Friday, August 10, 2007

Sixteen military wives
thirty-two softly focused brightly-colored eyes...
Thirty-two gently clenching wrinkled little hands.
Seventeen company men
out of which only twelve will make it back again
Seargant sends a letter to five
military wives whose tears drip down from ten little eyes.
-"Sixteen Military Wives," The Decemberists

The other night I was at the Y (as I so often am) and was reading an old Newsweek on the elliptical--I'm not usually an elliptical person, I hasten to say, but I was waiting for a blister to heal--and the whole thing was composed of letters written by soldiers who have died in Iraq (and Afghanistan--remember that place? You know, the one with the guy who actually masterminded the attack that was the alleged reason we were going to war? A dorky shout-out to all Princess Bride fans, but 'Never get involved with a land war in Asia.' We should have listened). Then, as if that isn't heart-wrenching enough, there are the "if something happens..." letters. The ones that soldiers write when they know they're headed into a place where the potential for getting killed is even greater than what they experience on a daily basis. By each tattered scrap of looseleaf or legal pad (yes, Newsweek scanned in the actual manuscripts) was a picture of the soldier in question, his name, where he was from, and to whom the letter was written. The youngest was 19. No 19-year-old is ready to die, not really. And certainly no parent of a 19-year old, or at least no parent worthy of the name, is ready to let a child go.
"Well, if you read this, that means something has happened to me," most of them began. Then the reminiscing about fond times on the family farm, going hunting with Dad, talking to older sisters late at night when sleep wouldn't come, and of course: the assurances that he died doing something he believed in, and that he was proud to be able to give up his life in the name of freedom. That was what got to me, as much as the messages addressed to "my little sister Britney" and "my best girl Lisa." The patriotism, the nationalism, which normally would annoy the shit out of me but in this case only served to highlight the extent to which people will sacrifice themselves for something big--the American dream, the promise of peace in the Middle East--which they can never win by those means. War is not obliterated by war; a 19-year-old's death makes the world no safer.
My best pal Keegan happens to be US Marine (how I ended up best friends with a Marine is a strange tale--suffice it to say we have pretty much everything in common but our views on the military). He has one more year left at school, where he's in the ROTC; after that, if the war's still going on, he'll ship out. I asked him once if he was frightened, or at the very least apprehensive. No, he said. I have to say, though, if I got a "something must have happened to me" letter from Keegan, I would never forgive him. Or Bush either. To be fair, I decided a long time ago that I was never going to forgive Bush.
It takes more committment to live for something than to die for it. This is why we have to start protesting in earnest, demanding the dismantling of Guantanamo, screaming in the streets for an end to US torture, the withdrawal of troops. Waves upon waves of us, marching up the Mall, dressed in the colors of our flag--OURS, everyone's, not just Bush's. If civilians aren't willing to stand up for peace, the soldiers will keep laying down their lives for war.

No comments: