The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

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Michelle Alexander

“I don’t know what most white people in this country feel, but I can only conclude what they feel from the state of their institutions.” If James Baldwin were around today he’d probably take a look at the prison system and conclude that white people thought black people were criminals.

I think I always knew the War on Drugs was a failure, but Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow showed me why and just how much. From profiling, to arrests, to trial, to lock up, to release, the drug war has since it’s inception been waged on racist terms and ruined the lives of millions of black people. In fact the entire system of mass incarceration is so racially skewed that “African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population…[and] are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.” Yet they make up less than 1/6 of the population.

The evidence Alexander puts forth about mass incarceration and the drug war as a new system of racial control is overwhelming, but perhaps the most convincing and bewildering statistic is “More African American adults are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.” This heartbreaking fact makes “liberty and justice for all” look like a joke. But how can this be? Why is it that although more white people use illegal drugs than black people there are more people of color locked up for drug offenses than white people? “Because mass incarceration is officially colorblind, it seems inconceivable that the system could function much like a racial caste system.” But it obviously does. People of color aren’t more likely to commit crimes than white people, yet they are arrested far more frequently.  Just because this system does not use racially explicit language does not mean that it is not a racist system. What else could explain it?

When people are charged with felonies they are punished for life, even if they don’t spend that time behind bars. The felon label prevents Americans from voting and participating in the democratic process, from finding steady and well paying work, from receiving publicly funded assistance when they can’t find that work, and increases rates of crime from recidivism. We punish people for being poor or for being black, prevent them for getting jobs, and then expect them to magically land on their feet and support their families. “Criminals, it turns out, are the one social group in America we have permission to hate. In ‘colorblind’ America, criminals are the new whipping boys. They are entitled to no respect and little moral concern…When we say someone was ‘treated like a criminal,’ what we mean to say is that he or she was treated as less than human, like a shameful creature. Hundreds of years ago, we relegated them to the other side of town; today we put them in cages.” The criminal justice system’s felon label has created an under class of millions of Americans who are mostly people of color. They have diminished rights and do not have access to the same quality of life as other (read white) Americans. How is this not a racist system of control?

The question this book asks me is “Here’s the evidence, will you care?” All signs point towards a broken criminal justice system that marginalizes people of color and perpetuates a racist culture. But will white people care? Alexander believes that it is racial indifference, not racial hostility, that fuels mass incarceration. “Race plays a major role – indeed, a defining role – in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry. This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility – a feature it actually shares with its predecessors. All racial caste systems, not just mass incarceration, have been supported by racial indifference. As noted earlier, many whites during the Jim Crow era sincerely believed that African Americans were intellectually and morally inferior. They meant blacks no harm but believed segregation was a sensible system for managing a society comprised of fundamentally different and unequal people. The sincerity of many people’s racial beliefs is what led Martin Luther King Jr. to declare, ‘Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’ The notion that racial caste systems are necessarily predicated on a desire to harm other racial groups, and that racial hostility is the essence of racism, is fundamentally misguided. Even slavery does not conform to this limited understanding of racism and racial caste. Most plantation owners supported the institution of black slavery not because of a sadistic desire to harm blacks but instead because they wanted to get rich, and black slavery was the most efficient means to that end. By and large, plantation owners were indifferent to the suffering caused by slavery they were motivated by greed. Preoccupation with the role of racial hostility in earlier caste systems can blind us to the ways in which every caste system, including mass incarceration, has been supported by racial indifference – a lack of caring and compassion for people of other races.”

I have been guilty of racial indifference. I am still guilty of that. And I know the vast majority of white Americans are too. The problem of mass incarceration is an ugly one, one that we’d rather not stare in the face. But we must if we are going to create a country and world with equal opportunity for all human beings. The question remains, “Do we care?” I’ll finish with a quote from W. E. B. DuBois: “But what of the darker world that watches? Most men belong to this world. With Negro and Negroid, East Indian, Chinese, and Japanese they form two-thirds of the population of the world. A belief in humanity is a belief in colored men. If the uplift of mankind must be done by men, then the destinies of this world will rest ultimately in the hands of darker nations.”


Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

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Bell Hooks

A friend recommended bell hooks to me when I asked her if she had any favorite feminist literature. She said that she wasn’t a fan of mainstream feminist authors, and that she preferred black feminists. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant, but after reading Feminism is for Everybody I’m starting to get it.

“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Bell’s definition is brief and highlights the title of the book. Sexism affects everyone, men are not exempt from it simply because we occupy the dominant position. The US’ frequent mass shootings demonstrate just how disastrous modern “masculinity” and sexist gender norms are for men (and the people they shoot).

