Monday, April 30, 2007

The War Hits Home

Garrett Knoll is dead.

Pfc. Garrett C. Knoll, a combat medic, died outside of Baghdad a week ago, after a truck bomb detonated inside the perimeter of his patrol base. He was 23 years old. He was two months into his first deployment.

I sat behind him in high-school Algebra.

I remember reading the headline in Stripes last week, and I ignored it. Death here is a part of life, and everyone accepts it eventually. Though gruesome, the latest news of death came to me as a non-event. I read through the Opinions section of the paper, and then discarded it along with the remains of my dinner.

A few days later, my mother emailed me, asking if I knew a Garrett Knoll. I was busy that week, and didn't have time to respond. The following day, my friend Ackerman emails me with news of a dead soldier in our list of alumni. I put two and two together. Though shocked, I again was removed from the news. Like it or not, I barely knew Garrett Knoll, and to ostentatiously mourn someone whom one has not spoken with in seven years seemed disrespectful of the dead.
Again, I processed the information, albeit with sadness, and filed it away.

Then, while talking on the phone with my mother yesterday, I finally asked her about Garrett. I asked where he'd been based, and what he had been doing. I asked how he had died. My mother then proceeded to tell me of a truck, loaded with explosives, crashing into the abandoned farmhouse where Garrett's unit had set up residence. She told me how it had taken his life, along with those of 8 of his squadmates.

And with these two seemingly separate events, suddenly crashing together, that the war finally hit home for me.

Garrett Knoll, the cross-country runner; Garrett Knoll the golf fanatic; Garrett Knoll the kid I had bitterly envied for his superior grades in Geometry is dead. He died in one of the most brutal attacks on U.S. forces to occurr throughout the history of this war.

Yesterday I tossed it aside like so much old newsprint. Today I am compelled to speak.

I hardly knew Garrett Knoll in school. He was a year behind me. He seemed like a nice kid, though I'll admit we rarely spoke. I do know, however, that he was well-liked by his classmates and he seemed to excel in everything he attempted. For his dedication, I admired him, but beyond that, I can only conjecture.

Who WAS Garrett Knoll? Firstly, he was a medic, which tells me he was more committed to saving life than to taking it. That says much in this line of work. Garrett Knoll, a medic, a healer, a practicioner of Compassion, is dead, and thus have his gifts been denied the wounded on both sides who could have used him. Herein lies tragic irony. A medic, an instrument of life, protected under the Geneva Conventions, has been felled by the indiscriminate efficiency of expanding gases. The concussion of an explosion cares nothing for such edicts. It cut him down like so many other stalks of wheat before the thresher, and now those who survive him--friends, family, perhaps lovers--comb the ashes of his life for what precious scraps of memory they can salvage.

My heart goes out to these people. I regret that I cannot share in their grief.

Not long ago, Barack Obama said that he felt that the lives lost in the name of this war were lives wasted. I understand the context behind those words, and can picture his noble intentions, but nevertheless, it was an ill-considered remark, and perhaps one better left unsaid. Only the dead can judge a life wasted or fulfilled. The path can only truly be judged who he who has walked. Garrett Knoll walked the path, and now in Death, only he can decide if the path was true.

Which leads me to a final question: What WOULD Garrett Knoll say? If he could still speak, would he tell us that his life had been lived in vain? I don't believe that he would. Regardless of however one feels about this war, we who have walked the path can all agree that the road has been well-chosen. We may not choose to walk it again; we may not even consider ourselves to be on the RIGHT road. But all the same, we are all grateful, on some level, for the steps which have brought us here.

And it is because of this, that I offer a response: Garrett Knoll's life was not wasted.

Garrett Knoll's life was not a waste; regardless of whether he believed in the cause or not. Like so many of us, Garrett Knoll no doubt found something of himself within our ranks. We all do. For this, I say that Garrett Knoll's life was a life lived well. My heart goes out to those he leaves behind, and to the memory of Garrett Knoll himself, I offer nine bows.

May the Compassion he showed in life be remembered by those who come afterward.


Anonymous Cheryl Friend said...

EXCELLENT post! And at the risk of sounding glib, I am still thankful for your personel sacrifice to serve the United State of America.

8:29 PM  
Blogger The Hackademician said...

It seems to me that the whole question of whether or not a life is wasted is unanswerable.

