Gentlemen’s Agreement

One night in the supermarket, during the invasion phase of the Iraq War, I saw “Jarhead” by Anthony Swofford in paperback and I bought it, I’m not exactly sure why. The Marine memoir is a sort of genre, I had read a few of these and I had been in the Marines myself so I doubted it would be anything new but the subject was more on my mind then so maybe that’s why.

My reaction to the story was, that’s pretty dumb. Young man joins the Marines, looking for something, he’s not exactly sure what, and is disappointed. I don’t know exactly how a non-veteran of “the suck” as it is called would react; but for me this is the story of an untold number of young guys and it’s not exactly new.

If there is anything unique about Swofford’s experience it is that he is pretty open about it. Usually when people have strange and disappointing experiences they don’t share those feelings. Either while I was in the Marines and home or just after I got out I found a friend of my brother’s and an aquaintance of mine had made a delayed enlistment. He seemed pretty excited about it; he was a marathon runner and wanted to get into recon. I thought about telling him it sucked and recommending he see if he could get out of it but I thought the better of it. If he couldn’t get out of it, I would be souring his mind and making things worse from the start, which is not the way to go into something like that. And he might have a much better experience than me. Later I learned they made him a satellite tech of some kind, not surprising because they don’t put smart guys in the infantry. My brother told me he wished I had told him.

As I get older I suspect many things in life are covered by what you might call a “gentlemen’s agreement”- a tacit agreement not to talk about the true nature of something. I read in the WSJ years ago about a play in London called “The Mousetrap”, a detective story with a surprise ending. At the end the audience is asked not to reveal the ending, and apparently nobody ever does. The Marines is kind of like that. Putting aside the mystique, the romance, the mists of legend and history, I often thought it was a full employment program for Southern morons, the one who couldn’t get jobs as high school football coaches.

Among other things the internet allows lot of people to share lots of information anonymously. Most of it is lies and bullshit but some of it is for real. I think marriage is one subject long covered by a gentlemen’s agreement. I think now men are willing to admit it’s often a big disappointment. But that applies to the whole subject of male-female relationships. Game attempts to codify these, often on a crude and reductionist level but at least there is an attempt to be objective and honest.

If I could do it all over again- but I can’t. My advice is, don’t join the military, or be very, very careful if you do. For most people it is probably not time well spent. I could make a list of other things I was mislead on but maybe another day.

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5 Responses to Gentlemen’s Agreement

  1. David says:

    Excellent and thoughtful post.

    On marriage, there has long been a tradition of rueful jokes about how hard marriage really is for men. I remember a particularly mordant one in one of those military satires, starring Charlie Sheen. Can’t remember its name. A man is about to be tortured, and somebody says that it is OK, he understands pain … he has been married … twice.

  2. virginat50 says:

    None of the former marines I know ever want to talk about it. I never knew why.

    None of the married men I know ever recommend it to me. I never knew why.

  3. […] for Omegas discusses gentleman’s agreements and the things we don’t talk […]

  4. TAllagash says:

    i started picking up on anecdotal eveidence regarding marriage a few years ago…now it seems guys are a lot more up front about deploring the servitude that marriage has become b/c of marriage/family law.

  5. newly divorced says:

    Marriage/divorce has become the closest thing to slavery in the Western World.

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