Nothing seems to make me feel worse than when I reflect on my earlier life and what would have become of it had I resisted the urge to enlist in the Army after September 11th. Would things have turned out worse? Instead of the towering shame and sense of betrayal that overwhelms me today, would I have just found replacement feelings of ignominy and victim-hood? Either way I lie awake at night hoping to erase the shame and wake up with the fear born of my nightmarish anger. So I do my best to occupy my brain with the drone of the never ending internet or the fiction within the screen; anything to dam the current that flows from another life and the future impossible to replace. Death comes, it seems, the moment that barrier gives way, opening up the closure our fiction has hidden.
There is no justice for the self-righteous among us. I say that in the context of modern day truth tellers, those who do what they believe to be honorable only to be treated like the villain. The story is familiar. I can relate. The idiom, I believe, is: “no good deed goes unpunished.” My entire concept of right and wrong was challenged, and defeated the day I was discharged from Army service administratively, essentially, for doing “the next right thing.” “The war is bigger than this young man,” I was lectured just days before I was unceremoniously shipped home with two fellow “troublemakers.” “We are in the middle of a war, son.” “Why are you doing this to yourself?” My answer, in the moment was as honest as it was naive and simple. My answer, paraphrased, was something like “I signed up to fight for the good guys. I enlisted….” The meeting was over.
Even in my initial shock, there was an ember of dignity deep within. That I could somehow hang my hat on that simple truth. That my war was over, yet my humanity carried on. In a rational mind, this could have been logical. Instead what settled under my atmosphere were the competing forces of embarrassment and shame. Embarrassed that I came home physically unharmed, yet profoundly hurt by what felt like being abandoned and shameful for trusting the forces of power to begin with. My self-righteousness encumbered my ability to prosecute the immorality of war. I should have known as much. I did this to myself and that’s ultimately what today hurts the most.
You might be wondering: “what could have been so terrible that it forced me/us to press the issue to the “event horizon,” if you will? In not so many words, I am ready to let it go. The only person outside of my unit and command that I told was my now deceased Grandfather; a Veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam Wars. It was unexpected that he expressed his lack of shock. In fact, he thought it lucky to have an honorable discharge in the face of such deliberate malfeasance.
After 8 months deployed to Afghanistan in late 2002 early 2003, our unit was quickly turned around and refitted for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. During the final 4 weeks prior to the invasion we were stationed outside of the Middle East with several additional coalition forces. It came to my attention that soldiers were visiting a brothel regularly, then sharing video captured during the sexual escapades. It wasn’t the idea of a brothel that bothered me, nor the childish passing around of amateur porn. What seemed quite disturbing then -revolting today even- was the open knowledge that many of these girls were underage and that several of the homemade tapes included violence. My first reaction was disbelief. Just sailor stories, I thought? Pretty sick shit, but almost certainly untrue. The more I heard however, the more it became evident that the rumors were, in fact, true.
The second thing that killed me was few seemed to give a shit? Is this really what we are all about? Supposedly traveling halfway around the world to liberate oppressed peoples only to victimize some along the way? So we took it to the PL. Long story short; four months later, following a capture mission in Iraq and three separate meetings since first reporting the incident, one final chance was given to drop the issue. Six hours later I was extricated from Iraq; ten hours after that, from the Army itself.
About five years ago I stumbled upon an article that caught my attention. Some private contractor for the US Military had been accused of shielding individuals caught up in a scandal involving underage prostitution very near the post I had visited years before. A corporate whistle blower had come forward with evidence of the myriad crimes only to be fired and returned to the States ingloriously. According to the piece, the corporation settled with a moderate fine and no admission of wrongdoing in the matter. The article went on to reveal that the crimes continued for another year at least. No charges or further investigation was ever instigated, according to the piece.
Are we the country we proclaim to be? Am I insensitive to the bigger picture, or, am I simply unwilling to take accountability for my own behavior, projecting my anger to deflect the truth? I remember that flight home so many years ago and the slightest ember of confidence that remained deep within. That someday, if I pressed on, someday my actions would be rewarded. Yet, like so many other high and mighty idiots, that redeemable moment never comes. Instead, we just add to the long list of victims assaulted by the “big picture.”
Why write this today? The truth is, my slow fall from normality has inflicted emotional harm, not only upon the self, but upon those who knew me so long ago. This guilt is yet another scar. I wanted to at least try to explain in a way that’s to not explain away the forces that interrupted my trajectory and shifted its orbit. I am sorry. My stubborn reluctance to talk and my inability to cope is on me, period. Be assured, the end will come despite your genuine concern, not in spite of it. I’m sorry you couldn’t help me. I am gratified. The truth is, it’s unclear if anything will prevent my ceding to the fear and noise?
I wrote this for anyone who cares enough to read it.. It’s the single thing I’m capable of doing. Hopefully these words will offer a modicum of reason and eventual closure. Remember me for the man I once aspired to be, not the coward that ran away.
I’ll post this tonight for good measure. If possible, another time soon, more will follow? It’s impossible to say everything. All life must one day pass through the seasons of creation to be born once more, cleaner somehow.