Boys Into Men: Turning Away From One of the Most Formative Training Experiences of “Guy School”

In 1959, I was 18 years old and had just started college. The Vietnam War was just heating up in this country, and ROTC was a big deal on my Catholic college campus. Signing on sounded good to me. I would be an officer instead of a private; if I had to go into the Army, I would be in a higher pay scale and likely have more options on the inside. So I signed up for an introductory class and went to my first day of training.

We went into a long room with small tables for each person and on each table was an M-16 rifle that we were told to assemble and take apart until we could do it either way in under a minute. To this day, this was the best hands-on exercise I have ever done in my life! Here I was, feverishly putting this gun together and taking it apart, when I suddenly realized, like a bolt of lightning hitting me, that the sole purpose of this gun was to KILL PEOPLE!

Do Nothing, Do SomethingRight after the class, I went up to the officer in charge of the class and told him that I was resigning. He said something like “Bad idea, son, you will have to go in as a private before long.” I didn’t tell him that I just had one of the most important experiences of my young lifeI was NEVER going to go into the armed services – and I would go to jail or Canada first.

At 18, I was a very young man, still a boy actually, and I had just turned away from one of the most formative training experiences of guy school.

I was lucky.

War is supposed to turn boys into men (and today, girls into women).
I just wasn’t willing to kill people.

I would find other ways to serve my country, my world and become a man, such as becoming a social worker, a philosopher and a psychotherapist.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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