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Voice Male - Winter 2006

Love, War and Politics

The Army Guy and the Hippie Chick

By Leia Hlustick

As a feminist working for social justice--or as my boyfriend likes to call me, a "hippie chick"--dating an army guy has not been easy. I have always been against the military and war, holding strong prejudices against those serving, so I never expected to fall in love with a military policeman in the Rhode Island National Guard, let alone be in a relationship with him going on four years now.

When Matthew was deployed in February of 2003, eventually serving in Iraq, I had to take action--mainly by educating myself and attending demonstrations and events about the war and those serving. He has been patient, supportive, and understanding with me while trying to break through my prejudice, and has given his perspective as a guardsman on many vital issues we all face in this time of war. He understood how hard it was for me to see him off the day he was deployed, and even to be present the day he returned (15 months later) due to my anger and resentment for the military. Over the years I have learned that those who serve in the armed forces are not terrible people, but people who in their hearts are trying to do the right thing by defending our freedoms and our people. Of course, as many of us have seen, they are too often misled and manipulated by the government to promote its own agendas, not the people's. This is a painful fact far too many Americans have to deal with, and at some point many realize it after it is too late.

Matthew and I are from different backgrounds: he grew up in a working-class family and in the areas of Providence, R.I., notorious for crime and shootings. I was raised comfortably, in a lower-middle-class family in the little town of Uxbridge, Mass., sheltered from the outside world. He came into the military after high school, looking for focus and the opportunity to get an education and work experience, since at the time he wanted to join the FBI. He says he knew even then, more or less, that he was being lied to by the military, but prefers to think of it as having made a "mistake" rather than being a "victim."

While Matthew was in Iraq we did not communicate often, but we would have political discussions, being careful not to say too much, since calls are often monitored or recorded. It was a painful and difficult ordeal, and when he returned, our conversations touched on many issues, and he was able to see more and more how he was lied to and began to question his role in the war. He has always wanted to serve justice, but found that justice and law have little to do with one another. He once told me, "I swore an oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, both foreign and domestic; and George [Bush] is coming awfully close to being an enemy." I saw the conflict in him--wanting nothing more than to do the honorable thing, knowing that he could not in his position.

Over the past two years his perspectives have changed significantly; he and I even attended a GI Rights training hosted by the American Friends Service Committee, where he got legal advice. At this point he is not a conscientious objector because he doesn't oppose war entirely--just the way this one is being conducted and its soldiers used. But he has stopped attending drill and is resisting. I am so proud of him. That is what I would define as being a "real man": taking a stand against what you know to be wrong and having the sense to search for the truth.

Since we are from such different backgrounds with such different experiences, we have opposing views on many issues. Needless to say, debate is a constant in our relationship. I have begun to win him over in some respects, by extending to him what I know of the truth of this nation's history and its role in the world.

When it comes to our government, and war and peace in our society, I believe in direct democracy and the principle that the people know what is best for them; Matthew disagrees. He believes "that it doesn't matter what kind of government you have, if the people governing are good, the government will be good. If the governors are corrupt, so too will be the government. Basically, no matter how you do the job, you need the right person to do it. I prefer monarchy because it requires fewer of those right people, as well as a personal predilection for a strong central figure. I'm against anarchy because it takes only one jerk to screw it up for everyone."

I am completely against war and he is not. I see it as nothing but legalized murder in which civilians suffer most for the agendas of the rich. He says, "I see war as neither necessary, nor as evil. Offensive or defensive, it's all in the details." I am against capital punishment because I see it as racist and classist. He says, "I support the concept of capital punishment, but I believe the U.S. legal system needs a major overhaul for it to work properly." He thinks the system still works without discrimination most of the time. I often bring up the way he can see things due to white and male privilege--that so much we see as "normal" is just societally constructed and reinforced by the dominant culture. I once heard that a fish in water never notices it, because it is always immersed in it; in the same way, we do not see the reality of inequality in our culture because from birth we are so immersed in it.

So how do Matthew and I even get along with opposing views on such vital issues? We agree to disagree, and more important, we keep an open mind to each other and try to learn from each other, something people do not always do when polarized on issues. I feel with enough accurate information he will see the truth that I have had to search so hard for, and he is willing to be challenged, as am I. And, if that doesn't work, there's always make-up sex.

Leia Hlustick is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, double-majoring in cultural anthropology and social thought and political economy (STPEC). She is an Amherst town meeting member, works in the Office of ALANA (Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino/a, African, Native American) Affairs at UMass, and will pursue a career in social justice and advocacy.

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