Calling Out The Guard

What do we have to do to keep our National Guard at home—where they belong?

What's happened to me that I can watch a neighbor of mine forced from his home under the thinnest pretext and for the most mercenary aims, and that I can actually find the wherewithal to turn from his disappearance and phone in a reservation to a restaurant? Or that I can accept as a simple matter of fact that almost 900,000 African Americans have disappeared into prison? What's happened to me that I'm not throwing a brick?

Answer that question and you won't need to ask what's happened to the country.

It goes without saying that most of the Guard will cooperate with their fate. As old as the ballad, as fresh as the latest country-western song, the code that says it is the lot of the working class to suffer unjustly, to do the dirty work of its betters—it still plays, and it still wins ribbons for integrity. It amounts to the belief in karma that accompanies the belief in caste. Something you or your daddy did in another life, or in your sophomore year of high school. Should've listened to that guidance counselor, kid.

The policies of Elsewhere: Disappearing the National Guard
The policies of Elsewhere: Disappearing the National Guard

I know it is pointless to argue against beliefs so ingrained, but I find myself wondering if it might be possible to appeal to the code itself. What if we could say to those in the National Guard: Don't abandon the calling to defend your homeland. Don't go AWOL on us. You are being asked to desert your post by a commander in chief who, during his own term in the Guard, apparently had no scruples about deserting his.

And what if their neighbors could find it on some ruby ridge of their embattled farmers' hearts to say to the said commander, "If you want them, come and get them."

And I have the nerve to speak of "morbid disingenuousness." None of this is going to happen, you think, and all the key indicators show you're right. Isn't that what the calling up of the Guard means more than anything else: that Americans have become so docile in their love of comfort, and so cowed in the face of "terror," that the authorities have no fear of domestic insurrection? Three big towers went down on September 11: two buildings and one backbone. Barring a tornado or some other natural disaster, what possible reason could we have for the National Guard? A strike? Don't you need a union for one of those?

In the end, the only effective way to keep the National Guard at home is to create disturbances requiring its use. Call that reckless or retro, but you weren't there when I went to visit the man whose wife works with mine. You didn't sit at his kitchen table or meet his kids. You didn't register the steadiness of his "no" when I asked if he'd ever thought of refusing the order. I'd rather have a man like him taking a shot at me on a street we both love than have him taken Elsewhere only to be shot.

Garret Keizer's latest book is Help: The Original Human Dilemma (HarperSanFrancisco).

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