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I have no clue what "Take an empty shell off the streets" means. "Shell" seems to refer to "the basic outer structure of a building or vehicle" - I am not sure. What does it mean?

I swear I could not for a second view these people as anything but human. The best way to fashion a young hard dick like myself - "dick" being an acronym for "dedicated infantry combat killer" - is simple and the effect of racist indoctrination. Take an empty shell off the streets of Los Angeles or Brooklyn, or maybe from some Podunk town in Tennessee and in these days America isn't in short supply.

Source: The Untold History of the United States pp582

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    idiom: an empty shell of a person
    – Lambie
    Apr 8 at 15:31
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"These people" who are "anything but human" are trained soldiers. It's easy for recruiters to find people to train, because the streets referred to are full of people (young and tough, like the speaker) with lives so empty they can be filled with the necessary infantry skills. They are the "empty shells".

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  • So it is derogatory? Thank you.
    – NewPlanet
    Apr 8 at 15:17
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    I read the whole sentence as derogatory about the United States and the military. The speaker does not blame the hard tough empty shells. They are that way because of the way society is structured. Apr 8 at 15:24
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    You might point out that an empty shell [of a person] is phrase.
    – Lambie
    Apr 8 at 15:32

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