My biggest take away was how mainstream feminism mainly serves wealthy, straight, white women. “Initially when feminist leaders in the United States proclaimed the need for gender equality here they did not seek to find out if corresponding movements were taking place among women around the world. Instead they declared themselves liberated and therefore in the position to liberate their less fortunate sisters, especially those in the ‘third world.’ This neocolonial paternalism had already been enacted to keep women of color in the background so that only conservative/liberal white women would be the authentic representatives of feminism. Radical white women tend not to be ‘represented,’ and, if represented at all, they are depicted as a fringe freak element. No wonder then that the ‘power feminism’ of the ’90s offers wealthy white heterosexual women as the examples of feminist success.” Mainstream feminism, for the most part, has sought equality with men rather than a restructuring of a broken system. Instead of leveling the playing field, this strengthens a patriarchal system that relies on the cheap labor and exploitation of women all over the world. As Mary Barfoot said in The Coming of Black Genocide,  “If we’re Dick’s sister and want what he has gotten, then in the end we support that system that he got it all from.”

Bell’s lesson has given me a much better understanding of the outrage that follows “feminist” tweets or quotes from Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and the like. Put bluntly, “White feminists seem to be more interested in freeing their nipples than a black woman’s right to inquire why she is being arrested. As a collective unit, mainstream feminists don’t vocally advocate for the right for black girls to live. Instead, they seem to be in a frenzy over the release of Amy Schumer’s new movie.” Damn.

Her thoughts on the abortion debate as it relates to feminism were also clarifying and only strengthened my position on it. “Advancing the notion that there can be many ‘feminisms’ has served the conservative and liberal political interests of women seeking status and privileged class power who were among the first group to use the term ‘power feminists.’ They also were the group that began to suggest that one could be feminist and be anti-abortion. This is another misguided notion. Granting women the civil right to have control over our bodies is a basic feminist principle. Whether an individual female should have an abortion is purely a matter of choice. It is not anti-feminist for us to choose not to have abortions. But it is a feminist principle that women should have the right to choose.”

Feminism is for Everybody showed me just how little I know about the movement. It’s a small book but it contains so much insight and perspective that I dog-eared about a fifth of it. I could go on and on about this book but I’ve got others to read!

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas Sugrue

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Thomas Sugrue

Laws may have changed, but segregation still exists. I know this because I grew up in an almost all white neighborhood, and went to a high school with over 2,000 students and probably less than 100 black kids. It’s not that there weren’t POC communities near me, because there were. They were just on the other side of the highway, Route 22. This book helped me understand modern segregation by taking a close look at Detroit from WWII through the 1970s. Inadequate housing, the wealth gap, relocation of industry to suburbs, white flight, discriminatory real estate brokers, and many other factors all combined to create the bankrupt and segregated city of Detroit. Combined with lasting discriminatory practices in real estate and the predatory lending that disproportionately affected black families during the 2008 mortgage crisis, it’s much easier to understand how segregation has persisted. The book is a context goldmine and I can’t recommend it enough if you want to get smarter and chip away at some of that conditioned racism.

Some insightful and awful quotes:

In the tight postwar housing market, landlords took advantage of their power to screen out any tenants who might be risky. Blacks, especially those with large families, suffered the greatest hardships. Landlords regularly turned away prospective tenants with children, and the birth of a child was often cause for an eviction…[Mary Felder] recounted her difficulty in finding rental housing: ‘They don’t want children, even though children will have to have living facilities to survive.’ She continued: ‘I am tired of the struggle to survive. I wonder if life is worth the struggle negroes have made.'”

Regarding black families in the 50’s and 60’s buying houses in all white neighborhoods while real estate agents capitalized on white racist fears: “Some [real estate] brokers brazenly displayed a house for sale in a white neighborhood to a black family, waited a day for rumors to spread, and then inundated residents with leaflets and phone calls, informing them that ‘Negroes are ‘taking a chance of obtaining a good price…’ One clever agent sent black children door to door in a white Northeast Side neighborhood to deliver handbills reading: ‘Now is the best time to sell your house – you know that.'”

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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Rebecca Solnit

For a couple weeks this past August the quote, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” from Margaret Atwood had been eating at me. So when I saw a woman reading something entitled “Men Explain Things to Me” I was intrigued. I asked if I could take a look at it. After reading a couple lines from random pages I was sold and I bought it the next day. Rebecca Solnit gave me perspective on the Atwood quote that just would not leave me alone. Violence is a predominantly male phenomenon, and women fear it far more than men do, with good reason. The book also showed me how marginalized women are and always have been. They disappear in bloodlines, which are traced back through fathers and fathers’ fathers. Mothers and sisters are small twigs whereas men are the strong limbs and trunks of family trees. This book helped me understand why feminism needs to exist, and why it’s in both men and women’s best interest that it succeeds.

Choice quotes:

“[O]ne of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood. Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?”

“[E]xplaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch…”

Conscientious Objector Application

Training and Belief

a. A description of the nature of the belief which requires the applicant to seek separation from the Marine Corps or assignment to noncombatant training and duty for reasons of conscience.

