You And Whose Army ?

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Confront Your Ennemies, Avoid Them When You Can

Confront Your Ennemies, Avoid Them When You Can

The morning I turned 18, I skipped school.

I woke up at 7 am as usual and turned on the radio. I got dressed to the sound of Nirvana and bitched. A lot. I grabbed my bag, my ID’s and the notice I was send a few months ago and that I had tried to forget and slammed the door.

I ran down the stairs and lighted up my first cigarette of the day in the street. The morning was cold as I waited for the bus.

My first day in adulthood and I was going to play with weapons. Fuck.

A few months ago, I had received the dreaded notice. I was called for a day of national service. No way to escape : the attestation I would get at the end of the day would be required every time I’d take an exam (including my high school exam I was going to take in a few months), register for university, take my driver’s license etc. Call it an administrative sanction.

A one year mandatory military service for men only since the French Revolution was the rule. But peacetime military conscription has finally been suspended in 1996 and was replaced by new compulsory “day of introduction to defense and the French armed forces”. It was to be carried out by all males and females born in 1983 and after. I was born in early 1983. Unfortunately.

I got off the bus and walked towards the barracks. I showed a piece of ID to the orderly who was standing by the huge metal door and he let me in. Behind the doors were about a hundred people, all my age, anxiously smoking cigarettes and making small talk.

Ten minutes later, we were all summoned by what seem to be a sergeant-major (who had written his rank on a nametag for dummies like me) and sent to various building, escorted by a sergeant. First class of the day : the meaning and duties of citizenship. Then, a French test to check whether we all can read and write. The second class of the day introduce us to the history of French army and its “success” : peacekeeping, free people all around the world blahblahblah. I closed my eyes and I remember the other side of the story : 1947, Indochina. 1954 to 1962, the bloody Algerian war. All the decolonization wars and the French army, trying to patch up a empire bound to collapse. Repression. Torture. History is sometimes hard to watch. But this is how we spend $46,2 billion per year: on guns and badly shaped aircraft-carriers.

After a couple of hours, we were allowed to go out for a smoke. Remember, it’s France : smoking is fine. I breathed the cold air and prepared myself for the second part of the day.

But we weren’t to go back inside the building that quickly : first, we had to visit the barracks and have “fun” with some weapons. Woohoo, exactly what I felt like doing on a nice day like that. I hold the gun in my hand. Arm control. Non-proliferation. I heard the sergeant speaking but his words didn’t make any sense. Once again. History. Six nuclear tests in the South Pacific in 1996. The Rainbow-Warrior bombed. Something didn’t sound right.

Videos, slide films, pamphlets were dancing before my eyes. The day finally ended. We exited the building one by one, stopped at the door by another army official who was holding a stack of forms. “Wanna come back to learn more ?” “We need people like you !” “Think about it, school will be finish in a few months, do you want a job right-away ?”. I politely declined. Me, joining the army ? Over my dead body.

I wasn’t raised as a patriot. Would I defend my country if needed ? Unlikely. Call me a coward if you want, but I’m still struggling with the definition of a nation. What would I fight for ? For my loved ones I think. I’d fight against an ideology I truly don’t believe in and if this ideology is threatening my basic human rights. I’d fight to change the world. But not with weapons. Not this kind, anyway. A war of words, maybe.

Why do we fight today ? Because they attacked us first. Civil war. Biological war. Because we want to protect our values. Holy war and war gods. Because they have the bomb and they’re not supposed to. Preventive war, atomic war. Because they torture. War crimes. Because we have weapons to sell. Economic war. War of attrition. Phony war. War games.

The war lords are demanding but they call the shots. They know that what’s legitimate today might not be tomorrow. Nonetheless, casus belli or not, here they come. The colonial empires were lost but they stick around. All it takes is propaganda after all.

And I see them on CNN, 24/7 coverage. The other side of the food chain. They’re my age and they signed for it. Cannon fodder sent back home when broken. I feel for them cause it could have been me.

Clean war(s) ? Not quite.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. ~*SilverNeurotic*~ on

    Thankfully I was born in ’82 so I wouldn’t have to show up. Sounds like an interesting way of recruiting though.

