When I first signed up for the Army, I was majoring in Social Psychology in college, was especially interested in parapsychology, and had a vendetta against the men of a certain medieval Middle Eastern country. I figured that with as much hate as they were directing at my nation, it was likely we’d eventually go to war against one another and I for sure wanted to get off a few shots in that direction. But leave it to the Army to, mysterious see so much in major and personal interests and nothing at all in my far more passionate motivation.
Ha. Maybe they just didn’t want to turn away a willing volunteer when they had quotas to meet, but weren’t particularly thrilled at the prospect of putting a loaded weapon in my hands. Can’t say I blame them.
My recruiter, after having a very long interview with me and looking over my paperwork, looked up at me with a certain light coming into his eyes, and grinned broadly, clearly pleased with himself for some reason. “I have the PERFECT assignment for you and you won’t even have to leave home for anything more than Basic Training.”
Actually, I wanted to get away from home. I didn’t like my step father and I didn’t appreciate the associations that had attached to me from… that certain country. But I was curious, so I let him show me the assignment which, much to my surprise was with a type of unit I’d never heard of previously: PSY-OPS.
They were all about psychological warfare: mind games meant to weaken enemy resolve, fool them into making non-tactical choices, scare them into retreat, make them doubt their own Intel as well as their own senses, possibly coax them into changing sides…. I listened incredulous to tales from the people I talked to there, tales of all the head games they played in lieu of regular war games, and sat there shaking my head: an incessant “no-no-no-no-no…” building in my brain. I wanted nothing to do with what they did.
When they finally pressed me for my answer, I said “NO, I really can’t do that,” not even knowing why I couldn’t. It felt like a moral imperative but certainly not one I’d gotten from any religion; nothing of the kind. Nor did I have any reason any longer to consider religion any kind of moral authority. All I could say for myself was that it just didn’t seem right to me.
I recall one young woman in the unit looking at me in blank surprise. “But how can this not feel right to you?” she asked. “Isn’t what we do here better than simply killing people?”
I couldn’t deny that it was. Nor could I have denied, if asked, that I wanted to fire off live rounds at the people who’d done me so much wrong. That seemed entirely beside the point in any case. But all I could say by way of explanation was that it just seemed dishonest to me. A bullet, at least, was honest.
I was very warlike at that age, despite my soft demeanor, unlike now. In fact, I often feel that I am somehow or other and entirely different person at this stage of life. Be that as it may….
I said “No” again and left.
Instead of PSY-Ops, I went to the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany after Basic. It was a very nice assignment overall… but I’ve had plenty of time to wonder just what I was thinking to turn down PSY-Ops like I did, the gut-feeling sense that it was somehow the wrong choice.
Last night, watching Burn Notice, watching Michael Westin put on a persona guaranteed to shake up some bad guys, all with the super sweet quite literally disarming smile he gives alternated with cool bravado, playing with pure emotion, I suddenly realized what had set me so against joining PSY-Ops. Damn! And it had nothing to do with anything even remotely moral! Can you guess what it was?
When I’d come home from Iran, I was still wearing hijab, out of terrorized habit more than anything else, and was a scrawny 85 pounds having tried to will myself to die when my various suicide attempts there had failed. I was also bereft of my first-born son. He’d been stolen from me by the Iranian I’d so mistakenly loved and trusted, the man who’d utterly betrayed me, and I wasn’t sure how I could have seen that coming. Maybe I’d still been laboring under the delusion that love conquers all… But does it really when it’s for whatever reason not as real as it seemed? Not real at all, for that matter? I only knew I’d been played; that I’d been stupid; that foreigners, perhaps, were not to be trusted.
The very fact that I didn’t have my son with me was like a silent indictment of Bad Mother-itus. In my culture, it’s only a bad mother that doesn’t get custody of her baby in the event of a divorce. It didn’t matter here that it meant no such thing but was simply standard in Iran. Here in the US, it was emblazoned on my chest, a big red “BM” so very like the red letter “A” that Hestor Prine had to wear and embroidered so beautifully in the classic, Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn. Again beside the point. Well, almost anyway.
I saw Westin’s performance, realized what he was doing, made all the more obvious by the fact of this being a television show, and I thought of two things: the way I was played by one Iranian and the way countless Nigerian scammers have attempted to play me and failed, as religion played me over and over again until I finally saw the framework beneath emotional play. I see the game. I see things tinged in muddy shades of red. I wanted nothing to do with that at a time in my life when anger at the ultimate betrayal was eating me alive.
In retrospect, I wish I could have seen past that. I could have done good things in PSY-Ops. I shouldn’t have passed it up. I least now, though, I can honestly say I know why.