What a crazy notion.
For what kind of madman would miss the war and all its ugliness? After such a hard and troubling assimilation back into a “normal” society you think I’d be happy, no giddy, to be back among the safety and the sanity of a place called home. So why do I feel so out of place sometimes?
Why does a smell or a sound bring me crashing back to a time best forgotten? In the beginning I figured out that instead of remembering those events as they happened I was actually reliving them and all the pain, anger and fear was twisting my guts and my mind into some cosmic pretzel until soon I was wondering which reality and which world to believe in.
The mind is such a strange and beautiful thing. The logical side kept saying “Look, we’re home, it’s all over!” but somehow the other…darker side, whispered of the things not said, the things not easily conveyed at cocktail parties and of the things that still go bump in the night. It was much easier to go back to Afghanistan than it was to return home. Perhaps it’s because we revert back to our roots of savagery easier then to this thin veneer of western twentieth century society.
An experience like war shine light on parts of the human mind and soul that are sometimes better left in the darkness. No matter your education or your proclivity for humanity and love of nature there is still nothing as beautiful as an explosion that rocks you back on your heels and sends tendrils of white phosphorus spiraling out from center like a flower blooming at velocity. Add to that the fact that the persons that were just trying to kill you won’t fit into a shoebox and you’re filled with joy and relief. You don’t think about his family, his ideology and beliefs or the fact he may be a father like you, you just kill him.
So much for all the good things I learned in kindergarten.
During one of our engagements we were covering the line of advance of one of our units that had been ambushed coming from the Kajaki dam and the enemy began firing at us from the valley below. I had seen them walking towards us from about three hundred meters and I was surprised when they opened fire being that unconcealed. It took just an instant before the sound of the rounds striking off stone and steel got my full attention and I remember hearing a voice yelling a direction and distance to the enemy then, the sound of my machinegun in response. I remember seeing my tracer rounds streak towards them then adjusting my fire until it converged with their bodies. Dust, flesh and blood danced a deadly ballet like a marionette on the strings of a drunken puppeteer. I feel no remorse or guilt. Hell, I think I was shouting and cursing them as they fell. There is no time for conscience thoughts on morality or the justness of my actions…survival was the key. If I could have I probably would have gotten out of my Hummvee and stomped their bodies into the dust too…am I a savage? Mad? At that time, after all I’d seen…probably a little of both.
You see…that’s the problem with war, in order to survive it you must become just like it. For if you rebel against it and you refuse to learn all its incestuous, beastly lessons you die. If I must admit, there were moments when I felt almost calm and serene in the midst of the carnage, for the temptation to play God can be a heady intoxicant. Think I can’t call down the thunder?
At the touch of my finger my 240 Bravo machinegun would spit 850 rounds per minute at anything that pissed me off.
Grab the radio hand mike and I can call an A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft to hose down a compound with its 30 mm cannon.
Enter the coordinates into the blue force tracker and a B-52 on station will drop 1,000 pound JDAMS into a gopher hole from 30,000 feet.
Oh yes, Virginia that’s the sound of freedom.
Most of my problem was the things that worked there don’t work here and vice versa. Over there, threats, intimidation and outright violence worked. It’s as simple as that. Everyone was armed to the teeth and believe me…an armed society is a polite society. Carry a gun for awhile and the ability to use deadly force will change your perceptions on life. We controlled the population [as best as we could] and molded the rules of our existence around us into a cocoon of our own making and it kept our survival chances to a premium. For a year and a half my M4 carbine was never more than an arms reach away and weapons and ammunition were strategically placed all over the bases and vehicles we used. Then, as my feet touched the tarmac at Ft. Stewart Georgia they took away my weapon and said the war was over for me. Really? Over for you maybe, I’m still fighting it.
The simple fact is war can be monstrously impressive, both beautiful and ghastly at the same time.
I have seen: vast, empty mountain passes where the sapphire sky seems to melt into the cascading mountains and the clouds playfully dance and frolic with the surrounding peaks like some impish fairy high on pixy dust.
A sea of green and purple poppies so boundless and expansive it looks like God carpeted the empty desert floor so profound it boggles the mind.
Aquamarine rivers flowing though a cadaverous landscape that nourish only a few hundred feet of its banks assailing the arid badlands in a futile battle of wills.
The effects of 130 degree heat on the dead after four days in the desert.
The torture and mutilation of the living by Godless savages who claim the Almighty’s blessing.
Grown men weep openly and without pretension for the lost of a friend and companion and for the vacuum left by their passing.
Perhaps that is part of my problem. I haven’t cried for the lost men, the lost time and the lost hope of a nation. I think if I start, I may not be able to stop.
The truth is I don’t miss the war at all, what I miss is the way in which people behave while their in it. It didn’t take long to recognize that sad fact soon after my return. We lived for the moment; perhaps even the instant for any time our bodies could be scattered to the four winds. We also respected each other and honored the memory of the men who passed before us. No one lied or exaggerated, WORDS MEAN THINGS! Say what you mean and mean what you say. Sadly, I’m afraid; it seems this country has lost some of the same moral principals it pretends to espouse.
I used to think we had the attention span of a commercial now I see it’s more a sound byte or a popular catch phrase like “Right wing conspiracy” or “Gay rights.” Our “so called” leaders in both legislative bodies are so mired in their own personal battles over how much of my money to steal and waste it’s utterly pathetic and to tell me you’re “For the soldier” but against the war is pure bovine scatology. Everyone hates war, especially the solder that has to bare the physical and emotional scars from just surviving that ordeal.
I have now realized the war will always be with me. Like some jilted lover it hangs just out of sight until it spies a weakness in my defenses then, it strikes with more precision than a smart bomb folding me back into its silent, deadly embrace. I think about it every day. It shades the things I do and the way in which I live. I had hoped the war would make me smarter, braver and stronger but now I’m no longer sure it’s done anything other than leave me with a small nugget of hope for a planet so mired in evil and despair it waits on some ancient deity to change our collective hearts into one. I got news for you…it’s already there. Your choice to decide good from evil, love from hate and life over death.
Don’t let the memory of those who suffered and sacrificed, then, gave their lives be in vain. They may not have died for you, but for the memory of someone like you.
A husband, a Father, a brother and son I’ am. Do not forsake me.
It is not that present-day man is capable of greater evil than the man of antiquity or the primitive. He merely has incomparably more effective means with which to realize his proclivity to evil. As his consciousness has broadened and differentiated, so his moral nature has lagged behind. That is the great problem before us today.