Fullmetal Alchemist (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

(Someone asked me to warn them if I write something that’s long or political.  This one’s a bit of both, but not heavily so in either direction.  I’m going to get back to your pedophilic voyeurism into an American-produced anime via the writing of an individual who has never seen the source material before later, but before I totally contradict myself by turning this fake fan-fiction into a real fan-ficiton (and a cross-over to boot), I wanna roll out the “Fact” category.  Click “About” up above for an explanation as to what “Fact,” means in the context of these posts.)

So sometimes you forget things.  You simply don’t think about something for a while, and the memory goes away.  And then you’re reminded and it puts a new perspective on, say, the last quarter of your life.  You don’t have to seem that impressed… it’s only six years.

Fullmetal Alchemist.  The story of Ed and Al, two brothers who tried to use alchemy to bring back their dead mother, paid a heavy price for a failed attempt, and then vowed to each other that neither would rest until the other was fixed.  There’s a lot that the series does right, and only a little girl with a karate-fighting miniature panda that it does wrong.  But I’m only going to get into a little bit here.  Only the part which answers the question, “how do you convince a secular leftist kid who knows no other life than Floridian suburbia that it’s a good idea for him to move to a country where war is a regular occurrence, and where he will be forced to serve in the military and possibly be told to kill people?”

Realistically, the answer is much more complex than what I’m about to go over, and I have no idea what kind of effect FMA would have had on me if I hadn’t already had such a strong connection to Israel even before moving here, but I’ve written enough disclaimers already and should probably get on with what I want to say.

One of the main themes of FMA is sacrifice.  It’s one of the founding principles of alchemy: in order to receive, one must give something of equal value.  But a lot of the sacrifices aren’t material; they’re not something you can weigh or measure.  One of the things that connects Ed to his commander, Colonel Mustang (who, for those who haven’t guessed yet, is “the Colonel” in the Zukara story), is the fact that neither really believe in the military’s mission, but they’ve both sacrificed their lives to it.

Ed does this to advance himself as a person.  Status isn’t important to him, only his ability to improve his alchemy and eventually fix himself and his brother.  He accepts promotions and ranks because they give him more resources to get closer to some answer, whether it be a new theory or information on the mythical Philosoper’s Stone.

Mustang, however, is the opposite.  He improves himself in order to use that knowledge and skill to obtain higher status.  A skill is useless if it doesn’t push him up the ranks faster.  He’s willing to play the game now because he hopes to eventually be able to change the rules.

So you have the both sides of the argument there: you have the argument via grim determination (join the military, it will help you get what you want), and the argument vial starry-eyed idealism (join the military, it will help you change the world).  There are no other arguments, because at the end of the day, nobody really *wants* a military.  Nobody joins the army for the sake of really liking the idea that their country needs an army.  They join because they think it’s a good way to develop as a person, or because they think they can use their influence there to move closer to a world where, maybe, the military won’t be necessary.

All of this is really straightforward when you’re a teenager who lives 7,000 miles away from the conflict at hand and has no idea what it’s like to serve in the IDF and won’t even be doing so until after he finishes his B.A. anyway.  But it gets fuzzier when you’re in the army.  It gets fuzzier when you’re halfway through your service, and you’re faced with a choice of either staying put where you are in one of the cushier positions you could have landed, or taking a leap of faith and trying to improve your status, possibly at the expense of doing something that you like.

Ed’s logic is out the window.  There are certain things the army has helped me with, but for every month that goes by, there’s diminishing returns.  I’ve already learned most of what the army can teach me, and there are already certain areas where I’m feeling held back by the army itself.  Unless I get a position basically tailored to my goals, there won’t be much more the army can give me once my mandatory service is up.

So, Mustang’s logic.  That’s what I’ve been clinging to.  My sights are a bit lower than his, but somewhere in the back of my head I still think, “if I want to change the system, I have to work within the system.”  How can I give up when I’ve barely even started?  Everything I do for the army contributes somehow.  If I wasn’t here, it would be someone else.  Someone I can’t control, who won’t do things to my standards.  And maybe I’ll eventually get to a point where that difference is enough to shift the course of national events.

So the only thing that’s telling me to stay is starry-eyed idealism.  In the most cynical organization in one of the most cynical countries in the world.

There’s still a lot I don’t know, and I still have no idea what I’ll decide in the end or even if the decision will be mine to make.  But it’s nice to remember.  To look back at where I was six years ago, what was going through my head, and why I had such a strong desire to put myself through this whole mess.  It’s not that I’ve ever lost that desire, I’d just sort of forgotten where it came from.

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One Response to Fullmetal Alchemist (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

  1. aishawa says:

    I have come to the conclusion that you are a considerably more conplex person than I had any idea of and that your blog is well worth reading for that reason alone, if for nothing else. I found this post really interesting. It’s the sort of thing that really makes you think about why you are where you are. Thanks for that.

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