20 Years Later: Confessions of a Conscientious Quitter, by Alexandria Shaner

She got the wrong answers to a lot of questions and decided the marines weren’t for her. From Alexandria Shaner at antiwar.com:

It’s been 20 years since the lies and obfuscation that led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. I’m about to turn 37 and it hit me: those events 20 years ago were how I began my political journey, though I didn’t know it at the time. As a progressive activist, one doesn’t easily lead with: “As a teenager, I joined the Marines”… but I did.

At the intersection of my life as a high school kid living just outside NYC during 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, and of my life as a Marine Corps Officer Candidate during the first years of the US war on Iraq, I unwittingly launched myself into becoming a quitter. It has taken some time, but I can finally describe myself with that word, quitter, with self-respect. I am not a veteran, nor even really a conscientious objector in the formal sense – maybe I’m a conscientious quitter. I did not sign on the dotted line for a commission and was never court-martialed or jailed for my defection. I didn’t have to run away and hide for safety. I never went to war. But I did get some insight into what soldiers experience and understand, and what they are forbidden to understand.

When I was 17, I applied for a Marine Corps university scholarship and didn’t get it. I lost to a guy who eventually became a dear friend during training. Like me, he was smart, driven, athletic, and had a desire to do everything in his power to make the world a better place. Unlike me, he was male, built like an all-American tank, already rocked a high and tight, and had a father who was a decorated Marine. Fair enough, I should’ve seen that coming. To all appearances, I was an amusing 110 lbs. of good intentions from a family of academics. I didn’t accept the initial rejection and showed up in Virginia anyway, started training, graduated ‘hell week’, and forced my way into a Marine Officer Candidate track at the University of Virginia’s ROTC program studying international relations and Arabic.

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3 responses to “20 Years Later: Confessions of a Conscientious Quitter, by Alexandria Shaner

  1. Very interesting to read about your journey and your realizations. I am glad they came early for you. My mother and father were in WWII and when I was born the war was just barely over. Grew up with the idea that being part of protecting the country and projecting peace and democracy through the service was an honorable thing to do. My brother was in the Army Airborne and I was in the Marines in Viet Nam. I didn’t realize the incongruity as quickly as you did, but I did see it. Then when I resisted some things that were clearly wrong I was told that I just didn’t realize the big picture and that there was some ‘greater good’ being served by what seemed to be a wrong being committed by ‘the good guys.’ It took some time before I finally said; “If there is something that makes all of this right, it is time I knew what that is.” That statement did not go well for my career. It was expected that we obeyed and did not question.
    When we questioned a farmer that we were trying to ‘save’ why he supported and fought for the other side he replied; “I did not know who America was. One day your helicopter fly over our village and you kill my wife and son. I will always fight against you.”
    I realized that for most of the people on either side in Viet Nam they had no idea of the political ideology of either enemy, they were just trying to survive whatever might be happening to them by fighting whoever appeared to be the threat to their lives.
    Many of the missions were represented as we need to take this area to exercise control of movements and supply. It made sense, except that we would hold the area then leave. When the ‘enemy’ moved back in we would retake the position, then leave, then return. It didn’t make sense. I pointed out that our behavior conflicted with our supposed goal.
    It took me longer to realize that one mistake might be just that, a mistake. Repeated mistakes are evidence of malfeasance, not ineptitude.
    Glad you didn’t make the same mistake I did.


  2. Bob:
    I posted this response to Alexandria’s article directly to her. Thought I’d share it on SLL.


    In Ayn Rand’s seminal novel, “Atlas Shrugged,” the scope and depth of potential insights – insights and the knowledge to be gained by the focused reader, is simply unprecedented! Even in the context of Literature itself, the integration of subject, story, plot, theme, and characterizations – not to mention the entire philosophical system overview she introduces to the reader, is integrated at the novels conclusion in an almost “supernatural” (shame on me for use of the word) achievement of literary skill!

    During the rich tapestry offered in this “fictional” journey of insights offered by Rand, there is an otherwise unremarkable scene in which the youthful heroine (Dagny) and a childhood friend (Eddie) are spending an afternoon together. They discuss their futures. I recall that Eddie has asked Dagny what she will do with her life. She does not reply but simply stares down the length of the railroad tracks. The tracks of the railroad of which she will knowingly, excitedly, passionately, become the Vice President of Operations!

    She, in turn, asks him what he will do? He responds, “I don’t know, whatever is right.”

    I was reminded of this scene as I read your interesting “journey.” I think it was because it reminded me of one of Rand’s “lessons.” What lesson? Well, I will attempt to communicate it in the briefest of words.

    It is one of “morality.” I think you, at an early age, “innocently” accepted the dominant morality, much as Rand portrayed Eddie as having done, and concluded that you too had decided you would do, “whatever is right.”

    It is my hope that you have since managed to shed such generalizations in favor of the proper context when using the moral term “right.” If you have not already done so, I would recommend that you read Rand and “Atlas.”

    Upon doing so you may then be able to put “making the world a better place,” and your particular values and goals that may result in it BEING a better place, into their proper perspective.

    Much like America’s founding, the purpose and goal – at least politically, was the protection of the rights of the individual – NOT building a better society (“world”)!

    The fact that the goal of the former produced the latter, is but one of Rand’s lessons in Atlas.


    Dave Walden


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