Rosa del Duca, Breaking Cadence: One Woman’s War Against the War. Portland, OR: Ooligan Press, 2019.
Rosa del Duca joined the National Guard before 9-11. She was thinking about money for education, and interested in helping out in responding to disasters like wildfires. She hadn’t reflected on war or military service. She was a teenager with a troubled past looking for a path forward in life.
And that’s how the Guard advertised itself: one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer, a way to get educational benefits while serving your community.
And then came 9-11, and for the first time the National Guard would become an operational reserve, sharing the heavy burden of multiple deployments with the active component.
Del Duca was a journalism student at Cal Poly when the ROTC department reached out to her and invited her to pursue the officer track–at the same time her unit was being prepped for a deployment. She chose ROTC, but questions about Bush’s wars grew in her mind. She began to see a therapist for depression, and this treatment helped to solidify her convictions on the immorality of the war, leading her to apply for Conscientious Objector status.
The Army does not make the process of seeking CO status easy. She paints a picture of antagonistic investigators, and condescending and abusive leadership. Not a religious believer, she wrestled with a system that gave preference to those with religious beliefs, which didn’t seem to know what to do with someone who preferred not to swear, “so help me God.” And though the military talks a lot about reducing the stigma of mental health issues, she writes of being told that her depression made her a kind of “criminal.”
It’s a moving account of a young adult wrestling with the consequences of decisions, grappling with ethical conflict, and standing up to an overbearing bureaucracy.
Some may sneer at her “immaturity.” Yes, high school and college students can be immature. That’s why we don’t let them vote until 18, or drink until 21 (or smoke until 21 in an increasing number of states). Yet you can make a decision to join the military at 17 with your parent’s consent. And recruiters visit high schools to get juniors and seniors to sign before graduation, with slick sales pitches and promises of money for school, and enlistment bonuses, and red-white-and-blue appeals to patriotism. Little is said about the horror of war, of PTSD and moral injury, of military sexual trauma, of the 22/day suicide rate among veterans. Nothing was said to National Guard enlistees about combat deployments before 9-11.
Maybe we should restrict military enlistments to those over 21. Maybe we should mandate courses in high school and college on the ethics of war, on understanding the consequences of military service, on studying the impact on the world of a generational war.
I applaud del Duca for her courage in standing up for her convictions, and for telling her story. May this book cause the reader not to criticize her choices, but, rather, to reflect on the morality of the wars we are asking our youth to fight, and the ethics of how we recruit them.