Cedric’s story describes the Middle East war through the eyes of an African American man – and because of this, he sees the dehumanization of the enemy. He sees the war profiteering and consequent genocide first hand. When he returns to Portland, he finds his way to Occutopia and becomes the chief hero of the book.
Part 1 of Cedric’s story, excerpt from the book:
An African-American man in his early 30s named Cedric sat at a picnic table near the playground in Alberta Park in northeast Portland. He was remembering a day three years ago, when he and his fiancée, Marcella, had sat at that very same picnic table and watched children play. He had been in a serious mood all day and Marcella suggested they take a walk. When they sat down, Marcella took his hand and held it in both of hers.
Searching his eyes, she said, ‘Now tell me what you’re thinking about.’
Cedric sighed heavily. ‘Do you see how things are shaking out all around us? We’ve got to look at what’s happening and where we are. Business is down, and even though I’ve got my degree in electronics, I can’t find enough work to start a household for us. I should have been able to get a job straight out of school. We’re lucky that you’re working at the bank, but it’s not enough. And now I have to start making my school loan payments. Sometimes I think I’m in worse shape now than I would have been if I hadn’t gone to school.
‘When are things supposed to get better?’ he wondered aloud. ‘What are we supposed to do? Nobody can tell us. We have to figure it out ourselves. We need a plan for our survival.’ He stopped, and his jaw tightened. He could feel her looking at him.
‘You know,’ he continued, ‘it used to be possible for people like us to get an education and make a living, to have a house and raise kids and give them all the things they need or want. Now, these things are out of reach. We need a new kind of plan.’
There was a long silence. Cedric was preoccupied. Finally, he turned to her and looked at her. She was waiting for him to speak with brow furrowed. He took a breath.
‘Marcella, I figured out a way.’ He paused. He had to get the reasons in the right order. Each sentence meant going a little further and shutting a door behind him. She waited, but she knew he was going to try to persuade her to accept something she wasn’t going to like.
‘I can get a job and start working right away. I can get work in electronics. If we get married now, I can get medical care for you and me, we’ll have a place to live, and everything will be taken care of.’
‘That sounds real good,’ said Marcella. ‘Now what’s the catch?’
Cedric didn’t answer right away. He looked far away into the distance. The moment had a fateful feeling.
‘It means going into the Army,’ he said quietly.
‘The Army!’ she screamed, jumping up from the picnic table in a rage. ‘You’ll be sent to Afghanistan or Pakistan or one of those damned countries. I’ll be in fine shape if we get married and you go into the Army, and you go to war and get yourself killed and leave me here alone. You can’t expect me to accept that.’
He interjected, ‘Alright, now listen for a minute—’
Indignant, she continued, ‘I guess this is the grand plan! Except this is the idiotic part. I see why you were waiting to tell me about it.’
‘Hold on now. Listen. I already have a two-year degree in electronics. I’ll go into advanced training for something in electronics and they’ll put me in some kind of work that’s not on the front line.’
‘You can’t count on that,’ she said, fuming. ‘If they need you to fight, you’ll have to fight. They’ll reassign you.’
‘Well, I really don’t know what else to do,’ he admitted. ‘But—’
‘Did you forget that you’re black?’ she interrupted. ‘You don’t owe anything to this country, it still owes you. You’re not like the whites or the Mexicans, or any of the rest of them, who came to this country by choice.’
‘I know,’ said Cedric lamely. He sighed.
‘Damn it,’ she shouted. She stood facing him, her face contorted by rage, hands clenched in fists. She let out a growl of exasperation. After a minute or two, she stood with hand on hip, and rubbed her forehead. She looked at him with furrowed brow. She sat down next to him again.
‘So you’re going to risk your life to make a living?’ she asked. ‘Is this what we’ve come to?’
He didn’t answer. Marcella stared at the ground. Cedric put his arm around her. She stiffened with anger, but in a few minutes she put her head on his shoulder. They sat in silence. The shouts and squeals of the children playing in the park had a sharper clarity. The entire world shifted into a new, harsher reality.
