Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Why do we fight?” The gunnery sergeant asked as he looked out over the gathered recruits.
No one said a word. After the chew out the retard in Coop’s squad received it wasn’t a surprise. Coop just sat there, content to see how this all played out.
“This ethics session will require conversation.” The gunnery sergeant paced in front of the one hundred gathered boys and girls. “I expect you to participate, so I will ask you again. Why do we fight?”
“We fight to protect the United Commonwealth of Colonies and its interests from all enemies interstellar and within the Sol system.” The squad leader sitting next to Coop replied robotically.
“Directly out of the recruiting pamphlet,” the gunnery sergeant gave her a nod. “But I want to hear about it in your own words.” The squad leader hesitated and Gunnery Sergeant Wilson moved on.
No one else spoke up.
“Maybe that is too big of a question for all of you,” he scratched his cleanly shaven chin. “Tell me why you fight. What is your individual motivation for joining our glorious military?”
Of course it was the idiot who spoke up. “I’m here to kill Blockies. They’re all a bunch of communist, low-life scum who are trying to destroy our way of life.”
Coop could practically see people grimace internally. But not the gunnery sergeant. Something told Coop the old soldier had dealt with a lot of people like the idiot recruit.
“There are more threats to our Commonwealth than the Eastern Block.” The NCOIC referred to the Commonwealth’s primary economic and military opponent by its political name instead of the slang “Blockies”. “But if you want to fight soldiers from the Eastern Block then you will certainly get your chance.”
The recruit had a stupid grin on his face, but the gunnery sergeant quickly wiped it off. “Do not underestimate those soldiers. I’ve seen a handful of them execute a textbook ambush that killed half a company of Commonwealth infantry. They are not some backwater, backwards civilization. The Eastern Block is an interstellar power that rivals our own, and they have a professional and fiercely dedicated military to support them. The moment you underestimate them is the moment they kill you. Understood?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” There was a lot less enthusiasm this time.
“Recruit Cooper.” The gunnery sergeant suddenly called out, causing Coop’s stomach to drop. “Why are you fighting?”
Coop was taken by surprise. “Um…” he stammered like an idiot before collecting himself. “I’m fighting for our glorious military because it’s better than prison.” He said it jokingly, but the gunnery sergeant didn’t laugh.
“Exactly. Recruit Cooper and a few other recruits in this company are being given a second chance. We all hope they don’t screw it up.”
The easy smile Coop had been wearing when he made fun of the gunnery sergeant’s vocabulary vanished with that thinly veiled threat.
“How about you, Recruit Berg?” The squad leader next to Coop sat up a little straighter. “Why do you fight?”
“I fight to protect the lives, liberties, and the ability for Commonwealth citizens to pursue what makes them happy,” she replied confidently.
“Ah,” the gunnery sergeant’s sigh of relief was obvious. “We’ve got an idealist on our hands.” Corporal Collins laughed in the background.
Coop’s big mouth got the best of him here. First, because this chick was his squad leader, and it was always a good idea to be on the boss’s good side. Second, because he really wanted to get in her pants. He’d only known her only for a few hours, but that was enough to know it wouldn’t be easy. He had to put in the work first.
“Why is that idealistic, Gunnery Sergeant?” Coop tried to sound as innocent as possible.
“Did you not…” Corporal Collins came barreling in, but the NCOIC waved him off.
“No, that’s a good question, Recruit Cooper,” the gunnery sergeant smiled, and Coop got a bad feeling.
“What Recruit Berg is referencing is an old mindset about governance. It was first established by John Locke, one of the ancient Founders of Liberalism, and a seventeenth century English philosopher. He coined the phrase life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. The phrase and ideology was altered slightly by Thomas Jefferson during the founding of the United States of America; Mr. Jefferson changed it to pursuit of happiness.” A quick look at the gathered recruits showed that no one, accept maybe Berg, was following.
<What does ancient history have to do with us killing people?> Coop thought.
“I say Recruit Berg’s motivations are idealistic because they are based on a philosophy that ultimately failed.” The gunnery sergeant explained. “I will explain, Recruit, no need to wave that hand around like you’re drowning.”
Berg put her hand down with a blush.
<Damn, but if that isn’t the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.> The blush made the squad leader look more like a woman and less like a wannabe military bitch.
“We’ll start with the idea of life,” the gunnery sergeant began. “We do not protect life.” It was as blunt as statement as Coop had ever heard. “What we do is selectively choose which life we deem to be more valuable than others, and then do our best to extinguish the other forms of life based upon our orders.”
The sounded about right to Coop. The Commonwealth military was there to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth, but that put tens of billions of other people in the crosshairs; and then those people’s militaries targeted the Commonwealth’s people. It was a cycle of violence that was as old as mankind.
