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What's a pacifist to do when she actually likes the recruiting message?
Jing Tsong

If you’ve been to a movie at Dole Cannery or Ward, you’ve probably seen the ubiquitous short film Citizen/Soldier. It’s a commercial for the National Guard, styled as a hipster music video.

The video features a band, 3 Doors Down, and their song, also called “Citizen/Soldier.” It starts with two guys playing football on a verdant campus. Gentle tufts of dandelions are blowing through the breeze. Guy No. 2 drops his football in a puddle and is magically transported both to a disaster site, where he picks up his now deflated football and stares glumly at the steaming wreckage of a natural disaster. Then we get some scenes circa 1776. A scared, blue-eyed kid summons his courage against the Redcoats. Cannons are firing. Now back to the band, where storm clouds swirl around the lead singer. The video shows scenes from the Normandy invasion, then depicts burning buildings in a Middle Eastern setting. Soldiers rescue their captured comrade and save some children (what, no puppies?).

You could definitely call this over-the-top, even glorified. One online review pronounced it “hilarious” and “gold-encrusted garbage.” But I think the ads work really well, and this makes me feel deeply conflicted.

I’m an antiwar person in general, and anti-the-war-we’re-in-right-now in particular. It’s hard for me to get behind the idea of hiring more people to get shot at. But even if you’d only taken Marketing 101, you could acknowledge that the National Guard recruiting office is doing a super job. The ad has high production values, with smooth editing and expensive-looking costumes and sets. The Guard wisely chose a popular band to add clout to its brand. The commercial targets the specific audience (restless young men) most likely to enlist, and bought media time in theaters, where their target “customers” are known to congregate. So if the government is using our tax money to do a task, and it’s performing that task with skill and efficacy, who am I to complain? Aren’t I the first person to find fault when the government squanders tax money?

On the other hand, some part of me wants the military recruiters to fail. I have this crazy vision where someday, no one wants to bear arms against their fellow man. Where, sans weapons and armies, humans are forced to settle their differences in alternate ways.

And on the other hand, even I am not naïve enough to think we don’t need a military. Humans are, alas, fairly violent animals. I don’t see much evidence that this won’t continue to be true.

On one hand, I wish the U.S. military was indeed used strictly for the heroic work shown in the promo video: distributing food aid, cleaning up after Hurricane Katrinas, rescuing prisoners. On the other hand, it’s not.
On one hand, I can’t comprehend why someone would enlist right now, with the deployment times running so long and the risk of traumatic brain injuries so high.

On the other hand, when I was in line for popcorn at Dole, a screen above the counter was playing Citizen/Soldier. A young guy with a regulation haircut stared up at it with a bemused look on his face. I thought he was going to say something snarky to his girlfriend. Instead, he turned to her and calmly said, “The houses in Iraq look just like that.” He’s happy and eating popcorn, not asking me to protect him from Uncle Sam.

I’m running out of hands here.