Friday, October 29, 2010

A Sacrifice

In response to Cody's;  Not One

I was a bag of mixed emotions before the start of the Gulf War.  The United States was building up their war machine in the Middle East in preparation to liberate Kuwait from an occupying Iraq.  I was a part of a jet fighter squadron stationed in Japan and the word was we could be called at any time to deploy to the Middle East.  I was conflicted at the time because, while the prospect of going to war appealed to the Marine I'd trained to be, I was planning to be married in December of 1990 and going to war would most certainly end any chance of that.  Also, the idea of war, and the reasons for war, were considered and discussed by me and my friends and, while going to the aid of our Kuwaiti ally seemed right, we seemed to understand that we were also liberating the flow of Middle Eastern oil from the control of Saddam Hussein.  So, when the final word came down we would not be going to the Middle East I was both disappointed and relieved.  A seemingly paradoxical position to anybody that hasn't faced the possibility of going to war, I'm sure, but one I shared with many of my military friends.  I never entered a combat situation while I served, something that these twenty years later gives me some relief.  I'll try to explain.

 I've never been anti-military or anti-war.  To the contrary, I served proudly as a United States Marine for six years, trained hard and took my work seriously, fully knowing the potential if my services were called upon.  I have supported  the United States military's involvement in many conflicts since my time of service, although critical of the execution of some, as many have been who share my beliefs.  I've argued for the justice of the first Gulf War, felt our military involvement in trying to end the genocide in Kosovo right, and I rallied with the world to fight the extremism that killed so many on 9/11.  Each conflict has it's detractors and it's controversies and I have had to reconsider my positions from time to time, but I haven't wavered in my support of our military and I can't see a foreseeable future absent of war.   War's a cruel reality made all the more evident by terror attacks the world over.  With the venomous vitriol coming from Muslim extremists nearly everyday it would seem that we won't see peace for quite some time.  The men and women willing to protect us from this ongoing threat are more than worthy of our support, and our admiration.

And there's the crux of the issue for me; the soldiers and warriors, and the price they freely pay because of the inevitability of war.  When I was young and serving in the military I can tell you that I would have died to protect my family, my friends and their freedom.  Not many in military service would tell you different.  It's in their training and their youthfulness and their innocence; and they would, and do, die knowing their death is noble and right.  Those they leave behind also know and share that nobility and sense of justice, and I have to imagine that knowledge gives solace and peace in the face of tremendous pain.  Despite misgivings one may have over the cause of a war, the lies and the obfuscations, the ideology or politics, it never mitigates that honor of one laying down their life for another.  When you get into that foxhole all ideology and politics are gone and you fight for the one next to you and the family and friends waiting for you at home.

So, what does a soldier sacrifice?  It's not just a biological end to a metabolic process, it's the time spent doing what we do, the love we share, the families we have and the friendships we develop along the way.   When I hear about a death from the battlefield I think about the ultimate nobility of their sacrifice, and I think about just how huge a loss it is.  I think it's because I've had these twenty years since I could have been in a combat zone and could have died.  The risk I would have faced would have been minimal compared to others, but a risk all the same, and all I know about my life since would never have existed; my marriage, my two wonderful kids, the love and the laughs throughout.  Each life lost on the battlefield is the loss of a lifetime.  So what I wrestle with is not so much the rightness or the wrongness of the war, but the sacrifice.  It's the sacrifice that breaks my heart.  It's enough for me to never want to support a war of any kind, or to even see this current one on terror continue if it will cost us one more life.  It's a sacrifice that is too heavy to bare.

Still, we live in a world that will continue to war for the sake of some ideal or religion, a political system, or even for a dictator.  How do we ask someone to lay aside the potential of a long and wonder filled life for the fleeting ideals of today that will surely just dissipate tomorrow?  How could we ever think that sacrifice worthy?  Well, that's really up the person making the sacrifice, and everyday young men and women make that choice willingly.  They are amazing people.  I hope that one day everyone will see that life is far too precious to sacrifice in war, but as long as someone can't see that truth we will need our soldiers and warriors to defend life.  It's ironic to think that life could be lost to save a life.  A sacrifice I wish didn't happen.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not One

by Cody Kilgore

Not One.