The person whose life it is really has no perspective from which to judge these things. We cannot see the present moment or the extent of the systems we are a part of, nor can we guess at the patterns that may emerge in the future based on our input into these systems.

And the other people observing that life from the outside have no way of knowing those things either, nor do they know what is going on inside that individual -- the way that person saw his or her life fitting in with everything else.

All I can say is that I hope that your classmate found value in the things he was doing for their own sake as he did them, and that those actions were ones he believed added something positive to the future.

But waste? We can't know that. Life is not a machine for which we are either energy or friction. Life just is.

11:31 PM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/01/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Garrett is the only one to answer that question as you said. For you guys over there, you have to detach yourselves from it in some way. If you grieved for every one that has been killed, it would wear you down to a point you cannot do your mission. I used to do search and recovery for the USAF. When I first started they would show us autopsy videos over and over to desensitize us. At first I thought it was very barbaric. Then, I understood...You HAVE to detach.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Seven of Six said...

Hey Milo, What effect is this story going to have on you? And what have you been instructed on yet?

2:26 AM  
Blogger fjb said...

Thank-you Milo, your words have brought me a sense of, for lack of a better way to describe it release, acceptance, and peace, for the first time in over a month. No life lost in this war, or in Afghanistan is wasted.
Thanks again.


4:32 AM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

With all due respect.... we are losing some of the bet and the brightest. Perhaps we are killing the people who could have come home and stopped the slide of America. While it is true that, as you say, we don't know that for sure...I am sick to death of gambling with the lives of good Americans. We are removing the people we need to have here, working on saving and improving the country. In that regard, I very much see every death of an American in Iraq as a waste. Perhaps not to the person who died, but from a societal stand;point.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous mamaworecombatboots said...

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the course of my military career and especially now that I am watching my son prepare to deploy to Iraq. I wasn’t for this war and only an idiot wouldn’t admit “mistakes have been made.” But criticism of the war leaves me feeling vaguely treasonous. I’ve never gotten it clear in my own mind how one can support the warrior, but not the war. “You’ve chosen to perhaps sacrifice your life for something really stupid man, but hey, I support you.” Doesn’t sit quite right. The constant death tolls and bleating on the news about how the American public wants us OUT! OUT! OUT! makes me furious while you all labor on in 120 degree heat.

I don’t want to lose my son. I don’t want his life “wasted.” But this is how it settles out for me—whether he lives or not, whether the cause is ultimately deemed “worthy” or not, doesn’t matter. What matters is his willingness (and yours) to step forward, to serve. I guess I’m a hokey old fool, but I think that matters. I think it is honorable. I think it shows strength and character that people who don't step forward lack. I am proud of him and I am proud of you and I am proud of Garrett Knoll.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You MAMA- I have been trying to descibe to others how I feel - but I have not been able to find the right words-obviously milo does not get his skills from me-you gave me the correct words and I appreciate that. I went to the funeral home to pay my respects to Garret Knolls Family- as I stood in front of his flag draped coffin with the solemn honorguard protecting his fallen comrad- I was transfixed. I started my battle to remain dignified as the tears started falling and I found it difficult to breath- it took my
husband several attempts calling my
name to bring me back to reality and to draw my eyes away from that coffin. I spoke to the family- I gave them a copy of milos blog as I felt it would give them comfort as it had done for me. All I can say is God bless Garret, God bless Milo and God bless America. I love you milo---Mom

11:44 AM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

I wasn’t for this war and only an idiot wouldn’t admit “mistakes have been made.” But criticism of the war leaves me feeling vaguely treasonous. I’ve never gotten it clear in my own mind how one can support the warrior, but not the war. “You’ve chosen to perhaps sacrifice your life for something really stupid man, but hey, I support you.”

Most of the troops in Iraq did not "choose" to be there. Implicit in the contracts we all signed when we enlisted was the unspoken promise that out political leadership would not send us needlessly into cauldrons.

What is more, "support the troops=support the war" makes about as much sense as saying that to support the police, you have to support crime. That dog simply won't hunt.

We have good people who have proven their dedication to their oaths beyond any doubt. We should honor their dedication by giving them the rest they deserve.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Seven of Six said...

But criticism of the war leaves me feeling vaguely treasonous.

Don't know why you would feel that way unless somehow the current administration's spin has gotten to you.
BTW, their job is to manipulate the masses, they want you to feel that way.