1) I don’t believe that humans should be killing other humans. The idea that humans from one arbitrary piece of land they were born on should kill people from a different arbitrary piece of land they were born on, solely because the humans in charge of a particular piece of land decided the other humans had to die, seems ridiculous. I don’t believe that there are inherently evil people, so I don’t believe there could ever be a group of people that we could declare war on with every member “evil” and deserving death. I believe that evil people do not exist, and that no one is born evil. I believe that everyone is born a blank slate, or maybe even that they are born good. I’ve never met an evil baby.

I believe all people are products of their childhood and the experiences they acquire as they grow up. How you process your own history and experiences creates who you are. Some people process their experiences in healthy ways, but some are not so fortunate. Where you grow up, who your parents are, resources available to you, etc., have a lot to do with your ability to process these experiences. None of these are under your control. Through reading and personal experience I’ve seen how childhood trauma, sometimes going for decades untreated, can affect a person and turn them into something they are not.

I believe the vast majority of the troops who make up militaries in foreign countries join for the pay and steady, reliable work, much like American service members. That doesn’t sound like evil behavior, it sounds normal and familiar. The demonizing we do of other countries and militaries allows us to rationalize and moralize our own perceived need to make war and kill. Again, these foreign men and women are men and women just like you and me. They have fathers, mothers, brothers and children who they love, who love them, and who would mourn their death. These foreigners have done nothing personal to harm me or offend me; their only fault is being born in a different country. As such I have no more cause to harm them than I do someone from Pennsylvania or Canada. States, countries, continents: all arbitrary lines put on maps out of convenience by human beings hundreds or thousands of years ago. And these lines are used as excuses to kill one another.

I believe that violence begets violence. Our involvement in the Gulf War of the early 90’s brought about Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks. American presence in the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia so angered bin Laden that he used Al Qaeda to bomb, and eventually destroy the Twin Towers killing thousands in the process. His act created hatred in the hearts of Americans, precipitating an invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq, both of which turned into decade-long wars. These wars continue through the present day, and what gains we made in the past we watch evaporate now before our eyes. We mourn for the lives of our soldiers lost, but this loss is made all the more painful when it seems that their lives may have been given in vain. For every American soldier dead, over 25 non-combatants perished. What do we add on the other side of the scale to balance out all these deaths? Nothing can even the scales, least of all more violence or war.

I believe that we are all one, and that every person is part of a whole. We are all human beings, that fact alone ought to be enough for global solidarity. We should not harm or kill each other, for when someone hurts another, he is also hurting himself. The soldier who maims or kills the enemy damages his own psyche; only sociopaths kill with no ill effects. Psychologically healthy individuals suffer greatly when exposed to the stressors of war and forced to kill. They kill or harm others and they feel bad; this is an unavoidable part of being human. When soldiers return home, the distraction of combat is no longer present, and all at once they are forced to cope with their injuries. They are confronted with painful memories of friends they have lost, tormented by physical ailments that have befallen them, and disturbed by things they have seen or done. They may start having suicidal ideations, or suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whatever problems they experience never stay localized to themselves, and like drops in a pond the ripples spread to their family and friends. They create discord with loved ones that can manifest in domestic abuse, alcoholism, or drug abuse. In making war, I believe we make all of humanity sick. “The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.” – Mother Teresa.

The great tragedy is that humans have gone to great lengths to try and rationalize our need for war. We have created things like Just War theory to absolve ourselves of guilt, but a war declaration, no matter how “just”, is nothing more than a failure. It is a failure to resolve an issue peacefully, and it is a sign that there was no true peace before the declaration. War does not come from peace, it comes from tumult. To say that wars are fought to reestablish peace is therefore a farce. More accurate would be to say that wars are fought to reestablish non-war. There was no peace before WWII and there was no peace before the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. There was no war, but there was also no peace. Giving in to war is the easy way out; the hard thing would be to abstain from war altogether.

We’re all human. And in the end, weapons do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, humans do. But humans make mistakes, and as a result many innocents die. Children are buried under rubble, families are torn apart, wedding processions are annihilated, and livelihoods are destroyed with the press of a button or the pull of a trigger. These are tragedies, but they are only one side of the coin. On the other side are the living, breathing, thinking, feeling soldiers who accidentally kill innocent people. They must forever live with these costly mistakes, and will probably struggle with them for the rest of their lives. How, then, would you weigh these innocent lives lost with the possibility of victory in war? How much does a child weigh on the scale of war? A mother? Cousin? Father? Do they weigh more, the same, or less? Who makes that decision? I don’t believe that any human on this earth could possibly make such a decision accurately, or that an answer even exists.

b. An explanation as to how the applicant’s beliefs changed or developed, to include an explanation as to what factors (how, when, and from whom or from what source training received and belief acquired) caused the change in or development of conscientious objection beliefs.

