On October 3, 2011, a 19-year-old infantryman, Danny Chen, died in Afghanistan. He was not killed by a barrage of bullets or an enemy explosion–but by the racist bullying of his countrymen and one “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” to the head. Last December, eight servicemen were charged with assault, negligent homicide and reckless endangerment of the young private. Now, we’re finally learning the details of exactly what happened to Danny.
NYMag.com has a feature on Danny that paints a picture of a smart, young, potential pacifist, drawn into the Armed Forces and conflict for reasons he may not even have understood. Here’s the most detailed excerpt about what young Danny had to endure:
When he arrived, Chen was at the bottom of the social hierarchy: a newcomer to his unit, a lowly private, still just a teenager, in a combat zone for the first time. And the only Chinese-American in his platoon. In a meeting with Chen’s parents on January 4, Army officials said that his superiors had considered him not fit enough when he arrived, and singled him out for excessive physical exercise: push-ups, flutter-kicks, sit-ups, sprints done while carrying a sandbag. Such punishments resemble the “smokings” that drill sergeants mete out at basic training to correct mistakes. But, in Chen’s case, it wasn’t long before this campaign of “corrective training” escalated into sheer brutality.
Members of this group allegedly harassed and humiliated Chen from almost the day he arrived at The Palace. They belittled him with racial slurs. They forced him to do push-ups with a mouthful of water, refusing to let him swallow or spit any out. And, on September 27, a sergeant allegedly yanked him out of bed and dragged him across about 50 yards of gravel toward a shower trailer as punishment for supposedly breaking the hot-water pump. He endured bruises and cuts on his back. Army officials told Chen’s family that although the leader of his platoon found out about this incident, he never reported it as he was required to.
One week later, on the morning of October 3, Chen was scheduled to report for guard duty at 7:30 a.m. But when he got to the guard tower, he realized he’d forgotten his helmet and didn’t have enough water. A superior sent him back to the trailer to get what he needed, then allegedly forced him to crawl, with all his equipment, across some 100 meters of gravel in order to return to the tower so he could start his shift. While he was on the ground, two other superiors pelted him with rocks. And once he reached the tower, a superior grabbed him by his body armor and dragged him up the steps.
When I first heard about this story, I literally sunk down on the floor in tears. I’m so saddened and enraged that in two-thousand-fucking-twelve this shit still happens in the army. It’s been a whole year since DADT’s been repealed! Servicemen and women are on the TV talking about how the army now respects them for the content of their character and the whole of their identities–and then, THIS?
Let’s get real, people. Discrimination and hazing still happen. Not just in college frat houses, but in America, in Afghanistan, in the barracks our nation’s defenders inhabit. And it’s going to keep happening until people speak out against this bullshit. (One of these people is Esther Choi, who last month campaigned for people of color and other marginalized people to refuse enlisting in the army until hazing and hate crime responses were reformed. After reaching out to the Occupy Wall Street movement to get them involved in the cause, she posted this critique on Racialicious.com in which she denounced OWS for–surprise, surprise–co-opting the causes of POCs and thereby marginalizing and oppressing them.)
Back to Danny. I shared his story on Facebook and one of my friends, Francis, shot me a DM about it. Here’s what he said:
I kinda felt the same way as him. I was the only Asian guy in my platoon, and better yet, I was the only Asian guy in my whole company (company is 4 platoons). But yeah, I kept my mouth shut when I was made fun of. I was trained on the weekends so I would get stronger, and whoever made fun of me, eventually I got stronger than them. Then I winked at them…haha. Marines think they’re so tough. But I made great friends with them as well.
Although I’m quite certain that he glossed over any actual events of discrimination to tell me a pleasant story, I don’t doubt his truth. Though he may have never seen combat, Francis is one of my heroes. He’s got double the strength of some privileged asshat: he’s Army Strong and Oppressed Strong. And I’m glad there are people like him serving the country. But, most people aren’t doubly strong. They’ve got strength, yes, but it’s regular human. They’re naive enough to believe that the army is a place where they can feel like they belong, can make a difference, can be stronger than they’ve ever been. They just don’t realize that “in part because of low enrollment and in part because of enduring prejudice, the military is especially tough on its Asian soldiers.”
If Danny had known, maybe he wouldn’t have enlisted. Or maybe he did know and enlisted anyway. Either way, Danny is one of my heroes too–because he dared to be that one “gook,” “chink,” dragon lady” who stood apart and wouldn’t go home. It’s more than most of us would. Better a dragon lady among soldiers than eight nasty little boys among an embattled community.
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