The conflict in Iraq was, without a doubt, a huge waste of human life, taxpayer dollars, and American credibility. A failure for all involved. Having spent time in both Military Intelligence and as a Scout, I feel like I have enough perspective to make that call. But that’s not the point.
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.”
– Bertrand Russell
Military service is exactly that – service. You give up all the freedoms that you’re supposed to be protecting. You can’t criticize whatever regime sends you to war, you can’t question orders, and every day you roll-out locked and loaded – your very life is in the hands of whatever God you believe in. There isn’t much time to reflect on what you’re doing – right or wrong. And you rarely (if ever) get to choose the guys you fight with.
War is, afterall, a deeply human affair. Some men were legitimate dunces. Some were scoundrels, but great warriors. Some were philosophers, maybe even scholars. Some followed orders, showed up in pressed uniforms, and stayed in great shape, but were cowards. Of all of them, I preferred the scoundrels. Without fail, it seemed like the best warriors didn’t care how they looked or what their superiors thought of them. They weren’t concerned with promotion, often refusing the additional pay and responsibility. They lived to fight and time spent doing anything else was an interlude. It makes for hard men, but good men. Not the kind you’d take to a gathering of socialites, but they’re good in a bar fight. I’ll take the latter everytime.
With those guys, combat-stress was daily life. If we hadn’t had a good close-call we started complaining about “lack-of-combat-stress.” A term that grew on me. None of us were heroes, we were mere humans – doing our jobs. Believe it or not, few of us fought “for our country” – instead we fought for the guy next to us. In fact, much of the patriotic flair dies when you’re in-country. The irony of this isn’t lost on me.
Without fail, if you’re in combat for any extended period of time – you lose friends. It’s an especially deep loss if it’s somebody you fought with. Or maybe it had to do with the suffering you undoubtedly endure together. Suffering bonds in ways other things can’t. Countless MRE’s, long periods without a phone call home, many nights without sleep. Weeks without showers. Loss. Lots of loss. In any event, losing a comrade is especially deep. It cuts you to your core. In many ways, it’s deeper than losing a family member. If the soldier was young, it’s tragic because they never really experienced life. If they were older, meeting their spouse and children leaves lasting scars. Try explaining a pointless war to an orphan.
What a difference time makes. In-country we all dreamed about coming back and getting “real-jobs.” In a desolate outpost, occupying a foreign country; a lazy dog, a house, a stable relationship, or having a family is the dream.
Time tells a different story for many of us. Of course, when you return you find people have a tendency to treat you with a little distance. With a bit of fear and pity – like damaged goods. Or, more precisely, like damaged explosives – with the possibility that you’ll just go-off without any real provocation. This includes employers. Some of us went into security contracting (which is profitable, but soulless), some of us turned to blue-collar work, some of us went to school and tried to progress a little. Some stayed in the military, being slightly afraid of the real-world. Many of the guys I related to went into Special Forces. None of us, though, forgot.
So, today, as I’m getting ready for another huge life-changing experience – I’m thankful. Thankful that I made it back in one piece. Thankful I can now sleep. Thankful I had the opportunity to walk the world like a Demigod with some of the best and worst men I’ve ever met. Thankful that I know what true camaraderie feels like. Thankful that we were put to the test, and that most of us passed.
Those of us that made it back remember. So here’s one to those who didn’t make it back. And for those that did, but didn’t make it back in one piece. And for the families missing fathers and mothers. Regardless of the war, whether it was right or wrong; we remember, and we’re thankful.
Happy Memorial Day. Funny words, like Civil War.