Thursday, March 27, 2008


It occurred to me today, that I don't watch war movies anymore.

Ever since about 6 months into my Iraq tour, my taste for war films, military history books, even war-themed video games mysteriously dried up. I bought the two-disc box set of "Flags of our Fathers" back in March of last year; it still sits on my shelf in Germany, shrink-wrap intact. I don't even read other soldiers' war blogs. Until now, I had never paused to consider this, but while walking home from work today this thought surfaced, and oddly enough, it shocked me.

By itself, the revelation might have passed for nothing, but then I thought back to a story I read in a recent copy of Rolling Stone. The story itself covers the return of John McCain to prominence in the presidential race, but what caught my attention was the author's scathing depiction of two patriotic "soccer moms." These characters start off by revering the candidate for his past as a Vietnamese POW, and then go on to discuss the Iraq war, military movies, and then oddly enough the local buffet. I would be lying if I said that I didn't know people like the two there. But what shocked me was the disgust, the utter revulsion I held for them and all their kind.

And so I came to the aforementioned realization about my entertainment habits. It's true: I DON'T watch war movies anymore, or partake of any entertainment dealing with military life. At first, I figured it was simply for lack of a need--after all, I AM military--but then I realized that it was something more. These war-movies, these wargames, all attempt to depict a body of experience alien to most people. For most, the reactions I have seen to these forms of media are not disgust, fear, or introspection, but rather envy.

And therein, I suspect, lies the rub.

I don't need to know what war is like. I don't need to relive those experiences. War is a shitty, miserable, soul-crushing endeavor. Even with the best of comforts from home, it still sucks. It is evil, and hateful, and lonely, and it does horrible things to the human mind. It brings with it some unforgettable memories and friendships, but for the most part, it isn't something that the rational mind should seek to put itself through.

I may have been fortunate for a soldier who spent good time outside the wire--I never had to harm anyone, and I never watched friends die. But I know the sound of bullets in flight. I can tell between rocket and mortar explosions. I have watched convoys get drilled by coordinated IED attacks. And what occurs to me now is that, after a time, the idea that one may be obliterated at any second becomes normal. Any day that one had a shower and more than 4 hours of sleep is a good one. And though I am grateful to not suffer from the sort of emotional symptoms that frequently affect deployed soldiers, it also occurs to me that I would rather saw off my own arm then go back there.

Some symptoms of trauma: anger, excessive alertness, emotional distance, and aversion to certain stimuli. Until recently, I didn't think I suffered from any of these--why would I? I was just an Engineer. It's not like I actually saw anything serious. But then I thought back to my avoidance of war-themed entertainment. I thought back to my discomfort with questions about the deployment. I thought back to the way I now avoid members of my unit like the plague. I thought back to my wife's recent complaints about my remoteness, my sudden unexplained bouts of hostility, and suddenly it seemed that perhaps my time down there had had more of an impact than I thought.

I don't feel that it should be that way--after I'm home, in one piece, with a wife who loves me and a knowledge that I am going to ETS by summer. Again, it must be stressed--it's not as though I was living out Apocalypse Now. But all the same, I think of my time downrange, or read through my own writings from that period, and what I see the most there is pain--pain, and loneliness, and fear. I realize then that my 15 months in Iraq were the worst of my life, worse even than homelessness. And I realize that I would not relive these events for anything.

That sort of misery isn't natural. It isn't human. It dulls one's sense of empathy, one's ability to see the world as anything that behaves according to any sense of justice. It is the sort of thing that makes one not only lose faith in one's God, but openly despise that God for Its cruelty.

To see people starving as civilian contractors grow rich on tax-free paychecks from KBR; to be begged for food and clean water while sitting in a guard tower; to want so badly to help, to say to these people, hey, we're human too? And yet be under direct orders NOT to do so? I don't think I can communicate that pain here. To watch friends lose their minds from daily stress, their bolt-carriers and magazines confiscated by leadership; to see marriages crumble from four thousand miles away; to spend 6 months in misery and then find out one has three months added onto the time remaining?

