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Comrades in Arms

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From the Book

RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War

I received this letter from an ex-soldier.

Hi Mr. Hathaway,

I got your letter (forwarded) asking for information for your book. To answer your first question, Yes, I'm enjoying living in Holland. I'm becoming the little Dutch girl -- the little Black Dutch girl, but that doesn't bother people here. They're very tolerant and internationally minded.

As for the rest of your questions, at first I didn't think I could answer them. They reminded me too much of an essay test in school. Plus it's not exactly pleasant to remember back on all this stuff, you know. I'm trying to leave it behind and start a new life.

But I kept thinking about it and finally decided I would forget the questions and just write about what happened. Like you said, people should know about this. Don't give anybody my address, though. The army still wants to put me in prison.

Compared to a lot of people, I had it easy in Iraq -- on a huge base with a Burger King, cold beer, video games, movies, air conditioned trailers, baseball games. About once a month we got mortared or rocketed and had to dive into the bunkers and maybe every other time somebody got killed, but there were thousands of us, so usually you didn't know them even though you felt bad for them.

Although it wasn't very dangerous, we had to work our tails off, shifts of twelve on, twelve off, seven days a week -- you felt like a zombie. I was a data entry clerk, sitting in front of a computer typing stuff in. My eyes were fried, and I was on meds for migraines. When you weren't working, all you wanted to do was forget everything. When you were working, you wanted to forget it even more.

We had a big mental health clinic, and they sent combat troops there for evaluation and therapy. These guys were a wreck. I know because I had to type up some of the reports. The shrinks would try to get them on the right mix of tranks and anti-depressants, and they'd run therapy groups where the GIs would talk about what they'd been through, and then the docs would send them back, unless they thought they might kill themselves or another American, in which case they'd cycle them through again.

One of our cooks hung out with these guys, and he'd tell us their stories. Mostly it was about how much they hated the hajis because you could never tell who was a terrorist and who wasn't. An IED would go off beside the road and kill your buddy, and you didn't know who set it. Maybe it was one of those people watching. You wanted to kill them all. A haji would fire some shots into your patrol, then disappear into the crowd. They were hiding him. You wanted to kill them all.

As the spoon was telling the stories, you could tell how mad he was about it. He had a safe job, but he really identified with the combat guys and what they were going through. He said the Arabs were cowards, they were afraid to stand up and fight fair, so they sneak around. They use car bombs and kidnap people for hostages. They're chicken-sh*t wimps. They know they'd lose a fair fight, he'd say, and his mouth would twist around.

I told him, What's so fair about the way we fight? Flying way up above someone where they can't shoot back and dropping a bomb on them. Blowing up a whole apartment building to get one sniper, who's probably already left. I said it seems to me taking a hostage is better than just killing somebody. It gives the other side a chance to save his life.

He asked me whose side I was on and gave me a look like he wanted to shoot me. I said I was on the side of going home and giving these people their country back.

He got really pissed then, called me a haji prostitute, said I was probably blowing them all. He was shaking, he was so mad at me.

I just left. No point talking to somebody like that.

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http://www.peacewriter.org

William T. Hathaway's first book, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award. His new novel, Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness, concerns the environmental crisis: www.cosmicegg-books.com/books/wellsprings. He was a Fulbright professor (more...)
 
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Quote;"I remembered back to when I'd joined the ar... by Eddy Schmid on Monday, Sep 26, 2011 at 3:27:59 AM