave her.

    I have operated an organic farm in Sebastopol
    For the last quarter of a century.
    I have evolved from being a warrior to being a farmer.

    My main workers have come from the SSU’s JUMP program,
    Who come as volunteers during the academic year,
    And then I hire some of them for our berry harvest,
    Which is June through Sept.
    If that might interest you, let me know.
    See me after class and I can give you a business card.
    Any of you are welcome to come for a farm tour.

    5. 24 Books I’ve Contributed To

    Vets book, Enduring War, Shattered Illusions, poetry, book about my farm.
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