It's enough to make one stop caring about anyone but oneself. It's enough to make one think that nobody back home understands, that nobody cares. And then, to read the news and hear one's Commander-In-Chief, talking about the romance of war. Hear what the soccer moms have to say about how GREAT a movie there existed in "We Were Soldiers."

I don't think that I can describe it here, but if I can try my level best, the feeling is truly something special. It isn't amusement, it isn't irony, it isn't even disgust.

It is hatred.

Yes, you read that correctly: hatred. It is ill will of the most blackhearted sort, the kind that can make say: "Fuck you, blind worm. Fuck you, eyes-bleeding, to the lowest levels of hell. There is no God that can damn you with enough gravity to make you understand. There is no punishment agonizing enough for your ignorance, your cruelty, your selfishness." It is the thing that can leave you with more sympathy for those who actively attempted to kill you, then for such milquetoast suburban displays of "patriotism." It is the sort of thing to make you wonder: have we slipped that far down the slope? Are we really able to blame soldiers for their own deaths, for having had the gall to volunteer? Are we really able to sit around and calmly blame the media for exposing war crimes to the public eye? And if so: is there any point in trying to save us?

To conclude: no. No, I no longer watch war movies. There is no need. It is an experience that makes me pity the ones still living through it, the ones who don't even know what they're losing by being there. I didn't even know, until I came back. But now that I think about it, I look across the ocean now and see the people who, even now, root for the next war before either of the first two are finished.

And I say to those people: keep your war movies. Keep them, and I sincerely hope that you choke. That you can regard such endeavors as entertainment marks you as less than human.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

...Wear It.

Five years.

Four thousand people are dead. Four thousand families shattered. People I knew, people I never met, people--maybe--a lot like me. The war on terror continues apace.

It was supposed to be "a cakewalk." It was supposed to be a "slam dunk." But it hasn't been. Instead, I've watched marriages crumble, family bonds erode, and human minds slide into decay and instability. Meanwhile, the civilized world hems and haws. It urges us to leave, urges us to stay "for the troops." Let me tell you this: the jump to fifteen-month tours wasn't done at my request. And our Vice President be damned, nobody who "volunteered," as he so callously reminds us, ever volunteered to die. And all the while, the exceptionalists who sold us this bloody venture go on to posh jobs in the corporate sector, and write self-serving memoirs designed to absolve themselves of any blame.

Do you actually believe this is going to end? Do actually believe that there can be a solution within the accepted frameworks?

It hasn't ended. It's not going to end. Don't talk to me about "honoring the sacrifice of our veterans." I sacrificed, without complaint, and you pissed on it. You threatened my life, threatened my career, told me I was a lesser human being for speaking out. No, I say: you don't get to say a word. YOU are no longer a part of this conversation. For five years, FIVE YEARS, we listened to you in your cries for more blood, more treasure. We bowed to your dreams of secular Arab utopia, and look what our passivity has wrought.

And even if this does end, how long will it be until the next one? Where will you send me next? Iran? And where after that? Will you call me back from civilian life to do your dirty work? Will you stand silent then, too, turning away from the photos of flag-draped caskets, stacked inside the belly of a C-17 like so much cordwood?

I know you. I know how you think. This is never going to end, unless someone grows the integrity to stand up and stop you. Stop destroying my reputation. Stop interfering with my life, my marriage. Stop destroying my country. Say what you will about it being the fault of feminists, and gays, and immigrants, and secular humanists; the blame for our situation rests with those who would choose to remain ignorant. It rests with you.

And I will not enable you anymore.

Iraq today, Iraq tomorrow, Iraq forever. Iran is the enemy. Iran has always been the enemy.

This may not end. But it's ended for me. We may well be in Iraq for the "next hundred years," as our candidates say. But this time, I won't be there to help you.

If the shoe fits... wear it.