  2. I really like your blog!!I found it through Max’s one!
    Wo ye xuexi han yu! sorry, but i don’t have yet the programme to write in chinese on my computer!
    Bye bye!

  3. ~*SilverNeurotic*~ : they’re desperate to recruit. I think they realized people just don’t join the army that easily 😀

    Sabina : welcome here – ???
    ?????? blog :$

    If you need a Chinese program to write, send me an email (you can find my email in the sidebar), I know a bunch of them ! Or even Chinese classes 😉

    Tracy : thank you 🙂

  4. I would make the worst soldier in the world.

    I have 2 torn acl’s, had 2 concussions, carpal tunnel syndrome, and am overweight.

    The only thing I could possibly do is “death care”. My background in that would allow me to pick up the bodies, write the death certificate and deliver it to the families alongside a triangle flag.


    I hope there’s no draft.

    I guess Mexico is always nice. I hear they don’t check papers.

    Plus..web design in Mexico is booming since no one does it well.

    I could make millions!

    I’m rambling now…i’m sorry.

  5. Well written like usual! You are always able to communicate your message across so well!

    Your point is interesting… If we don’t believe in something, it’s hard for us to fight for it, let alone die for it.

    We as humans destroy each other. It’s our nature to resort to physical violence in order to achieve our desires and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

    It’s people like you who tries to make the difference. Many things can be resolved through diplomacy.

    Of course, some things can’t and we would need soldiers for them. The importance of a soldier and a diplomat are equally important and quite complementary to each other.

    But what a day to spend your 18th in! That sucks! I always wanted to check out the Army though but with the Iraq war going on, it’s kinda dangerous haha

  6. As I read your first few sentences, I thought that you’re definitely going to shoot somebody in the barracks, glad you didn’t.
    And when you had the chance to have fun with the weapons and said Woohoo!, I thought that you’ll be in the front row with your nametags on, defending your country.

    Preventive War is considered to violate international law and it still happens…
    People are dying everyday in some part of the world, praise to God that we are still in peace.

    You have creatively blended humour, facts and opinions to produce an interesting post.

  7. sir jorge : well, I don’t think they could possibly think of recuiting me. I mean, I only have one good eye, I’m not exactly sports-oriented and if you leave me in the middle of the forest with a map I’ll probably just wander till someone find me ! 😀

    Shan : diplomacy… yes, I haven’t heard that word in a while. Not a popular one these days.

    I think everyone is curious about the army. But it’s not a game, unfortunately… Please, don’t sign up for it ! 😉

  8. zunnur : Nope, didn’t get to shoot anybody. I guess my (lack of) abilities were clear right from the start, no one wanted to be near me when I was holding the gun !

    Preventive war… I just don’t get it. Going on war to avoid a war. Doesn’t it defy the purpose ???

  9. At least your day inspired a cracking blog post several years later.

    No service in the UK luckily. And none in Canada of course – guess my kids were doubly fortunate.

    Let’s hope they don’t have to defend the North Pole one day!

  10. Hiya Zhu…I am so ignorant I have no clue at all about women born in 1983 joining the army. Thanks for your post and sharing your thoughts 😀

  11. Akash : I like your new profile picture 😉 Yep… the 1983 curse I guess !

    Diesel : a class on French miliraty success ? Oh, so many jokes come to my mind ! Must not say. Must not say.

    john : I know, I think France is one of the only country in Europe to try to promote national defense this way. Oh well…

  12. Shionge : nobody knows except French I guess. It’s not something France brags about ! 😀

    Jose : welcome here ! You have a cool blog too – it’s fun to see stamps from the world, even if I don’t collect them !

  13. Angel of Delusion on

    I really like this post. Is it naive to hope for a time when we will finally give up all the different types of war we humans engage in?

    I particularly liked how you ended. “Cannon fodder sent back home when broken. I feel for them cause it could have been me.” Maybe it is because my nephew is currently in Iraq but I really detest war and feel for all people who are hurt and killed by this war and their families.

    Still hoping for peace.

  14. Oooh, I would be annoyed if I had to submit my sons to a day of pro-army propaganda! Hopefully after 18 years of the opposite, coming from my side, they would be immune.
    So far the conversation has gone like:
    “Hey, maybe I’ll be a soldier when I grow up!”
    “No you won’t.”

    To be continued…

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