An interview with Spenser Rapone — the “commie cadet” that got kicked out of the military for standing against US imperialism.
– Rory Fanning
Spenser Rapone was accepted to West Point in 2012, graduated in 2016 — and received an “other than honorable discharge” in June. His expulsion came after a viral tweet showing him — clad in uniform, fist raised — displaying a hat reading, “COMMUNISM WILL WIN.”
“I was always told growing up that the US military protects the innocent, that we fight for freedom, truth, and justice,” Rapone tells Rory Fanning in the following interview. “It didn’t take me long to realize that my experiences did not reflect that in the slightest.”
Fanning — himself a former Army Ranger — spoke with Rapone at the Socialism 2018 conference in Chicago earlier this year. They discussed Rapone’s time in the military, the myths of American empire, and how to rebuild the antiwar movement. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Can you start off by telling us about your background and why you decided to join the military?
I’m from New Castle, Pennsylvania, which is a classic Rust Belt city. I’m one of six children from, at the time, a single-income family. I did well in high school, and I might have been able to go to a state school, but I really couldn’t afford it. And I was a young male in American society, so I watched a lot of Hollywood movies, a lot of TV shows. That conditions you to think a certain way about the world, about what’s morally right and ethical. So I decided to enlist as an infantryman out of high school.
Soon after enlisting and finishing basic training, military airborne school, and ranger selection, I was deployed to Afghanistan, to Khost Province — right on the Pakistan border. I was told I was in this elite unit with elite soldiers. But the men I was surrounded by took active pleasure in killing other human beings and dehumanizing people because they have different cultures or a different religion. I was always told growing up that the US military protects the innocent, that we fight for freedom, truth, and justice. It didn’t take me long to realize that my experiences did not reflect that in the slightest.
I was deployed for most of the summer of 2011. I got back and began trying to process what I witnessed. At that time, I had some idea of what US imperialism constituted from my own experiences, but I didn’t have a political education, which is crucial to understanding these things. So I thought, like the adage goes, maybe I could “change things from the inside.” I applied to West Point, and got accepted.
From there I began to realize the issue was a structural phenomenon — that one good person can’t effect change when the system is inherently wrong. I soon found myself trying to resolve the contradiction of my future officership. I wouldn’t just be a soldier — I’d have to influence soldiers who were my subordinates. I’d have to tell them the mission we were doing was right when I had firsthand experience as a teenager in Afghanistan that what we were doing was not right. We were just persecuting and terrorizing some of the most exploited people on Earth with one of the most technologically advanced militaries in history. …