“Be All That You Can Be” was a recruiting slogan for the U.S. Army from 1980 to 2001. Private Daniel Chen was likely recruited under the current slogan, “Army Strong.” And he must have really wanted to be that “army strong” soldier, because he was one of a small number of Asians who join the military. Of new recruits, only1.8 percent are Asian, even though they represent 4.15 percent of the total population of Americans 18 to 24 years old. What Daniel didn’t know was that the old slogan had a portion missing, at least as it applied to him: “Be all that you can be, but don’t be Asian.”
While stateside, Private Chen, a native New Yorker, was teased about his name by his fellow soldiers, who asked if he was from China, called out “Chen!” with an exaggerated Asian accent, and often referred to him as “Jackie Chen,” after the action star Jackie Chan. Daniel tried to respond with humor, but after a while ran out of jokes.
When Private Chen was sent to Afghanistan, the bullying got worse. He was dragged across a floor, pelted with stones, and forced to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down.
On Oct. 3, Chen was found dead in a guardhouse in Afghanistan.
Private Daniel Chen wasn’t killed by enemy combatants. He apparently died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound determined to be a result of the bullying he received from those who were supposedly part of the same band of brothers. Only nineteen, he was barely out of childhood.
When I look at Daniel’s photo, I see the beautiful face of a proud, intelligent young man who had his entire life ahead of him. I see nothing there that would make me want to bully him to death.
I have a difficult time getting my head around the behavior of the bullies, eight of whom have been charged in Daniel’s death. Why would you go out of your way to alienate a fellow soldier who might one day be in a position to save your life?
My daughter was adopted from Korea as an infant. She is struggling with what she wants to do with her life. At times I thought about suggesting a career in the military. I worry, of course, that she would face challenges as a female recruit. But now I’d discourage her from even thinking about joining as long as her fellow recruits might turn out to be the enemy, not because she’s female, but because she’s Asian.