1) When I first arrived at my unit in late February 2013, I was confused. In six years of training through NROTC, OCS, TBS, and MOS school I was promised that officers and SNCOs in the fleet would be the standard of morality, physical fitness, and courage. This is not what I found. The biggest problem was some officers and SNCOs had seemingly lost the ability to put themselves in others’ shoes. Specifically, I recall being made to feel in the wrong when correcting a superior officer’s pronunciation of my last name, after having already done so on two separate occasions. I’ve also known an officer who sought out prostitutes and drove drunk frequently, all the while showing up to work and wearing the mask of a morally superior individual. The thought struck me that if we as leaders don’t even have empathy for our own Marines, can’t even hold ourselves to simple moral standards, how can we possibly be expected to have empathy for someone in another military? Empathy and adherence to morality are necessary to make decisions involving killing, or else nothing would prevent us from killing anyone who did us wrong. These officers who so lacked moral structure would be the ones who would make the decision of who would live and who would die; which members of another military were to survive or perish. I was terrified. I didn’t see how they could possibly make the right choice, or if there was even a right choice to be made.

The idea that humans, let alone Marine officers and SNCOs, were incapable of choosing who would live or die continued to bother me through May of 2013. I started reading psychology books to satisfy my need for deeper thought and spiritual satisfaction, and to help me understand what I was thinking. I read books on existentialism like The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology by Rollo May and books on psychology like Love’s Executioner and The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom. These helped open my eyes to the fact that our existence is an incredible gift. Taken for granted is the fact that we exist, that we are here. But we could just as easily not exist, and for billions of years we didn’t. This existence is fleeting, and even our own lives aren’t promised to us. Soon we will no longer exist, and this too will last billions of years stretching to infinity. The only thing we are guaranteed in life is death. I began to wonder what truly mattered. I finally saw how amazing it is to be alive, and how amazing it is to share the experience with other humans. Everything our body does, all the technology we have, science, biology, history; all of it is so incomprehensibly wonderful, and we get to share it with others. If our existence is such a beautiful, short gift, to what end should we be dedicating our energies? It seemed to me less and less that our purpose on earth should at any point be to kill other human beings, regardless of what they had done or where they were from.

In July of 2013 I watched a PBS documentary on the life and teachings of Buddha called “The Buddha”. At the time, I didn’t watch PBS or any other informational channel for pleasure; I tuned into the show because nothing else was on and I was tired of playing video games. Aside from previously knowing that Buddhism existed, this was to be my first real introduction into Buddhist philosophy. The documentary gripped me, and it introduced me to the idea that violence begets violence. That concept stuck with me, though I didn’t fully understand it at the time. That same week I read What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula because I was so intrigued by the ideas I had learned from “The Buddha”. I was surprised to find that I agreed with many of the Buddha’s teachings, especially those on equality regardless of sex, religion, race, etc. His teachings were centuries ahead of their time, as evidenced by America’s, and the world’s, continual struggle with equality. I followed that book several months later with The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, both of which solidified the importance of non-harming and peace, and accelerated my journey of spiritual growth.

Since fall of 2010 I have seen a therapist at least monthly, sometimes weekly. I started attending therapy as a senior in college to help me cope with a break up from a three year relationship. Since then I have learned that therapy is an amazing tool for personal growth. It has helped me rebuild my self-esteem, mend a broken relationship with my mother, and given me tools to better deal with alcoholic friends, family members, and coworkers. I first started seeing my Oahu therapist in March of 2013. In September 2013, with my therapist’s help, I was able to recognize that I had deep-rooted insecurities when it came to feeling bullied. Whether by officers who outranked me, my peers, or even my subordinates, being bullied sent me spiraling and turned me into a nasty person. I didn’t know it, but my response to being bullied was to bully back. I would dehumanize whoever had hurt me by labeling them a bully, which in my mind meant they had no right to be treated fairly. I made them my enemy, and in doing so I treated them the way I felt they had treated me. My therapist helped me see that by victimizing myself and dehumanizing them, I was becoming the very bully I so hated. When my eyes finally opened to this horrible cycle of pain and abuse, I was able to have empathy for my bullies. I realized that they did not bully me because I deserved it. They bullied me because something in their lives caused them so much suffering that they had no other way to express their frustration but by treating others poorly. Seeing this allowed me to feel for them and treat them not as an enemy, but as human beings with complex problems and issues just like me. I realized that I bullied them for the same reasons they bullied me, and that I had the power to end the cycle. After this epiphany, I finally understood the meaning behind “violence begets violence”.

