My sister has several years on me (old fart), and when I was still very young she decided to go to the local military academy, NMMI. We’d go visit her on weekends, and after a while she starting to bring along her best friend and the friend’s boyfriend. Because we saw them as often as we did Amanda, these two became like siblings to me. M would chase me around Wal-Mart. I was exceptionally shy around boys and he used to tease me about having a secret boyfriend. Sometimes the three of them would gang up on me in the mall and play kidnap the little sister. I’d be walking around, paying zero attention, and one of them would burst out from a rack of clothes or from behind a mannequin and pick me up, swinging me around while I squealed.
While Manda stayed in touch with them, I lost track until my mom and I were visiting my sister. M, who had joined the Army after NMMI, was stationed in Colorado, and we said hello, met their boys, and had a chat. At first, I barely remembered them, but as mom and Manda started to rehash those school days, it started flooding back.
That summer, M was deployed to Iraq. Manda moved in with his wife and high school sweetheart to help with their kiddos, two of the most adorable boys I’ve ever met.
In 2008, M was killed in Iraq. I don’t mean to overstep my bounds talking about this. The real grief belongs to his family, as does the real M.
See, I used to be really patriotic. I wouldn’t call myself that anymore. I used to be pretty militant. Ok, maybe not that militant. I am the kiddo who argued with her dad about the morality of the draft. He called me a hippy. I cried.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I didn’t get it. I knew the casualty numbers. I understood that war is a place where people go to die, but it just didn’t sink in. I had romantic notions about the military fueled by old war movies and World War II history books written by fanboys.
Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate and value the military. I like that we have a standing military; that our military is the source of a lot of really remarkable technologies; and the fact that the military provides opportunity, training, and attitude adjustments for young people. I know lots of kids who could benefit from the sort of discipline the military requires. Hell, I’m one of them. I’m just not that flag-waving, boot-in-his-ass, Ahmerrican I once was.
M’s death changed that for me. I’m not going to say that I understand the sacrifices soldiers make. I still don’t. If anything, M’s death taught me how little I understand. Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” says,
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
See, the problem is I can’t see. I don’t know what it’s like. Frankly, I don’t want to. But with the little glimpse I saw at M’s death, I understand that I can’t be Jessie Pope. I can’t go around pretending that there’s glory in it. I hate it when people I care about are deployed. And while there’s still some pride (I mean, come on, what a job!), I wish they didn’t go.
I feel guilty because I’m not in the military, because I was so in favor of war in the first place, because I had romantic notions of war, and because I know that M’s family misses him. Maybe it’s a guilt offering, or maybe it’s just a friendship, but a few times a year, I send out a care package in M’s honor to an address on this list. http://www.anysoldier.com/
I’m about to send one to Michael Scott (I know, I pictured him too!) who will distribute it to whomever he thinks needs the mail and the junk food. I don’t guess this is going to make any kind of difference for my guilt or for his/her situation, but it’ll at least be doing something.
I’m not writing about this because I want you to pat me on the back. I just figure it’s time to explain what I’m doing. This is really no big sacrifice or big gesture. If it was, it’d end war for good. It’s just something I can do to alleviate the pressure on myself while I sit here twiddling my thumbs.