This post is a continuation of my exploration into the masculine and feminine psyches.
A comment from a reader the other day to my query about how I might work with other men in developing their inner awareness through the work with dreams nudged me into taking another look at the mythopoeic work of Robert Bly and reminded me of his book Iron John and the concept of the warrior and wild man who was at the center of the men’s movement back in the 90’s. At the time of his heyday I was still resisting aspects of the male in me that I deemed negative and unwanted but I found myself attending his workshops anyway. Something in me at that time said that I needed to explore a little more of what I was resisting but I had not done that much justice until this most recent communiqué.
I believe that in every man exists an aspect of the warrior. It’s something that every one of us have to deal with in our jobs, our neighborhoods and with other people usually but not exclusively in the form of other men. Many of us have worked on our own aggressiveness so as to moderate it or in some cases to suppress it. As boys it’s what our mothers worked the hardest on to civilize. Some of us had to be worked on more than others. Eventually Robby became a “Good Boy” and relatively civilized. Relatively being the operative word and the warrior became pacified.
The warrior in me came to the fore while in the Marine Corps and especially when I found myself in a combat zone in Vietnam. But I can also say without any internal conflict that we did not belong over there doing what we were doing. I thought that then and think that now. Not that I didn’t think that hurting others was wrong but those thoughts were just abstractions to me at the time and could be easily dismissed. It wasn’t until confronted with the realities of death, grief, self-preservation, camaraderie, and hardship that I was able to see that this was all wrong that we had no right to be involved in the Vietnamese civil war or to kill those who had different ideas than we had. Also while on the ground I began to see that we were not welcome by the everyday people. There also seemed to be an organized resistance underground where the women who did our laundry on the base during the day were directing rocket fire onto us at night. Over time I began to feel as though I was the jackboot Nazi invader.
Was I not a patriot? Yes I was, but I was also becoming a more conscious patriot and I had lost my America Love it or Leave it mentality after a few short months in country. I began to think we had all been lied to. Over time I became more and more suspicious of our politicians and leaders and that eventually grew into a general distrust of government.
Defending my country against communism wasn’t part of my patriotism either because that too was a little too abstract and as it turned out it was wrong because it was a fabrication for going to war in 1965 as much as WMDs were for invading Iraq in 2003.
When I came home I was yelled at, accused of having killed babies, and spat at on one occasion. I observed some protests where our troops were booed and weekly statistics about American deaths were applauded. But I understood where they were coming from so I tried to help people separate the war from the warrior, the politician from the pawn, and the generals from the fodder.
We lost that war because it was all too abstract to those not actually engaged in it and neither the politicians nor most of the people had their heart in it.
After the war I worked hard at putting the awakened warrior to rest.
Today my thinking is along the lines that 1) War should be the very last recourse and only as a defense. 2) That evil should never be met with evil. 3) That aggressive domination of any kind is of the negative male attribute and needs to moderated. 4) That the people of any nation have the right to form their own version of the perfect union and to do so without intervening force. And 5) If you find that all other choices are gone and war is the only choice left then engage in it like you mean it as with everything without heart their can be no win and people’s lives are given for nothing.
After my war I came to the conclusion that if young men were to say no to war the generals and politicians would be hard pressed to start any. To that end I began to do presentations to 8th grade classrooms in Santa Clara Valley that were decidedly anti military and anti-war in theme. These were matched with representatives from the military recruitment offices so as to bring some reality to their romanticized version of the military. Anecdotally these seemed to have some effect.
After having watched people in Vietnam literally starving while pulling up weeds in the rice paddies and having heard some of the stories about how joining the Marines was the only way to escape poverty and hunger for some of the guys I also came to the conclusion that undealt with hunger contributed to mankind’s aggressiveness and so I eventually joined an organization dedicated to ending hunger and became the chairman of the Santa Clara County program presenting and recruiting donations from Palo Alto to Gilroy and then into San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin and Monterey counties.
I also discovered that I had some intuitive skill in listening to the grief and fears of other Marines in my squadron and this awareness helped me to move toward a career in psychology.
I resist the warrior less these days because having discovered that I can never fully outrun him I have over time learned and am still learning to work with the warrior and to enlist his power for good when it is needed.
In short, my experiences in Vietnam literally set the stage for the rest of my life. It opened my eyes and brought purpose to my life. As part of my journey I do not regret the experience because it’s clear to me now that this path is the one that God wanted me on.