Cedric was now sitting at that same picnic table, where he had talked with Marcella on that fateful day. He was reminiscing about his decision and what followed.
Marcella was right about being in the U.S. Army. It was different for blacks, or at least for Cedric because he knew history. Many atrocities had been committed in the history of humanity, the decimation of the Native Americans, the holocaust of the Jews in Europe, the killing fields of Cambodia, the genocides in Darfur and Rwanda, and countless others. African slavery and the diaspora in the so-called new world was only one of those horrific events.
That perspective did nothing to mitigate the feeling of being different. Although five centuries had elapsed since Africans had been brought to the U.S. in chains, they were still not fully assimilated into American society. There was always a kind of discomfort, the knowledge of an ugly truth, a festering wound. There was never an admission that a crime had been committed, only the attitude that they needed to get with the program like everybody else.
For this reason, it was galling to Cedric to be forced by economic necessity to join the military and fight for a country that ignored this injustice. But further, he had a sensitivity born of victimization that the perpetrators could never have. This enabled him to have particular insights about the war and the U.S. military.
He attended the Advanced Individual Training school for military intelligence systems maintenance and integration, which furthered his training in electronics. Altogether with basic training, it took 13 months to finish.
The Army sent him to AFRICOM in Djibouti. Until he entered the Army, he had never heard of AFRICOM. It was situated on the horn of Africa, on the Bab-el-Mandeb straits, across from Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula. The location was ideal for quick deployment to the Middle East, the African continent, and Eastern Europe. Also, the straits were one of seven global oil chokepoints and tanker ships carrying millions of barrels of oil passed through them every day.
When he got to the base, he saw that the war was a massive undertaking. The base was the size of a city. Innumerable military organizations were there. Tens of thousands of people worked in varied capacities—all kinds of military personnel, plus suppliers, cooks, shoe shines, barbers, medics, drivers, mechanics, and equipment operators. There were fast food restaurants, pinball arcades, and Internet cafés. There were dozens of kinds of vehicles and aircraft, equipment, modular buildings, barracks, supplies, and munitions. Everything was new, plentiful, and in top condition. The weather was hellishly hot and humid. All the buildings had multiple air conditioners running full tilt 24/7, consuming an obscene amount of electricity.
It was obvious—all the signs of a booming economy were here, while at home, the economy was on life support. It was clear that the U.S. military was by far the most powerful and well-funded organization in the world. Further, the military was more powerful than the U.S. government itself. That was something that would not be known to anyone who had not been in the military.
At AFRICOM, there were no ground troops. Cedric was relieved to know that as long as he was there, he would never be deployed on the ground. The main purpose of AFRICOM was to perform aerial monitoring of war zones and operate drone missions. There were also fighter jets and special ops teams. Within the base, a high-security perimeter protected a large intelligence campus. Atop the buildings were dozens of satellite dishes. Cedric learned that the personnel who worked there used code names, even with each other.
Cedric maintained military communications, intelligence systems, and equipment on fighter jets and drones. One day, about three months into his tour of duty, he was repairing part of a communications system in the belly of a fighter jet, when he overheard two white army privates talking. His attention was suddenly riveted on what they were saying.
‘…took out a bunch of them sand niggers today,’ one was saying. ‘You shoulda seen them.’
‘Dude,’ said the other one laughing, ‘I’m counting ’em up in a notebook.’
Sand niggers. Cedric’s reality reeled around to a new perspective. He stopped what he was doing and looked out into the distance, to the world beyond the tarmac. He instantly identified with the Arabs. Racial prejudice had moved to a new target halfway around the world, and with it, the familiar dehumanization.
From that moment on, the situation at AFRICOM was much uglier for Cedric. He had been doubtful before then, but now he was suspicious of the U.S. military’s motives. He began to realize that the U.S. military was not helping the Middle East in any way—it was destroying it.
–End of excerpt.