When I was in the Marines I was subjected to CS gas multiple times during training. CS gas is a kind of tear gas used for controlling riots or for terrorizing tired asylum seekers including women and children. The first time was when I was in boot camp in California. The “gas chamber” was one of the things most recruits dreaded when going to boot camp, and with good reason. The experience is awful and did nothing to actually train me for a chemical attack, though it did I am certain delight the more sadistic drill instructors whose job it was to make our lives as recruits abjectly miserable for three months of boot camp. It was also traumatizing and led to insomnia and anxiety every subsequent time I had to endure going to the gas chamber.
On the day of our N.B.C. training (nuclear, biological, and chemical) at Camp Pendleton, CA we were issued a gas mask which we had been instructed in how to “don and clear” –which means to properly pull the mask over one’s head, ensure a good seal and clear out any gas that may have entered into the mask. If done properly, the mask fits well and prevents any chemical or biological agent from touching the skin, while the filters make the air safe to inhale. Problems arose for myself and the other recruits of platoon 2073 however, because not one single mask issued that day was serviceable–meaning that they were all defective and would not work as intended. Most of the masks had no filters at all, some were missing the eye pieces, many were dry rotted beyond repair and therefore wouldn’t seal properly. There was literally no way to tell if one had donned and cleared these masks properly, so any training benefit we received was negligible, as was the protection they afforded us inside the chamber.
Upon entering the chamber it became immediately apparent that these masks did not work. The CS gas was already pervasive because of the groups that had gone in before. I do not remember how many recruits went inside at once, but the number was significant. Perhaps half the platoon at a time, which meant around 35 young men, were crowded in. We were instructed to do a series of exercises in order to make us breathe more deeply and then we each in turn had to take off the unserviceable mask and recite our name, rank, social security number and MOS number (Military Occupational Specialty-code) one at a time. This too ensured that each of us breathed in as much of the tear gas as possible in an enclosed building and that we would be in there for a significant amount of time. The so-called instructors were completely protected with full NBC gear on over their uniforms. These charcoal lined suits, rubber gauntlet style gloves, and rubber boot covers are cumbersome, hot, annoying to wear, and vital in such an environment.
The effects of the tear gas include burning eyes, ear, nose, and throat irritation, burning skin, and more mucous than a single human being should be able to produce. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had snot hanging from my nose down past my knees, and I am 6’2″ tall. When I came out of the gas chamber after being subjected to this torturous exercise, I was stumbling near blindly, slinging mucous all over the place, and then I began to retch and vomit. At that point my Senior Drill Instructor began to yell at me for not being tough enough to handle it or some other equally demeaning and absurd questioning of my manhood. Tear gas does not care if someone is a man, woman, or child. It will have the same nasty effects.
Each one of the recruits that went into that hellish metal building in the California desert knew what we were getting into. We had all volunteered to join the Marines–usually based on false information. The poor people coming from Latin America to the United States, and who are seeking asylum, did not know that chemical weapons and rubber bullets would be used against them. They are doing nothing wrong by coming here and yet the current administration is using them as scapegoats and distractions from other types of reprehensible actions.
As a theologian, let me without equivocation say that there is no justifiable Christian defense for the Trump administration to use government employees be they military, law enforcement, or border patrol to harm innocent asylum seekers. Using chemical weapons against them is never justified. There is no legitimate Christian defense of such actions, and no legitimate Christian defense of such a President. None. If you claim to follow Jesus, you simply cannot support Donald Trump, his policies, or administration. The two are mutually exclusive. The prophets of Israel proclaimed that refugees and resident aliens were to be treated with kindness, hospitality, and care. Failure to do so was seen as a sin. In the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah we are told that the city and all its inhabitants were destroyed. Their crime? “She and here daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy.” — Ezekiel 16:49
Jesus said to love our neighbors and to do unto others what we’d have done unto ourselves. We cannot love our neighbors by oppressing them economically and militarily and then turning them away when they flee the violence, oppression, and lawlessness of their homelands. We cannot love our neighbors by erecting walls between us and them. We cannot love our neighbors by deciding that because we are Americans we deserve more stuff, more food, more, energy, more entertainment, more cars, more oil and gas, more of everything than everyone else has. We cannot love our neighbors by scapegoating them or using them as political pawns in a racist game of “Who wants to be a Dictator?” We cannot love our neighbors and support the policies of a narcissistic, racist, misogynistic, sex offender.
It doesn’t get more “fundamental” than loving our neighbors. Jesus said that, not me. I call upon all people of faith to repudiate the actions of the Trump administration that are happening on the U.S. border. This is not a Republican versus Democrat thing. This is being a decent human being and following Jesus or choosing to ignore Jesus thing. Please contact your Congressional representative and demand an end to these draconian and blatantly racist policies.
Writing is my vocational calling. If you enjoyed this blog post please consider supporting my work with a small donation. Thank you, Dillon Naber Cruz