In October of 2013 I began to recognize that my closest friend was an alcoholic. Because of what I had learned through therapy, I was able to identify his abusive behaviors towards both me and his live-in girlfriend. I tried to fix the situation at first, but eventually I realized it could not be fixed, was beyond my control, and I had to focus on healing myself. After spending much of the holiday season worrying about my best friend and his girlfriend and what to do, I developed an aversion to alcohol. I’d seen family members, my friend, and coworkers ruin their lives with alcohol, and I could no longer enjoy something I had sometimes spent all day looking forward to. I took my last drink on January 9, 2014. When I finally spoke to my mother about what was going on, she suggested I try attending an Al-Anon meeting, having been a member herself in the early 90’s. Al-Anon is a support group built around the same twelve step program as AA, except Al-Anon exists to support the friends, family, and coworkers of alcoholics. I loved the group immediately and have attended well over ten sessions since February 2014. I love the group so much that I volunteered to be group leader for every meeting in June 2014.

Once the relationship with my alcoholic friend had been put into perspective, I again directed my efforts toward consciousness expansion. In February of 2014 I read the pamphlet War is a Racket by Smedley Butler. I was intrigued by the fact that one of the Marine Corps’ most venerated heroes wrote something so anti-war. My interest was further piqued by the fact that the Marie Corps omits this part of his history. Through education I received during my Marine Corps indoctrination, I knew Butler had been awarded two Medals of Honor for his heroic achievements in the Banana Wars, WWI, and many other engagements. Yet I didn’t learn of his anti-war efforts until I did my own research. Written after he left the military and shortly before the advent of WWII, his pamphlet is an argument against war on the basis that it’s an illegal scheme for making money; a manipulation of patriotism in which the poor die and the rich become the mega-rich. The following quote from Butler sums the pamphlet up best: “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” I could not agree more with this statement.

Another quote that caught my attention was his prediction regarding the impact of US maneuvers in the Pacific theater: “Then, incidentally, they announce maneuvers in the Pacific…The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the United States fleet so close to Nippon’s shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern, through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.” Butler did not live to see the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he knew it was coming. Passive aggression did not go unnoticed by the Japanese, and while America’s maneuvers in the Pacific may not be the sole reason for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Butler’s cynicism was certainly warranted. I believe that war is never unprovoked, and as Butler points out we did indeed provoke the Japanese. There are too many shocking quotes like the ones above from War is a Racket for me to pick any more to share. The fact that Butler’s observations from eighty years ago are still so accurate speaks to the unchanging nature of war; it is and always has been wrong.

My idea of “enemy” shattered on March 8, 2014. While browsing the internet I stumbled across enclosure (7), a picture of young Osama bin Laden vacationing in Sweden with his family. Second from the right wearing a green shirt, he’s just a 15 year old boy posing for a picture with his mother, father, and other family members. He’s a smiling, young kid enjoying what was probably a fun family vacation. I’ve been in pictures like that, and I too have had fun family vacations. I knew then, on March 8, that if Osama bin Laden was capable of having a happy childhood vacation that he could not be the evil demon I had been trained to hate. Demons don’t have families, laugh, or smile, and they certainly don’t go on vacation. I started feeling compassion for him, and a great deal of pity. I wondered what happened to him that turned him into the angry, twisted man he became. He looked to be such a happy child, yet he died a man with the blood of thousands on his hands. I felt so sad for that child. Once I felt compassion for Osama bin Laden, the anger and hatred I had held for so long in my heart dissipated and was replaced by love for the young man in that picture.

The next book I read challenged my newfound compassion and forced me to take a serious look at my integrity and authenticity. In April of 2014, while participating in an exercise in South Korea, I read The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. The four agreements themselves are 1. Be impeccable with your word, 2. Don’t take anything personally, 3. Don’t make assumptions, 4. Always do your best. The first agreement struck hard at my integrity, because I realized in being a Marine Officer I was not being impeccable with my word. Showing up to work every day and not speaking out for peace was a lie. Every day I went to work and I lied about who I truly was inside, which was making me radically unhappy. The saying goes “Every Marine a rifleman”, and I no longer was. The second agreement deepened my empathy for others. It showed me, even more than my readings on psychology had, that nothing people do to you is personal. “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.” After reading this I focused on extending my compassion to all. I felt compassion for the superior officer who treated me and my Marines with less respect than we deserved, for the co-worker whose views on the LGBT community I found totally abhorrent, and then even for the “enemy” I had been so conditioned to hate. My eyes opened to the fact that I have no idea what my enemy has lived through. We make assumptions (violating the third agreement) that the enemy, whoever we perceive that to be, hates us (violating the second agreement) and always has. We are made to believe the enemy was born evil, lives evil, and must therefore die evilly. How could we possibly know any of that is true? Especially when we never ask?