Not one single name did I know, or even recognize, in the list of names that I was reading, but I could still feel something for each and every one of them. Something painful. It emanated from the page, at first as a realization that they themselves were very real people—even though their images were only abstract to me—and then as a realization of their connection to someone else.

It was their age that struck me first. So young. Lives measured in too short of terms. I thought back to what it was I was doing at their age, and then forward to everything that I did with my life after that point. So much missed.

Here in Iowa, in the early days of Our Aggression in the Middle East, government buildings and businesses would lower their flags to half mast whenever someone from the state lost their life over there. At first it seemed to be rare, rare enough that the local media would often feature pieces about the soldier and their families, would still treat them as someone real—flesh and blood, belonging to someone.

But, after a while, I began to notice fewer of those pieces while the flags seemed to stay continuously at half mast. I began to think of them as permanently positioned there, and thought they would be until the end of the war. Over time I lost sight of them. I struggle now to remember the last time I noticed them, if they still have been flying low. Shame on me.

That particular day had been a dismal day for soldiers from Iowa, and so the paper chose to headline as much and list their names and ages. I think the oldest was in his early twenties. It made me curious about the average age of our men and women over there in active duty, curious enough to go out and research it on the net, even compare it to previous wars. It seems our soldiers today are a little older than in previous wars, but are still too young for this, in my estimation. Why is it a country sees fit to throw its best and its brightest, its bravest and most ambitious, its most fit and most promising, into the carnage of war?

I’ve never known anyone personally who has died in conflict, not in this war or any other. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced the loss that a father or a brother or a son might feel over a loved one who went away in fatigues and never came back. I’ve never had to imagine what their final moments might have been like, or lose sleep over the empty feeling that I never had a chance to be with them or say goodbye to them, or in any way be even remotely connected with them in their passing. I’ve never had to answer that knock at the door that brought the news, news that would have to take your breath away. News that shattered the separation between the assurance and concrete comfort of a loved one in my life, and the immediately real absence of them. News that swiftly produces a sudden vacuum, a huge, gaping hole in your life.

Being a parent and just imagining what that would have to be like is both too potentially real, and too frightening. What would I ever do?

Because the conflict is usually so distant from our homes and the tolls often just a list of names in the news, we become jaded to the real costs of war, unless it strikes us personally. We objectify the enemy. We romanticize the warrior. We cling to an idea of war as right versus wrong, as good versus evil, as justified by our virtues versus irrational campaigns for power. But I think we fail to realize that it is, in reality, our attempt to press our life on to theirs, our attempt at Manifest Destiny, or—quite possibly—a product of our own greed and hunger for power. We strike a muscular pose on the world’s stage.

We still think we can win wars on foreign soil. We have too quickly forgotten the lessons of Vietnam. Our adversaries are no longer neat formations of uniformed minions, but instead are subtly different shades of the very people we believe we are there to protect, fight for, save. They no longer identify themselves for our easy killing, no matter how ingenious our killing devices, because they know they are no technological match for our massively funded weapons programs.

We still fight wars by rules long forgotten by others because we believe our wars are a matter of principle. They fight like the confederate that didn’t see anything wrong with taking a shot at Grant, atop his horse on a nearby hillside, as he looked over his troops going to battle.

This particular war was started with suspect reasoning. WMD’s never materialized, but just the threat of them—like a page ripped from the book written by decades of a Cold War nuclear threat—was just enough to raise our collective fears, sufficiently quell our questioning on whether or not it was the correct thing to do. Why do we feel like we have to stretch our long tentacles of weaponry into lands on which we’ve never lived, into a history so vastly different from our own, and into a way of life we will never understand?

We have no place there. We shouldn’t, and cannot, impose our definition of life and democracy on them, despite our convictions in how well it works for us. They are entitled to their way of life, and the mistakes they may make in living it, just the same as we are entitled to our way of life and the mistakes of our own history. And whatever threat we perceive is brewing there could just as easily be defended against, if not more so, with all those resources better utilized here at home.

