Tag Archives: afghanistan

Thoughts from the Road – New Jersey Campsite

Nearing the halfway mark of the tour, about to spend a week in the Big City—New York—the mission is in full swing.

And it’s definitely a mission. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme; in fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted and it weighs heavy on my soul.

It’s heavy when you sit in front of your display for hours, in front of the US flag I fought under, in front of a banner urging people to hear veterans stories, and not even a single person stops to give you the time of day. It’s hard to sell a book, a story I’ve pored years of sweat and tears into, and get little response from people on the street, in the bookstores, and even my own friends and supporters.

“Hey sir, do you know anyone who served in the military?”

“Yeah! And they’re all dead!”

“Ma’am. Do you like to read?”

“Yes, very much.”

“Want to check out this book I wrote? It’s about the War in Iraq?”

“Oh. . . I think I know enough about what’s going on over there.”

A group of cute women my age.

“Excuse me ladies? Do you support your soldiers?”

Nothing. Not even a response.

One of the greatest parts about this tour is talking to vets: Iraq, Afghanistan, Gulf War I, Vietnam, Korea, and even a few World War II. They stop and shake my hand, we share stories, but most of all we share knowing looks. They might be too broke to buy a book, but they check it out, and tell me I’m doing good things.

Older hobos and vagrants frequently stop and talk, more often than not, they’re Vietnam vets. They may be panhandling from other people, but they’re not looking for handouts from me.

“You a veteran?”

“Yes sir. And you?”

“Vietnam.”

“Thank you for your service sir.”

“No. . . thank you, son.” A handshake, some human acknowledgment, that’s all they want from me, and I’m more than happy to give it. We owe them, but America hung them out to dry. We demanded that the soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors of that generation go over to a jungle halfway around the world and kill for the sake of “American ideals.” They came back, many fucked in the head for what they had to do to survive, what they thought they were doing for all their loved ones and communities and nation. America called them “baby-killers” and now watch in disgust as many of them age away, take to the streets, and survive in a new jungle: an indifferent homeland.

One thing that’s been continuously reinforced throughout this entire trip is that the younger generation as a whole, my generation, does not care about the wars going on or the veterans who fought in them. If you don’t have some kind of human connection to the fight—a brother, a mother, a nephew, or cousin—then you don’t know and you don’t care. I’ve about ceased trying to sell books to people between the ages of 18 and 30—the young crowd, the hip crowd, the college crowd. These are the future leaders of America, who don’t know shit about what it really means to go to war, and you know what’s going to happen when they in turn become businessmen and lawyers and politicians and educators? They’re just going to send off the next generation to the slaughter, to kill more people halfway around the world who just want to survive and feed their own families.

But I can’t just disparage the youth, because that’s too easy. An Army buddy of mine, a brother-in-arms, who showed me a great time in his hometown and always treats me like family, is in the doghouse with his wife and in-laws because of Zarqawi’s Ice Cream.

“You did that? I can’t believe you!”

“I can’t believe I let him sleep in my house!”

“He makes the Army look bad, like you guys were a bunch of savages.”

We were a bunch of savages. You send off a bunch of teenagers to kill people halfway across the world and expect us to act like missionaries? We were just tools, so you didn’t have to get your hands bloody, so you could sleep at night and tell yourself that you’re a good person.

All the time I hear it. “I didn’t support the war.” I guess the insinuation is that you don’t have to hear about it or deal with the consequences, or even give a moment of your time to the veterans who volunteered to fight and bleed and risk insanity and give years away to a cause they can’t define or benefit from.

But you did support the war. In 2003 your Congress, your Senate, and your President decided to invade Iraq…and by overwhelming majorities. And it’s still going on. People are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers and civilians. Death is death is death.

If you want sanitized stories, if you want to keep living in a false reality and pretend like you know what’s going on, then don’t buy my book, don’t listen to the vets of Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan who did inhumane things to fellow human beings so that fat Americans can keep eating cheeseburgers and driving luxury cars. Know the consequences of going to war, what putting a machine gun in the hands of a teenager is going to do him and the society he lives in.

Don’t judge us, because you don’t know.

Listen to our stories.

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Filed under Book Tour, iraq war, Politics, soldier's stories

Bin Laden’s Death

I was in Iraq, never in Afghanistan, and any links to Iraq and bin Laden are pretty sketchy. Despite this, many of my friends and I’m guessing a good part of the American people, through a mixture of ignorance, folk wisdom, lazy thinking, and government and media propaganda, think things like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden are simply one and the same.

And in a way they are. Since 9/11 almost ten years ago, our country has engaged in the War on Terrorism, whose jurisdiction does certainly cover Iraq and bin Laden. I remember that day clearly. I woke up around seven and groggily met my dad in the kitchen, where he was every morning making coffee and toast. He was watching the TV silently; I looked at it too, and saw a plane smash into a huge building.

“Is that real, Dad?”

I was sixteen and saw the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as something very intriguing. I couldn’t believe the bastards had the balls to do something like this. “Don’t they know that we’re America, what we’re going to do now?” I instantly knew big changes were coming. I knew America was going to go to war and crush whoever did this. I grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s; I was taught that America is an enlightened superpower, that we would be an industrial and democratic powerhouse for centuries, the New Rome. 9/11 made me bloodthirsty. I, like almost every American, wanted bin Laden’s head, and I wanted it now.

Three years later, I was still somewhat bloodthirsty, eager to go to War. I joined the Army and went to Iraq.

Now bin Laden is dead, but it’s not as satisfying as I might have hoped. It’s been almost ten years since 9/11 and a lot has changed in America. My classmates who saw the towers fall with me haven’t joined a vibrant powerhouse economy; they’re waiters and temp workers with bachelor’s degrees not worth the paper they’re printed on. Not even Americans believe we own the new century, as China and other world powers are steadily gaining prominence in world affairs. The apathy and disconnect most Americans express for the War on Terrorism is scary. Percentage-wise, very few Americans are actively connected to this war, and the all-volunteer army ensures that many privledged classes are virtually untouched by combat losses. I joined the Army partly because I thought that my service now may prevent my little brother (who is ten years younger than me) from himself having to suffer and bleed in a foreign country. He’s sixteen now, and there is plenty of war to go around.

So, am I happy that bin Laden’s dead? I guess, sure. But does it mean anything? The man himself probably hasn’t contributed anything to his cause. For the last ten years he’s been a living martyr and fugitive. Knowing as little as I do about geo-politics, just using my soldier’s sense, I’d say that on the balance sheet, killing bin Laden will add up to zero. It’s a useful media stunt, it’ll be on the front pages of the news mags for the next week or two, but after that, business as usual. The decay of the American superpower and the seemingly insolvable insurgency in Afghanistan are the most important legacies of bin Laden. Killing him is great, but we need to fearlessly address not only the man, but his effects, and most importantly, what’s he’s done to us, what we’ve become.

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Filed under Media, Politics