The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield took me on the last leg of my journey. Kornfield is a clinical psychologist, meditation teacher, and former Buddhist monk. In the book he asks the reader to do meditations on loving kindness and work through restructuring thinking processes to deepen empathy for all sentient beings. Many times he brings up this practice of holding friends, family, coworkers, and even enemies in loving kindness. After trying it, I realized that my ideas of enemy, friend, and family were all contrived. I had placed people in arbitrary categories and assigned certain emotions to certain people based on those categories. I realized that I could love my enemies just as much as I loved family and friends. I watched as my enemies disappeared and instead became people I loved, people I had the most empathy for. I remember a time when I felt hurt inside, like my guts were constantly twisted in knots. And I remember when I lashed out and hurt those I hated, as well as those I loved, because I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions. It was never their fault that I lashed out; it was always my own pain and insecurity that caused me to hurt them. Sometimes it was due to simple ignorance on my part, which was still my problem and not theirs. Whenever someone hurts me all I can think of is how much pain they themselves must be in, because I’ve been there. I try to hold them in loving kindness to empathize with them. But I’m not perfect, and I sometimes catch myself in negative loops where I begin to dehumanize the person I’m unhappy with. Then I soothe myself by repeating “They are just like me” in my head. This reminds me that everyone has their own problems to deal with, just like I have mine, and we all deal with them differently.

I truly have no enemies, and not the Marine Corps, President, or my parents can tell me differently. We’re all here living the only life we’ve got, and we’re all trying our best to make it work. Sometimes we do bad things, but that doesn’t mean we are bad people. Some of us are better at dealing with life’s struggles than others, but that doesn’t mean that those who struggle are worth any less. Just as I have empathy for my alcoholic relative who struggles, I have empathy for my supposed enemy. A member of Al Qaeda has been fed lies his whole life, his religion has been used against him to make him hate people he has never met; how sad that is. In some cases, he is convinced to use his life as a weapon to kill hundreds or thousands of others, creating an oozing gash not only in the target country, but in all of humanity. The lies that Al Qaeda members have been told are lies that I, too, have been told. Many, many times I have heard someone claim that God is on our side. If our “enemies” claim the same, then who is right? How would you choose to prove that? I can’t answer these questions, no one can. For me, the only truth that matters is that we’re all human, and equally so.

c. An explanation as to when these beliefs became incompatible with military service, and why.

1) At midnight on May 20, 2014 I woke with a start from a dream that I was floating in the nothingness of space. I was left with a lingering thought from my dream: someday I’m going to be dead. The whole next day I could not shake the feeling of being nothing, that one day my consciousness would disappear. That my existence was incredibly finite. That was the day I decided once and for all that I would file for CO. My life will soon be over, and I can’t spend another second of it pretending to be someone I’m not. I need to spend every remaining moment of my life being authentic. “If we are serious about peace, then we must work for it as ardently, seriously, continuously, carefully, and bravely as we now prepare for war.” – Wendell Berry.

I believe that peace is a cause worth living and dying for. I am not a rifleman, and I will not kill another human being. In doing this job I aid others to train to be more proficient in killing; this directly conflicts with my core beliefs. I cannot dedicate my energies to this job anymore and I choose instead to use my energies for peace. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children…This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” – Dwight Eisenhower.

d. An explanation as to the circumstances, if any, under which the applicant believes in the use of force, and to what extent, under any foreseeable circumstances.

1) There are several definitions of force, but two of the simplest are “strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement” and “coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of violence”. The use of force as described in the first definition is easily justifiable; force can be used to open a jar of pickles, or pry apart a crumpled car to save a helpless victim. I believe the use of force as laid out in the second definition is also justifiable, but only in an extremely limited sense. Using force to coerce others to do, say, or believe what you want, against their will is wrong, breeding anger and hate. I do recognize, however, that there are scenarios in which the use of force may be necessary to save lives. In this case, I believe force may be used to defend those lives. I’m not suggesting deadly force, but only force enough to stop the violence and save lives. All peaceful means must have first been exhausted before this force should even be considered. If employed, it should be used not just to save the lives of the victims, but also the lives of the attackers. As I mentioned before, we are all one and the attacker does just as much harm to himself as he does to his victims.

Abstaining from this use of force is difficult, though, since using force is often the easiest way to get what we want. Far more difficult, and worthwhile, is making the choice to use only peaceful means to resolve a conflict, or convince others of your viewpoint. In the Bible, Jesus allowed his own crucifixion when he could have easily stopped it. This example highlights the enormous impact nonviolence has, especially in the face of great bodily harm or death. Jesus’s message of love has so much power because of his acts of nonviolence, and the cross to which he was nailed has taken on a universal meaning of peace and sacrifice. Martin Luther King and Gandhi also used peaceful and nonviolent methods with great success; they too faced violent opposition. In the struggle for peace and equality, the ends do not justify the means: if the means are not peaceful, then neither will be the ends. Violence begets violence, and I am dedicating my life to breaking that cycle however I can. Filing for CO status is the first step.

e. An explanation as to how the applicant’s daily life style has changed as a result of the applicant’s beliefs, and what future actions are planned to continue to support these beliefs.

1) For as long as I can remember I was an avid video game player. I started playing Doom when I was five years old and have played video games ever since. Since November 2013, however, I have not played any video games. I’ve instead spent my time reading books or watching movies that expand my consciousness and challenge me spiritually. I meditate and exercise frequently, both of which take up a good deal of my personal time. I used to drink a lot too, having several alcoholic drinks during the work week and at least ten on the weekend, usually more. Since January 10, 2014 I have not had any alcohol. To help me better understand alcohol and my new relationship with it, I have been attending Al-Anon since February 2014. At Al-Anon I learned that there were other people like me who had the same problems I did. They showed me such love and kindness at my very first meeting that it felt almost like I had come home, as if they had been waiting for me. The Serenity Prayer, recited at the start of every AA or Al-Anon meeting, is especially powerful: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. This prayer helped me so much that on March 13, 2014 I had the first three words, “God grant me” tattooed on my chest, my first tattoo.

Once freed from distractions, e.g. video games and alcohol, I was able to see clearly things that I had not noticed before. Though not part of the community myself, I noticed how under-served Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Marines were. They had no advocates, and the atmosphere felt only marginally better now than it did two and a half years ago when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed. Since late February I have been involved in LGBT advocacy, more specifically the official recognition of June as LGBT Pride Month. Through the combined efforts of myself and another lieutenant aboard MCBH, we were able to start dialogue that resulted in official 3d Marine Logistics Group recognition of Pride Month. This struggle, difficult as it was, brought me more joy than anything else I have done in my time as a Marine officer. There is still great inequity in this world, and I understand that mitigating this inequity is a key to lasting peace. “Peace is more than just the absence of war. True peace is justice, true peace is freedom. And true peace dictates the recognition of human rights.” – Ronald Reagan.

Because I have been sober for over five months, I felt and feel acutely all the pain and emotion associated with this change. Using only literature, therapy, and incisive discussions with others, I processed my thoughts and grappled with my changing ideas. As hard as things sometimes were/are and as painful as my epiphanies became and continue to be, I have not numbed myself to ease the discomfort. If I came home from work and felt the urge to drink to take my mind off things, I would instead read or write about what I was feeling. I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months dealing with my thoughts and making sense of who I was becoming. After months of thinking, discussing, reading, and writing I know more about myself now than I ever have. This process is ongoing, though, and I will continue to grow and learn about myself for the rest of my life. I know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I disagree with war in all its forms. I can no longer serve in an organization made for that end.

f. An explanation as to what in the applicant’s opinion most conspicuously demonstrates the consistency and depth of beliefs which gave rise to the claim.

1) I believe enclosure (8), two e-mails dated almost ten months apart, most conspicuously demonstrates the consistency and depth of my beliefs. The email from April 2013 was sent to the therapist I saw from fall of 2010 to spring of 2011. The second email was sent to my mother. Some of the language used in the first email is crude, and I apologize if I offend; that is certainly not my goal. I chose to leave the coarse language in the first email unedited to demonstrate my increase in compassion, love, and understanding as evidenced in the second email. At the same time, the emails provide an example of the consistency, sincerity, and depth of my beliefs.

Participation in Organizations

a. Information as to whether applicant has ever been a member of any military organization or establishment before entering upon the present of service. If so, the name and address of such organization will be given together with reasons why the applicant became a member.

1) I have never been a member of any other military organization.

b. A statement as to whether applicant is a member of a religious organization or tradition.

1) I am not a member of any religious tradition or organization.

c. A description of applicant’s relationship with and activities in all organizations with which the applicant is or has been affiliated, other than military, political, or labor organizations.

1) I have attended Al-Anon meetings regularly since February 2014.



