Though it feels somewhat arrogant, I must begin by stating that I am a combat vet. I don't speak about it often, and even then, only in small snippets. I don't really feel a need to describe my experiences to others, as there will always be much lost in the translation from memory to story. I deployed with the Marines in Fallujah (2004-2005), and with the Army in Kirkuk (2008-2010). The only reason I say it now is to establish validity with all of you; I too have felt disdain for those who talk about something they've never experienced.
I've seen more than some, and less than others. And what I've seen has lead me directly to the place I am today- Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, Missouri. I usually write as a "fellow Rabbit (community resident)", but today I'd like to speak to all of you from my veteran roots, to explain my reasoning and hopefully appeal to some of you. Here is some of my story.
I joined the Marines in 2002 among the panic that ensued after 9/11. We were PISSED- and so was I. At the time my best career prospect was moving up the management chain at KFC- and I felt that the military would make me stronger, more disciplined, more confident, and more respectable among my peers than a life of food service ever could.
I soaked it up like a sponge, every bit of it: the esprit de corps, the prevailing viewpoints of superiority and violence of action, a love of weaponry, and the desire to use it. I believed that I was serving the best interests of the American people, and the widespread adulation of the general population reinforced that idea. I felt that I was doing the right thing. It was the first time in my life that I felt proud of something that other people also saw as a worthy endeavor.
It wasn't until my first deployment in 2004 that my thoughts began to wander. The night before the assault on Fallujah began, I sat on the top of a forklift and watched the pre-emptive airstrikes. Using my night vision goggles, I could see where the explosions were going to erupt in advance, via the aircraft's UV laser guidance. The bombings were met with much excitement by all of us, and some nervousness as well; we knew tomorrow would be a much more immersive experience.
The first few weeks I never thought twice about what we were doing. Iraqis weren't people, they were insurgents, terrorists, and evil to their core. Sure, there was a population- somewhere- that wanted our version of freedom, but they were a phantom, and we never saw or heard of them directly. There were only those who hated God, America, women, and any viewpoint that didn't align with their own. And their sights were set squarely those of us that would dare to breach their city. I was so enveloped in protecting my team/squad that it took me a while to step back and look with a more broad perspective at what it was we were actually doing.
After some time, I began to feel uneasy about the rampant destruction and violence I was witnessing. Most of the buildings that still stood looked like blocks of burnt Swiss cheese. The rest were piles of rubble. There were bodies in the streets; the smell of fresh cordite intermingled with decomposition, burning tires, and trash. We listened to the radio traffic of our infantry brothers' injuries and KIA's. We were in and out of the city on a daily basis, tracking down and dodging IED's, and when were were back at camp, we were constantly harassed by RPG and mortar attacks. Even one of our units admin buddies was severely scared by mortar fire, just weeks into the deployment. I found myself angry that so many were dying at the behest of safe, suited politicians.
I would argue that those who have seen the face of war lose their faith in politics, as war is the greatest expression of its failure.
I think it's fitting that we find ourselves in a state of constant war now- our political structure is failing us at every turn, at home and abroad. The Republicans may have taken the Senate, but it's going to be the same song and dance- it always is.
I was deeply disturbed by the loss of life- on both sides. I found myself becoming more isolated, divided as to how I should feel. I was angered at the deaths and injuries of our own, but it never detracted from the pity I felt for the local population as well. After all, we were in their country, kicking down the doors of, and often utterly destroying, their homes.
I began to wonder how Americans would feel if China decided to rile their population up for war with the US. The Chinese population would be made to feel totally justified through media manipulation, and Americans would feel as though a great injustice was occurring. Would we not fight that occupational force? I would hope so- but then we'd be labeled "insurgents", while we would consider ourselves to be "freedom fighters".
I imagine that we would then feel much like the Iraqis.
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