“Our job is not to save lives. It is to accomplish the mission. The mission always comes first. In fact, we meticulously plan how to take life.” Coop felt like the gunnery sergeant was drilling home a point there.
“So what about liberty? But to really answer that question, we need to ask what is liberty?” The NCOIC shrugged.
No one was sure if that was a rhetorical question or not.
“People have had different ideas about liberty throughout history. The Greeks had their democracy, the Romans their republic, the nations of Europe their hereditary monarchies, the nations of Asia their communist party rule, and the Americans had their revised federal republic. Everything worked for a little bit; but all of those empires fell.” The gunnery sergeant scanned the crowd to make sure everyone was paying attention. “Some of those political philosophies failed because people didn’t have enough authority. The European monarchies died out after a few hundred years because they oppressed their people, and there is no such thing as a divine mandate to rule. Some other political philosophies failed because people had too much authority. The American republic gave everything to all of their citizens, but when everything is freely given it has no value. People don’t value their freedom unless it cost them something. They became soft, entitled, and many of them couldn’t survive the pressures of the Last Terran War. The Commonwealth learned a lot from America’s failures; which is why you have to earn the right to vote in Commonwealth elections. A truly educated and dedicated voting populace is something that few nations had before the formation of the Commonwealth. But now I’m rambling,” the gunnery sergeant stopped his speech. “The point is that liberty always vanishes, and it exists only as long as people are willing to fight and die for it.”
“So that leaves us with ‘happiness’; which is an abstract concept to begin with. I could be happy crushing rocks in a Blocky prison camp as long as they didn’t beat the shit out of me; but Recruit Cooper might be miserable. He, on the other hand, might be happy killing a man with his bare hands; but I’m not. Happiness is a condition based on the individual; it is not a reason to defend an interstellar state since one man’s pleasure might be another man’s pain.”
<Wow, that’s deep.> Coop was mildly impressed, and annoyed at the gunnery sergeant’s example of him.
“Recruit Berg has touched upon what used to be called the ‘unalienable rights of man’, but just like liberty we know that nothing is unalienable in this galaxy. Things are stable here on Earth, but that will not make you complacent. You go outside the Core-worlds, especially in the Rim, and you’ll see just how pointlessly useless political philosophy is; which brings me back to my original question. Why do we fight?”
This time it was a rhetorical question.
“Every holo you’ve ever seen says that we fight for the men and women to our right and our left. We are a brotherhood, and we’re willing to lay down our lives for one another. That is true, and some of you will experience that firsthand in the next few years; but not all of you. Some of you will want nothing more than to accidentally drop a grenade next to your squad leader, or call in indirect fire on top of your company headquarters. Some of you will not experience that band of brothers that every group of soldiers is supposed to have.” The gunnery sergeant’s stare was deadly serious now.
“The point I’m trying to make is that we fight for individual reasons, and it is those individual reasons that are truly important. Those reasons will be put to the test in the next twelve weeks of basic training, your specialty training after that, and then on the frontlines against seasoned enemy veterans. Your individual reasons need to sustain you, they need to give you the will to fight and kill the enemy. I do not want anyone here to die for their country. I want you to make some sorry son of a bitch die for theirs. Understood?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”
<Well if that doesn’t give a self-righteous asshole a hard on then nothing will.> Coop wasn’t dumb enough to drink the Kool-Aid, but he was smart enough to know a good salesman when he saw one. And Gunnery Sergeant Wilson was a good one.
The ethics class lasted for another few hours. They discussed many things; rules of engagement, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, what was expected of them as recruits during basic, and all the ways they could fuck up and get kicked out. What surprised Coop most was that most of the people here wanted to be here. Apparently, the selection process from the armed forces didn’t just let anyone in; which made Coop wonder what that judge saw about him on that screen.
“We don’t want mindless drones. We want soldiers who can think, adapt, and overcome.” The gunnery sergeant explained, although it was contradictory to a prior statement he’d made.
Coop was about to point that out when Berg stopped him. She just gave Coop a small shake of her head, and he realized that she was covering for him just like he’d stood up for her.
Coop paid special attention to the rules, because if he fucked up and got booted he was headed straight to Attica.
“Any final questions?” The gunnery sergeant wrapped up their ethics class around the four hour mark.
It was late, the sun was starting to set, and Coop could hear his stomach growling. He hadn’t eaten much all day. That was normal for a Rat, but Coop also had to do all the physical activity. Burning calories he didn’t have was creating unpleasant gastrointestinal issues.
No one raised their hands. “Excellent.” The gunnery sergeant powered down the holo with a practiced swipe and then gave the group a creepy smile. “Let’s go meet your instructors.”