Bin Laden

Enclosure 8

Email 1

April 13, 2013

Subject: Break out the reading glasses

Yes I got your e-mail! Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, believe me not a single week has gone by where I haven’t chastised myself. I was in a pretty agitated state last time I e-mailed you, and that reach out from you kept me sane for a while. Being an “enlightened” individual in the Marine Corps is quite a f***ing experience. Could you imagine a workplace where everybody pretended all the time that they were not only “okay”, but that they were the biggest alpha dog with the biggest swinging lower appendage? Sounds hellish, no? To indirectly quote Viktor Frankl, my will to meaning is pretty frustrated right now. I’ve been able to smooth my ruffled feathers since that last e-mail, though, and have already been seeing a therapist for three weeks. My newfound purpose in life is to help all of humanity see how beautiful it is to be human, and how truly lucky we are to be alive, period. But right now, my goal over the next three years is to somehow fix the Marine Corps. The organization is filled with people who ignore psychological health even more than American society does, and I didn’t know that was possible. The suicide rate is as high as it has ever been, sexual assault/harassment is a constant plague, and basic respect for human dignity is lost on far too many. Any type of moral or ethical training done is strictly of a reactionary nature. If someone calls another Marine a nigger or faggot, we have mandatory Equal Opportunity training. If somebody crosses a sexual boundary, you can bet Sexual Assault Prevention is around the corner. The same goes for Suicide Awareness or any kind of safety issues. And all of this training is conducted en masse with a powerpoint brief aided by a presenter, rather than the other way around. So what to do? I’ve got a job with a billet description that I have to do, and it involves hours upon hours of excel spreadsheets, word documents, pdfs, and how to combine, separate, and convert them. But it doesn’t engage me, and every night I lay awake wondering, “So what to do?” For now, I know the best I can do is live my life as I would have others live. Or as the Corps puts it, “Set the example.” I had a conversation over lunch with a fellow lieutenant today about this stuff, and he was pretty taken aback by it. I think he was put off by my insistence that officers should always live as they would expect their subordinates to live, both at work and at play. In fact I’m almost positive this is the case because I have seen for myself that he does not live this way. Regardless, he told me that I needed to cool it with the seemingly religious fervor, that I had a messianic complex. To him, the most important thing is that the job gets done and that he has relationships with peers, subordinates, and superiors that assist him to that end. I shared with him a true story in which a superior officer was unprofessional and disrespected me, and I told that superior officer exactly that later in the day. My fellow lieutenant was sure that I had done this to make myself feel good, and that I had only told him that story for the same reason. He couldn’t see that I had done it to hold my superior accountable for his actions, just as I would expect a fellow Marine to do for me. The Marine Corps core values are honor, courage, and commitment and according to HQ Marine Corps, part of the definition of honor is holding others accountable for their actions. I don’t see very many people doing that, in fact my fellow lieutenant advised me against it. But if not me, then who? This was probably a confusing vignette, but I swear there’s a point. I’ve heard now from five people, both in and out of the Corps, that I have an extraordinary amount of energy and enthusiasm, and that it will soon fade or I will wear myself out. Or maybe I’ll just get used to the way things are and I’ll understand how things work in the “real world.” I refuse to believe that. I refuse it. Nothing has to be as it is. And nothing worth having in this world came without change. There was a time where women couldn’t vote, blacks were slaves, and gay was a four letter word. Times change, and the present is no exception. I am the change that this world needs, and even if I’m not I’m okay with dedicating myself to that end. It sounds like a messianic complex, I can hear that. But the only change I want is to get people to drop the act. To stop being a Marine, a businesswoman, a professor, a doctor, or a politician and start being a human being. I want desperately for everybody to be able to look across the table at another human and see them for the miracle they are. I want everyone to be amazed not at the way things are, but at the fact that things are. I wish everyone could pretend that they just got back to Earth after a ten year long solo journey around Jupiter and back…how much wonderment they would look at one another with then! To be here, on this beautiful planet, with seven billion other beings like us, how extraordinary! If wanting all that makes me messianic, so be it. But I think humanity deserves it.

Email 2
February 20, 2014

Subject: Today's Ruminations

Sorry to hit you with something so heavy first thing in the morning,
but this has been on my mind for almost a week now. When I first saw
the attached picture (see next page) floating around the internet from the above story
I fell in love with it. There's such raw love pictured here, with an
infant girl (Ghina) literally clinging to her brother/cousin for dear
life. Every time I read through the story and see the pictures in the
article I cry. I don't cry because it's an incredible story with a
happy ending, but because of the senseless nature of the tragedy.

When you watch the video and you hear the rescuers start screaming
"Allahu akbar" you know that they've found the girl and she's alive.
When I see her arm emerge from the debris is when I really lose it,
can't stop the tears. My brain starts looping the phrase "Why are we
doing this to ourselves?" over and over again. I can't understand.
Why? Why? This quote is from Ghina's uncle about the missile strike
"She [Ghina] was covered with around a metre of rubble. We were
digging and we heard a voice and we recovered her. We don't have
trucks [bulldozers] to dig and there is a another child aged eight but
we could not find her. She is my niece, all the girls here were my
nieces...all the neighbours were killed, why? What's their guilt? Who
cares about us? A mother with seven children, what's her guilt? What
did she do? Seven daughters, two get injured and the third we
recovered her from here [the rubble] The older one we cannot find one helped us, no rescue."
He puts to words perfectly the senselessness of the violence and the
frustration I'm feeling.

Over the last couple of days this story has gotten something moving in
me. It sounds far fetched and lofty, but let me try it out on you.... I've got the
message, and I think it will catch on because no one else is saying
it. PEACE. It was a huge movement once, but was marginalized because
it was created to counter the culture it was a part of. If someone in
the national spotlight starts the cry it will be much more difficult
to marginalize. People have accepted as a foregone conclusion that
peace is impossible, or too difficult a task to even attempt. Wouldn't
it be better to exhaust ourselves in the search for peace than kill
ourselves in our seemingly tireless search for conflict? You get my
point. I'm gonna try this line of thought out for a while and see
where it gets me...