Once upon a time, there was a boy who wanted to be a soldier. With all his heart, that’s what he wanted, but he didn’t really talk about it much.
He made different life choices, though, and was many things along the way, none of which truly fulfilled his heart’s desire to be a soldier. So one day, fed up, he finally threw his hands in the air and said, “You know what? Fuck it. I’m a soldier. I’ve always been a soldier deep down inside, so I’m going to do it. I’m going to be a soldier!”
So, he went down to the recruiting office and tried to enlist. He went in there with a big smile on his face and told the recruitment officer that he was a soldier.
“I’m ready for battle, sir!”
But the recruitment officer looked at him and cocked his head, and told the boy that he would have to fill out forms. There were all sorts of things that he would have to do to become a soldier. He’d have to pass a variety of tests — physical, psychological, fitness tests. And then he’d have to go to boot camp and be trained.
The boy nodded — he’d heard about all that. He knew it was soldier stuff, and so he told the man that he’d like to start, and so he filled out the forms, and once completed, the recruitment officer told him that they’d be in contact with him when they needed him to complete his tests.
The boy saluted the recruitment officer and left the building smiling. “I’m a soldier,” he declared. “I’m really a soldier!”
And so he went off and started doing soldier things. He replaced his entire wardrobe with khakis and camouflage, and began wearing them everywhere. He accepted the military discounts people offered him in the local shops, and he accepted the tearful hugs of mothers who had lost their sons and daughters to war.
“Thank you,” they said, hugging him tightly. “God bless you, son.”
The boy was finally a soldier. But he was missing one thing, and so he went to a gun shop, and tried to buy a gun.
“Well, there’s a 14 day waiting period to buy a gun, sir,” the shopkeeper told him. “Do you have a permit?”
“That’s ridiculous,” the boy cried. “I’m a soldier! I need a gun!”
“I’m really sorry, son, but rules are rules. You can fill out this form applying for a permit, just like everyone else. When you are approved, I’ll even give you a military discount — I’ll just need to see your military ID card, of course.”
“Hey, fuck you!” The boy was indignant at the suggestion that he wasn’t actually a soldier. “You think because you’ve got all the guns, you’ve got all the power. But I’m a soldier, and having a gun isn’t what makes a soldier.”
The boy pounded his chest. “It’s what’s in here.”
The boy left the gun shop outraged that the man doubted his veracity — he knew he was a soldier. But he realized that others might have this same issue — wearing army clothes wasn’t enough — he needed a gun. So, he went and bought the most realistic toy gun he could find, and he strapped it to his hip and walked around town, and everywhere he went, people would point and say, “Look, dear. There goes a soldier!”
The boy beamed with pride, and went off to do more soldier things. He’d go to anti-war protests and scream at the protesters.
“Don’t you know what we’ve done for you?” And when they booed him, he’d lash out at them, calling them unpatriotic.
One day, at a protest, he came across another soldier, in uniform, and he approached him and stood to salute.
“Fighting the good fight, sir?”
The man looked sadly at the boy. “There is no good fight, you ask me.”
The boy, confused, asked, “What do you mean? We’re soldiers! We’re glorious heroes! We go fight to protect all these people in the name of freedom! God and country, right sir?”
The man shook his head. “What wars have you been in, boy?”
The boy laughed, but he wasn’t amused. “Oh, so now I have to have been in a war to be a soldier?”
“No,” the man said uneasily. “That’s not what I said. I asked what wars you’d been in. I’m saying that maybe I got a better idea of what it is to be a soldier than you do.”
“Wow, that is so arrogant. What, you think that you know better than me what it is to be a soldier just because you’ve been to war? That is so narrow-minded.”
“Look, son, I think it’s great you wanna be a soldier–”
“I am a solder. See? I’ve got a gun!”
“–but I think maybe you should refrain from shooting your mouth off about what it is to be a soldier until maybe you’ve had a little more experience under your belt.”
“You’re a coward,” the boy said. “You should be fighting, instead you’re here protesting a war that you should be fighting in. A good soldier would –”
At this, the older man swung out and slapped the boy across the face, offended beyond reasoning that the boy presumed to know what it was to be a good soldier.
“Don’t you tell me what it is to be a good soldier, boy!”
The boy, dumbstruck, looked around at the people gathered, wide-eyed. “Did you see that? He struck a fellow officer!”
The older man gritted his teeth and said nothing.
The boy rubbed his face and glared at the man, fully aware that he had an audience. “You don’t want me to be a soldier because you are a coward, and unpatriotic, and… and… it’s because I’m black, isn’t it?”
“What? No, I–”
“Yeah, you’re racist, too, aren’t you? You’re a cowardly, unpatriotic, racist traitor!”
At that, the man’s faced dropped, and before he could say anything in reply, the boy soldier was carried off and nuzzled in the bosom of sympathetic women who told him how much they loved him, and brushed his hair and told him how proud they were of him, how well he handled the situation.
The boy soldier continued on — he’d learned how to affect that thousand yard stare of those who had seen true horrors, and it gave him the look of a true soldier. If anyone ever questioned his integrity, he would call them unpatriotic, and adopted all the trappings of the martyred and the oppressed. The vindication that he felt when those around him joined in calling his accusers cowardly or racist, or traitorous was like fine wine.
Life was not so rosy for the man. The man who dared insinuate that he was more experienced — that he was in a better position to speak about what it is to be a soldier than the boy, who had only recently enlisted — he had been publicly declared a coward, a racist, unpatriotic, and a traitor. These things stick, and the recipient of these names is found guilty by accusation in the public eye. And so, after that day, things began to get bad for the man. People who were once his friends, having heard all about his blatant attack on a fellow officer (for that’s what the boy told people — that he was the victim of a blatant racist, cowardly, unpatriotic, traitorous attack) began to shun him. People would look at him differently, sometimes refusing him entry into their stores. Places where he was previously welcome, he was now banned.
It didn’t matter that he was none of those things — the boy had painted him as such, and the accusation stuck in the public mind.
Three weeks later, the soldier hung himself in disgrace.