March 20th is a special day for me. On March 20, 2003, I went to my first protest, then as a soldier and not yet a veteran, with the belief that the war that started the night before in the cradle of civilization was anything but civil or the mark of a civilized nation enacting justice for 9/11 (back then we were still being told it was all about 9/11 and a mushroom cloud). Today I am still on the course I set myself on that day.
I have begun to connect the dots. At that time when I went to one of the protests planned across the country for the day after the war started I saw the dots like stars in the night sky but had not yet connected them like those drawings of the Big Dipper and Orion on the ceiling at Grand Central Station. At the time I was 21 and in college. I spent all my free time reading, reading EVERYTHING I could get my eyes to come across. I read the conspiracy theories, the Twin Towers were brought down by lasers, and I read the questions, like where was the body of the plane that hit the Pentagon. I didn't know the truth, and still don't, but I knew nothing quite added up. I was activated for 9/11 with a faulty gas mask that was bent from years of storage and no longer was able to fit a face and make that life saving seal. My unit was rushed to NYC only to sit and wait (the real official policy of the US Military, hurry up and wait) get bored and wonder what the hell was going on. None of it made any sense, but I was a military woman and I just did my job.
Then the ultimate nonsensical story came about and I had lots of questions that no one was going to guilt trip me into ignoring. We were going to invade Iraq. No matter how much I thought before that as a soldier I just do what I am told I knew that there was something not right about this unfolding appetite for destruction. March 20, 2003, my life changed. That was the first day I took a stand against the war in Iraq and I was not even 24 hours old.
This war has been a virtual Pandora's Box. The unleashed war machine on the Iraqi people that kills thousands, noone knows how many for sure because their lives aren't even worth counting to the bureaucracy that eats them up and spits them out, all in the name of their freedom. Forced freedom sure does look a lot like genocide and murder.
The predictable deluge of veterans into the medical VA community that leaves so many with empty hands and terror filled minds of life shattering nightmares during the day and night. The war that women are fighting within the war, unable to protect themselves from those sworn to Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage (LDRSHIP). I am not sure how the rape of your fellow service member falls into that but I can pick out any 1 aspect of those 7 values and show you how it doesn't.
Saddam and his murderous cohorts have laughably been hung for 148 deaths. While the lives of those 148 surely deserve justice why haven't we explored the true nature of Saddam's crimes if they were so bad a war had to be started to right them. As of right now we have unleashed this destruction for 148 people while not questioning why we sat idly by in the 80's when it happened. Surely we want to hold ALL accountable, all as in anyone and everyone who helped Saddam become the madman he was, right? Except then we might learn the true rise of a madman includes a little help from your friends, friends with rather American sounding names like Rumsfeld, Reagan and Cheney. In this Pandora's Box those names don't matter unless they are making excuses for the lack of equipment our troops go into battle with or lying about how they never used the word "Mushroom Cloud" (Reagan had a better memory than some in our government).
I, with a little help from my friends like a retired drill sergeant, Iraq Vet, mother, grandmother and all around awesome person Eli PaintedCrow (she's nice now, never made me do one push up) have begun to connect those dots and its amazing how the dark night sky can light up with a little knowledge. Little bits of missed information like how our own country was founded on the genocide of the Native peoples. How can we move onto a more civilized discussion, let alone course of actions, as long as we deny our past and allow it to repeat itself now on the people of Iraq? This war is but a symptom of a larger disease. We still continue to care more about stock options than housing options for low-income families. Homeless people still sleep on the streets every night in the richest country in the world. Children, and veterans, still go without proper healthcare. The war is but a TV melodrama that inconveniently invades people's minds from 5-7 in the early evening. At least pro-war and anti-war people, while totally divergent on their ideas, care enough to show up to protests. Care enough to read about soldiers. Care enough to engage in discussion on the merits of the war. While I wish that those pro-war folks could see things from my point of view I at least have to hand it to them that they are doing more than sitting on their butts watching the latest pop star's eating habits. Its takes time for them to make those ugly signs, but none the less they are engaged in something more than idle thoughts of how to best avoid the war until American Idol comes on. I love you Pro-war folks too, even though I think you're wrong. Really, really wrong.
It is those conversations I can have with Eli and many others that let me see the bigger picture. I continue to grow and appreciate every divergent turn my path has taken me on. I still don't have all the answers. No one knows what exactly will happen in Iraq if we leave tonight (I don't believe in waiting till tomorrow) but I know the first step in Iraqis realizing their own self worth and self-governance will have happened. I hope it will also allow the questions we should be asking about our own country to rise up and be asked. Like why can't people get a living wage? I know Vets, with bachelor's degrees and two tours of service in Iraq, that can't get a decent job that pays the bills. If that's how we treat vets you know people just struggling to get by have even less opportunity. Why rent goes up and salaries don't. Why drugs keep flooding our inner cities and guns trail closely behind. I have been to some inner cities, there are no fields and there are no gun factories. They got to come from somewhere, just ask Ricky Ross. We have to ask why the farms keep shutting down and the farmers can't feed their families. Why the rural areas trailers are on par with the city's housing projects but congress people and Senators friends make billions off the war in Iraq. Whatever it is we have to start asking harder questions. I started and the best things I can say today is if you think Iraq is the answer, then you aren't asking the right questions.
When Words Fail
A recent Washington Post article reports on the case of 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a LT who on all accounts was a soldiers' soldier, who attempted to take her own life while in Iraq – a young soldier recently and abruptly discharged from the Army, who later took her own life.
There is something to be said about the emotions that would lead you to that end. There is even more to be said when those emotions come from experiences you have while serving in a war compiled with the frustration of being a woman who is being discriminated against on that very basis when you work so hard to excel.
I don't even have the words to describe the feeling it gave me finding out about this story and in particular the young soldier who the LT befriended. I didn't know the young soldier in the Post story but it hit me like a ton of bricks. I think the last time I really felt like that was when I found out my unit was being deployed to Iraq.
My unit ended up being broken up so I wasn't deployed to Iraq but when I found out my unit was deploying, and at that time I assumed everyone was going, I couldn't even say to anyone for at least a week what I had found out, let alone what I was thinking about it.
There are times when we can't find the words to explain and can't cry the tears to let it go. So many of us who have served in the military keep things bottled up inside, male and female alike.
I hope we as a country stop pretending everything is alright.
Because it isn't.
The Sexual Politics Of War
Part 1:Leave the vehicle and look around closely
Make sure no one is ready to attack you
Turn the corner, look behind you and around the corner
Make sure no one is waiting to attack you
Approach the door and check if anyone is inside
Make sure no one is waiting to attack you
Close the door so no one will enter behind you
Ready to attack you
Enter into building, look all around
Make sure no one is waiting to attack you
Keep calm when someone appears should they be more than just walking by
Realize you are not breathing
Take a deep breath
Is it a place young men, targets in uniform, fight in a far off land
Or is it my walk home at night, womanhood my uniform and target
Are we so different?
The warrior and the woman
Stay in your place
One fights their wars
One cleans their kitchens
Both should just shut up and listen
Don't ask any questions
Fight the good fight
Same war on different fronts
So far in front we are facing each other
Is this your choice or our lack of choices?