The Education of Corporal Gunderson

I joined the Marines to get a good education, and all I got was a crummy Gulf War

After the parades for the "Gulf War heroes," they decided they needed to reduce the forces. So it was back to treating us like crap. They wanted to kick us out instead of giving us honorable discharges because they did not want to pay us the benefits. I worked a month straight without a day off, and when I got back, their mentality was I should be in formation and have inspections all the time, every day. One day, they pulled a piece of string off my uniform and called me a piece of garbage and said I shouldn't be paid. Hold on a second: I just risked my life, and now I'm a piece of garbage? All that piddly crap meant nothing to me. I did enough to get out with an honorable discharge and get money for college. But a lot of guys got caught up in the system and were kicked out or busted—guys who you'd want to have next to you in a war. The guys who actually think. Unfortunately it doesn't work out that way when you're not at war.

The Gulf War didn't last long, but there were a lot of effects to it. I read that the D.C. sniper was a Gulf War vet. Timothy McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran. No one is talking about the psychological aspects of war. You may not fire a shot, you may be on a ship for the entire war, but no one knows how you'll react after having been under that pressure. Some guys snapped. We're creating more of these situations because the military doesn't take care of them when they get back. We're creating not only more international terrorists but also more domestic terrorists.

I went to school. I took international relations and world-development classes. Before the Gulf, I had spent a year in Japan. I got a degree in Asian studies at the University of Hawaii. I wanted to look at how the world developed. I wanted to look at why I got sent there. The more I look at it, the more it comes down to basic money—defense contracts, oil, resources. It does not come down to human rights. If it did, we would have tackled several other places. It's a farce. It'd be nice if we went into it for human rights, for spreading democracy, for letting people rule themselves, but that's not how it is.

I just signed an online petition for veterans opposed to the new Iraq war. When I'm protesting, I'm expressing the feelings of a lot of people in the service. I think what gets confused with anti-war protests and those who say "support our troops" is they're thinking back to Vietnam when they called our troops baby killers. Today it's a different scenario. I'm out here protesting because I don't want guys killed. I don't want guys exposed to depleted uranium. I just got a notice from Veterans Affairs saying I might have been exposed in the Gulf. All of us guys on the Highway of Death could have been exposed to chemical weapons or have side effects from the experimental drugs they had us take because of the chemical weapons. We were guinea pigs. Gulf War vets are more susceptible to Parkinson's disease and cancer. I'm not sick, and my kid's healthy and fine, but it just pisses me off the way they treat people.

I just heard this lady Marine who's against the war say that once the war starts, we should stop protesting and support our troops by sending them packages. I think we should support our troops by sending them books by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. I craved that kind of stuff while I was in the Gulf.

Now I'm a substitute teacher for the LA Unified School District. I've been working there for about two years. I have to fight to get books that are 12 years old, and I still cannot get enough. And yet we'll spend billions of dollars on a missile. It's like the Gulf War never ends because of the stupidity of what we do. We have so much power and money. There is so much we could do that's positive in the world. Instead, corporations have such a stranglehold on us that we spout out nothing but negative stuff. We go to war, go to war, go to war, and hopefully things will be all right, but it's not.

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