Turning in My Card

“How many Vietnam vets does it take to screw in a light bulb?” “I don’t know. How many?” “You wouldn’t know. You weren’t there.” In the American military, identity is an enduring obsession. Long before debates swirled through cultural institutions about the value of hyphenated American identities or the relative fixity of gender-based pronouns, the American military had already determined that identity supersedes individuality. Within the ranks, the individual means little, he or she exists as a mere accumulation of various organizational identities — your rank, your unit, your specialty — all of which stand in service to the collective. This obliteration of the individual begins in training, on day one, when every new recruit is taught a first lesson: to refer to themselves in the third person. You cease to exist, you have become “this recruit.” And you are taught, among the many profanities you might hear in recruit

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