It’s been a challenge sharing my struggles with grief, anger, fear and all the other shit that hitches up to many a good soul post military combat, or, many other traumatic life events, for that matter. Questions rise and cycle through my brain like: am I a terrible person; is my life planted forever with a lie like a mountaineer would a mountain peak; does anyone even give a fuck about my feelings or what I’ve done; will I ever feel free again; will the nightmares cease and let me sleep in peace; does anything ever matter or make a difference? I feel alone beyond the shore of a churning sea.
My anger stems from the unaccountable and those seemingly comfortable living within their hypocrisy and blatant contradictions.I’m furious with myself. Anger is a byproduct of my fear, or an extension of it, balancing, like the opposing sides of a simple mathematical equation. To watch them, so at ease with their atrocities, leaves me paralyzed with fright. The possibility that I am the hypocrite, that comes and goes. It’s all one big bag of shit that I’m scared to leave behind, stubbornly holding on, no matter the stench, or the ugly weight of it.
There was a time that I felt patriotic for my country, warts and all. “The proud American,” my German girlfriend would say. Not arrogant, not pretentious, just patriotic. We were far from perfect, I knew, but we weren’t animals or criminals. Mistakes were made, yes, but we tried to do better. Was it a false belief, a product of ignorance, immaturity or simply naive to believe my country would ultimately live up to these ideals in the shadow of September 11th? We could survive a corrupt Congress or a President sick with power, from time to time. I tended to believe our system of government would sort things out eventually.
The current state of things seem grim. Is this assessment pollution of my own inevitable corruption? I see and hear a wider public completely devoid of curiosity and fact. If so, and the government is of the people, will the Republic change course? Can we survive a nation of fools who appear willing to follow and elect proven liars as leaders? How does that get fixed? Or is it really broken at all?
Is this what I sacrificed for? Is it what other brave, patriotic men and women sacrificed for, often with their lives? 9/11 was the most significant event to occur in my lifetime. A fulcrum point emerged out of the rubble, smoke and skeletons that offered paths in two separate, opposing directions. One path stretched ahead towards our ideals, our “better angels,” as it were. Another would slowly transform us into the evil we sought to destroy. Sadly, we burst blindly ahead on that path of misfortune, towards an eventual ignominious fate. Not only has that fact left me sorrowful and lost, it also makes me culpable.
This upheaval and chaos rocking the Middle East isn’t to be chalked up to most American’s go to theory regarding the region: “They’ve been at war for centuries over there. We just tried to bring them freedom.” That’s the simplistic sort of bullshit that corrodes our dialogue and erodes our standing throughout the world. I admit, in my early 20’s, this analysis wasn’t too much simpler than my own. I certainly didn’t believe our military could, or should, be deployed anywhere as peacekeeper’s or proponents of Democracy. I signed up in October 2001 to defeat the forces behind the 9/11 attacks, no more, no less.
What I’m trying to say is this: The mission in Afghanistan as I participated in was just and appropriate, knowing what I know now and then. The invasion of Iraq was inappropriate by any measure knowing what I know now and then. Our ongoing missions to rebuild governments in Afghanistan and Iraq was, and is, an error in judgement and impossible to complete, as the past 15 years have revealed, not to mention past failures in Vietnam, Somalia etc.
The only entity capable of extricating ourselves from this chaos is Congress. Congress is an extension of the American people. Do the American people seem concerned about these policies? Are the American people working with all the facts? If the American people just shrug at the mention of these wars, or support them on the basis of incorrect information, or willful ignorance, like say they did the Vietnam War in the early 1970’s, what would motivate Congress to modify the course? Wars are easy to start, difficult to end, especially without the visual of an enemy capitulating, e.g., the Empire of Japan face to face with Douglas MacArthur aboard an US Navy battleship in late 1945.
We cannot kill our way to victory in a war versus an ideology, as much as it is geography. Likewise, we cannot go on fighting indefinitely without sustaining wounds to our Republic that are permanent. I’ve been there, seen it up close and bloody. Fighting a war against an ideology is analogous to fighting a war verses dandruff. What is victory? Is it a world where no person has violent political disagreement with the United States government? I’m sure that bombing their uncle’s house or droning a family wedding party will shift perceptions. It’s just that the shift continues in the wrong direction.
I keep wondering off the message. Betrayed. That’s the sense I feel the most viscerally. It’s a feeling that leaks into my personal affairs, like a trigger, or a premonition.
On November 8th the people are going to elect a serial liar to the Presidency. One side will claim the other will finally ruin America, or conversely, make it great again. I truly cannot say who’s correct? What I do think is the candidates we have are a perfect reflection of our collective ignorance and willful resistance to the truth.