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.