“I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
– Major General Smedley Butler
My name is Marcos. I use He/Him pronouns and I am a Chicano Veteran. Below is a short story about my radicalization following my service to the US military industrial complex, the tragedy of Vanessa Guillen, and how it relates to my identity now as a socialist and communist.
As a man in the military it was not unusual to find fellow military members and leadership who fit the description of being misogynist, anti-indigenous, and anti-Black. Many service members who identify as women, Native and Black would rather live with their trauma than deal with how Commands will ostracize them or lack the will to make it a concern. I’ve met service members who had their awards demoted from bronze stars to CertComs because they were branded as “Troublemakers” for filing reports. Sexual assault doesn’t target just Female-presenting people, as we have seen demonstrated by the horrendous news story about Vanessa Guillen. Men and those who generally fall outside the prototypical hypermasculine white male spectrum had also avoided reporting for these same fears.
To give some background about Vanessa Guillen: on April 23 she was reported missing by her unit. Prior to her disappearance, she had reported being attacked and sexually harassed by two men in the military. She did not file a report- a trend that is shamefully all-too-common in the military- because she did not trust her unit to take sexual harassment seriously. Vanessa’s remains were found on June 30th.
Vanessa Guillen described herself as a fighter, a hero, someone who was looking to make something better out of her situation and be the person her family can count on. She joined the Army as a way to manifest those goals. She was also an older sibling and I found her story similar to my own, being the oldest in my family.
I am first-generation Chicano and both my parents came from Mexico at very young ages. I grew up in Los Angeles around my family culture of taking care of our families and the community. I remember our house blasting Selena, Ramon Ayala, Los Alacranes, and Mana. I had a noticeable Mexican accent up until I was made fun of in school for it. Ever since then I’ve been using my “white voice.” I grew up watching movies of how the “white hero” would always save the day, get the girl, and eliminate the bad guy. I always found those with brown skin played the villains, thugs, and nobodies waiting for someone to save them. Over time, white supremacy started manifesting in my life, and one day as I was coloring myself in a drawing, I cried as I thought to myself that I had an ugly color. In high school, I attended Honors and AP classes, but could not dream of making it to college like the other students in my classes. That is when I started talking to the recruiters at my school. I had seen the billboards in my diverse working-class neighborhood. They promised me I’d get a GI bill and I’d be off to college in no time. I was also enamored in the idea of serving the country and by doing so I’d justify my parent’s citizenship. I was effectively colonized.
I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as 2841, Ground Radio Repairman. To be completely dismissive of military service is, I feel, misplaced and reductive as I learned a lot from the military, and I learned a lot about myself while I was enlisted. I learned how to overcome challenges I thought were impossible. I pushed my body to its limits and accomplished things I never knew I could do. I learned some skills that have helped me acquire jobs in the technical field. I made lifetime friendships. However, there were many things I identified in myself and in the military as deeply toxic. I found through training assimilation was key to survival and if you ever stood out you would be ostracized by your leadership and your fellow troop members. I also recognized the xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny spewed out by my drill instructors and later, from leadership who ironically gave power point presentations on these same issues. I recall hearing these instructors complain how “we can’t speak like the way we used to” or how “this generation is too sensitive” while giving classes with titles like “Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention” or what we called “SHARP.” I distinctly remember during one of our cultural sensitivity trainings, a Gunny mentioned that we should do the same thing the locals do and allow businesses to deny people from entering their establishments when headlines were covered with the Colorado Bakery. This is when a baker refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple and it went up to the supreme court. His message was pretty clear but no one spoke up against it that day.
Later on I was stationed on Okinawa, another land that has been historically colonized by the Japanese and US forces. I used to witness the local protests outside Futenma, the airbase that had hosted the Ospreys that crashed into their city. Our command told us the protesters were “outside agitators” and “were college students paid by China” and I foolishly believed them. I learned later on from a contractor friend that the Governor of Okinawa was elected on a platform of removing all military bases from their island. The “No more Osprey/Go home yankees” T-Shirts being sold in the city made much more sense.
Being PoC in the Military you hear a lot of interesting one-liners from leadership such as “there’s no such thing as Black or white, just light green or dark green.” I met Tejano Chicanxs who advocated for “deporting the illegals,” military members who would consider me as “one of the good Mexicans,” and Facebook pages like JTTOTS who regularly posted wook memes (a “wook” was a derrogatory term to describe femme presenting service members.) I let another service member know my parents were undocumented, to which they replied with “I guess that means you shouldn’t be here.” Over time I internalized their comments as “Being a Marine.”
It wasn’t until around 2016 that I started prioritizing being a better person over being a better Marine. I had injured myself and my depression went from a constant reminder to a full spiral descent. I would binge on alcohol and push myself to the point of vomiting and passing out as a means to cope. It took some time before I finally checked myself into counseling and made the commitment to do the introspection I had been avoiding. From this I gained more compassion for myself and the folks around me in my life. I started to see the toxic traits that were manifested in me as a result of my military service.
I started reading “two time medal of honor recipient” Smedely Butler’s “War is a Racket” and in his work I recognized that our lives were the replacement for currency in the military industrial complex. As an NCO, it was my responsibility to carry out the commands and place the mission above all else. Instead, I focused on taking care of my fellow junior Marines over the mission and this did not reflect well with my command. I was ostracized and treated poorly by a majority of my fellow NCOs, but I did not care so long as I made sure the junior Marines were taken care of. This led a lot of service members to express concerns to me, including sharing with me stories of personal abuse. I haven’t met a single femme presenting service member who had not experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault.
I experienced firsthand that military commanders will cover up for each other, and the commanders who do their best to look out for their troops get reprimanded. This was seen recently when the Navy relieved (or in other words, fired) Capt. Brett Crozier, who alerted the press about the COVID pandemic on his ship. We have seen in the news commanders covering up scandals from their fellow officers in an attempt to maintain “the public facing image.” It is no surprise that enlisted members have shown to have little to no trust in their commands. The rot doesn’t stop at the military command, but in the patriarchy expressed in our society.
To all Veterans wishing to see change in our culture, I ask that we offer the skill sets we learned to help create a better system for all. To be like the veterans before us, who helped organize and create change during the civil rights movement. We’ve seen what we are capable of when we are pushed to our limits for the war machine. Let us wield that power back to our people and back to our communities! And our fight! Black Lives Matter! and Say HER NAME!