But, my biggest question, the one that bothers me most, is this: at what point do we, either as a nation, or as a government representation, or as a presidential leader, so easily make the switch from thinking of a young man or a woman as a real person and convert them into an expendable resource? At what point do the functions of their living—breathing, speaking, feeling—disappear and make us able convert them to machines? At what point do their souls become invisible to us?

My questions are simple, maybe too simple. But I can’t get past them.

Why can’t we bring them home and stand them shoulder to shoulder along our border with Mexico, become our solution to southwestern states’ concerns over illegal immigration?

Why can’t we disperse them in dozens to our international airports and let them become the security that many of us would trust far more than that offered by insufficiently-paid people in poorly fitting suits?

Why can’t we let them swell the ranks of policemen and policewomen, and make our streets safer for everyone?

Or, for that matter, why can’t we let them become doctors or lawyers or artists or musicians or anything else they would dream to do with the rest of their lives, so long as it is not something that makes them a part of a grotesquely large and ugly killing machine? Why can’t we just stop making them machines?

Let them have the lives they deserve as much as any of us, without it being violently cut short, so far from home and loved ones, by an enemy neither they nor we will ever even see, let alone know or understand.

Because not one young man or young woman’s life is worth any attempt to convince a different culture in a faraway land that they should want our way of life.

Not one young man or young woman’s life is worth even a billion barrels of oil that might be sent back here with them, strapped on their backs.

Not one young man or young woman’s life is worth them bringing Osama Bin Laden himself into custody.

Not one young man or young woman’s life is worth any reason anyone can give me for us sacrificing it.

Not one.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Weezer will save us

Troublemaker WeezerImage via Wikipedia
This is in response to previous two entries on the state of pop music today.  A state that I can only describe as abysmal. 

First, I have to say that I'm not a curmudgeon.  I like a good song just as much as the next 40-plus year old dad seeking relevance with his kids.  I do have some Katy Perry in my iTunes.  And some Black Eyed Peas.  And there are moments when those songs could be appropriate to blast from my iPhone.

I'm trying to remember the reasons I listened to them, and they escape me for the moment... but there were reasons. A couple at least.

Sadly, the Top 40 song list is peppered with stuff that I can only describe as "crap" as decorum prohibits me from using the words that really come to mind.  Bruno Mars? Seriously? Bleh! At least on iTunes the top singles have a few interesting nuggets among them:  The new Lil' Wayne single "Gonnereah" is "bangin'"--to coin a phrase from my 15 year-old son who listens to such stuff.  Okay, I sort of like Rhianna, too... especially on Eminem's song about love and domestic violence - "Love the Way You Lie."

What the heck?  I guess I do like a lot of pop music.  Dang it.

Even so... Mostly these days I listen to Alternative music. Sirrius has a great station: "Alt Nation" where you can listen to all of the newest and most engaging music that is being made today.  Or you can just go to Pandora and find a similar station.  There are several.   I bought the newest Weezer release last week.  Weezer have sort of become the elder statesman of Alt Rock, and with good reason.  They're awesome.  Weezer draws from a number of influences for their sound, and if you're not familiar with them they sound a bit like a mix between Nirvana and the Beach Boys without the doom and gloom of Cobain's lyrics. 

I think that the defining characteristic of Alt Rock/Music is it's ability to reinterpret music without parodying it or bastardizing it.  For those of us of a certain age who grew up listening to both Iron Maiden and the Cure (depending upon the girl that we were trying to date, no doubt),  Alt Rock offers a welcome release from the shallow garbage that litters most of the airwaves of most radio stations.

Even now as I am writing this, I am listening to the Genius Mix on my iTunes for Alternative Rock and the inspiring sounds of Foo Fighters "Best of You" is causing me to pause from typing and pretend I am playing the drums.  There.  I am back. 

At any rate, go and buy Weezer's newest album "Hurley" (named for the character on lost, and featuring his mug on the cover).  Listen to "Memories" and allow the pop music toxins to flow out of you and leave you cleansed. 
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