I’ve never gotten it clear in my own mind how one can support the warrior, but not the war.

As a 100% disabled Veteran I can only give you my perspective:

Supporting the warrior means doing everything to help the soldier do his job and taking care of him when he returns home. The troops deserve no less from their government than the effort they have put forth in the field.

This certainly has not happened.

Next, this is not a war, unless you want to label it bu$h'$ war. So let's not classify it as such, it's an occupation, plain and simple.
If this was a real war, (example) we would raise taxes, we would have nationalized GM in order to make the protective troop carriers needed, we would have rationing and we would be recycling all materials. We certainly wouldn't be told to "go shopping"!

RIP Garrett Knoll. I did not know you, but Milo's moving tribute has made me weep for you.

Milo, keep your head down and chin up. You have my prayers. And let me know if that new directive on what bloggers can say is having an affect on you, I posted it above.

Finally, those who send other people's children to die for natural resources and war profiteering need to be sent to prison. Wake the fuck up people, let's take back this once great nation from a bunch of knuckle dragging, republi-con thugs!

3:52 PM  
Blogger iamcoyote said...

Milo, I have been agonizing over commenting on this post for days, but I think I have to at this point, because it feels like you and some folks here, whom I totally respect and empathize with, are building on a concept that is false.

Whatever Obama said - I don't think he meant that the soldiers' individual lives were "a waste," which seems to me to be the premise you (however eloquently) are expounding upon. Of course, it's up to each individual to determine whether the life they've lived is wasted. No one disputes that.

What Obama and others who have used the word "waste" mean is that these good lives, these proud soldiers, these honorable men and women are being used by their country in the most cynical and heartless way imaginable. As JollyRoger says above, soldiers are duty bound to follow their commanders, but they do so with the understanding that the commanders will not waste their talent, training and commitment on actions that weaken the US at home and abroad. Clearly, this is the case with Iraq, and since the troops cannot stand against their commanders, we civilians have to speak up for them and you, rather than allow bad policy to continue without protest.

Everyone speaking out against this war is doing so in reverence for the troops, not in opposition to their commitment. I second SoS's statement:

Supporting the warrior means doing everything to help the soldier do his job and taking care of him when he returns home. The troops deserve no less from their government than the effort they have put forth in the field.

To Milo's mom: thank you for sharing your experience with us - I can't imagine how difficult it is to get through each day without being paralyzed with fear for your son. Mine's a little older, and as I tell everyone who'll listen "he's my heart." Your strength is amazing, don't worry about your writing - you've taught me a lot already. Thank you again.

5:34 PM  
Blogger snark said...

If George Bush can stand up and tell the country that all these soldiers and Marines died for a worthy cause then Barack Obama has every right to stand up and say every single one of their deaths represents a life wasted. How can we scream for Obama and others to end the death in Iraq and then chastise them for claiming the death is a waste? If it's not a waste than let it go on.

I understand completely what Obama meant. The waste was not in the life lived but in the life cut short. If you could have asked Garrett Knoll if he wanted to die violently at the age of 23 in some God forsaken Iraqi hell hole far from his family what do you think the odds are that he would have said no? Pretty good I'd bet. Knoll was a medic. He was trained to save the lives of his comrades and, as Milo pointed out, the lives of the wounded enemy. THAT IS NOT A LIFE WASTED. And Obama meant to suggest no such thing. What was wasted was the 50 or 40 or 20 or 10 or 1 year that Garrett Knoll might have lived had he not been blown up in that Iraqi farmhouse. And if Garrett Knoll would have lived only 1 year or even one day longer had he never set foot in Iraq then that is one year or one day of life wasted.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Hayden said...

well done! carefully thought out, deeply felt and beautifully said.

we can all quibble about the politics, but the integral core of what you said is right on.

3:33 PM  
Blogger David M said...

Is Iraq worth it?

Garrett Knoll grew up, joined the Army and gave his life for it...if that doesn't speak to you to the worth of the mission and the need to complete it, I don't know what will.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Riegle said...

I feel the same way... I didn't really know Garrett either, but it still makes the war hit home. This war took one of our own, and in such a close-knit community, that hurts. I've just been praying you won't be the next... Stay safe, Milo. I don't want to lose you, too.

11:55 AM  

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