Monday, April 28, 2008

The letter...

Three days ago I printed off a nine page letter and mailed it to an Army APO address. It was addressed to the son of a good friend. He is currently in Kuwait I believe, his final destination may be Iraq or Afghanistan.

It took me three months to write it, and despite endless revisions and re-writes it still didn't come out very well. Why did I write it? There are several reasons. I know that soldiers don't ever get enough mail. I know that email is available, but emails are rarely written with the same care of real letters and they have none of the permanency. A real letter means you took a little more time and effort to put down your thoughts.

Where many have no doubt sent him well-wishes and hope for a safe deployment I took a more practical approach. I outlined to him exactly why I felt we were in a wrongful conflict, why our presence in Iraq is not helping the cause of peace and what might happen when we remove ourselves from that area. It is, aside from a few bits of practical advice, a lengthy screed on why I feel his is in for a rough time and why he should not be there at all.

I am sure his parents spoke with him about this. I am sure they pointed out the risks and dangers of entering the service at this time. They are no Bush lovers. And yet he joined anyway. I truly wish I had been given the opportunity to speak with him while he was deciding whether to join or not. I don;t know if I could have changed his mind. I don't know his motivations. All I know if that this is a kid I used to see running around camp at Pennsic. We'd send him off on ice runs. He has always been, in my mind, a kid. And now he is an adult. He is in the Army, and he is now a small cog in the machine of war. The reality of that struck me so hard that I tried to blurt out all the things that I would have if I had been given the chance, even though its too late now.

While I respect the profession of citizen-soldier and know that it is a necessity, I can't just shut up and throw a yellow ribbon magnet on the back of my car. While the security of this country often depends on young Americans answering the call to arms THIS call was a wrong fucking number.

Why did I write this letter? Even after agonizing over it and finally sending it, I still cannot say. What am I hoping he will do with the ideas, opinions and flat out rants contained within its pages? I don't know. Part of me hopes that he will undergo some kind of epiphany, that he will find some way to get out without dishonor.

Why did I write this letter? I guess it was for the most selfish of reasons. Because I just do not know what I would do if I had to go to a funeral and see him in a casket. How could I possibly handle seeing his parents weaping over his grave? The simple answer is that I couldn't. When the concept rears it ugly head rational thought seems to evaporate. There is an anger, a rage. Who is to blame? Who is responsible? Why did this kid die when those who never served, and who's kids will never serve get to live out their comfy lives? I find myself with a headache, clenching my jaw. I have to take deep breath and go for a short walk to put such thought out of my mind.

I don't know how he'll take this letter. It might annoy or piss him off. It wasn't my intent to offend or insult him, only to make him think. Benjamin Frankin said that "Thinking is one of the most difficult things a man can do, which is why so few engage in it". Will I get a reply? I doubt it. He is from an age of emails, instant and text messages. But one can hope.


Ed Dale said...

My only hope is that the letter is read with an open mind. You have been known to start things with a provocative statement, then follow up with more reasoned discussion. This tends to close peoples minds right from the get go.

Anonymous said...

I haven't given this reply 3 months of thought so just bear with me. If I am unclear on something or insult you that isn't my intention.

You're right. It is a wrong number.
But your friend's son answered it anyway. His reasons are not for us to question. He felt the need to enlist and so he did. While I think it's great that you expressed so many things to him I also think that isn't what he needs right now.

He needs our support. I never went to war but I served and saw action. I've served on the Honor Guard of men I served with and saluted as they were lowered into the ground. Trust me, I know it's not easy.

I don't know if I could have enlisted in a time like this, with this senseless war(Does any war really make sense?) But I have friends over there. Not all have come back.

It is likely that your letter will make him think. You do have a way for better or worse of making people think. But although I don't know him, I know the type and he'll do his duty. Anything else will lack honor and that will be repugnant to him.

I'm sorry Steve, that this has happened to you, to him, to all of us. But I do think you'll get a reply. Just remember to read it with an open mind.

Anonymous said...

As a 12 year Army veteran, and now as a 4 year AF civil servant, I am tempted to write you a letter myself...

I loved the Army, not because of what it was or what it represented, but because of the amazing and wonderful people I had the honor to share a slice of life with, if only for a little while. Unless you've served, I don't think that words can convey the sense of family, the sense of commitment toward people that become closer to you than your own family, a bond that I think is unique to the kinds of stress a military environment creates. It is the kind of bond that lasts forever.

I am not a fan of war. Nor, ironically, am I a fan of government. In my own private world, I secretly hope the front page will carry a headline that speaks of spontaneous peace breaking out, hugs and love everywhere, with people everywhere being decent to each other.

You would be surprised how much good people can do in the world, despite being associated with an organization designed for war. Trust me, you WANT the good guys enlisting, the people with kind hearts and clear minds--they're the ones that change the world for the better...

I suppose we all find our own roles in life to play. I like to think that we are all moving toward a more peaceful way of life over time, regardless of profession or circumstance.

To your friend--thank you, and may you come home quickly and safely, we miss you!

It is his choice to make, not yours. And I don't agree with you pushing your views on him uninvited, especially given the environment he is in, but that is your choice to make. Freedom is a beautiful thing.


Anonymous said...

Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but perhaps a little more sensitivity should have been shown to this brave young man who is in a strange country, away from all family and friends, doing what he obviously thinks is the right thing. What he needs right now is support, not politics.
Vlad's Mom

Steve said...

There are some very good points brought up by people so far, some of them might be answered by posting the actual letter I sent. I am debating doing just that. While it was addressed to him, it contains the thoughts and opinions that I would give to almost any young man going off to fight during this conflict.

We Do need the 'good guys' to serve their country. I want smart and motivated young men and women to learn and grow from their service. But fewer people are joining the service now. They love their country, but they also no longer believe the lies that have been foisted on them. To make up for these shortfalls were are granting waivers to kids with criminal records (including felonies), gang members, kids who normally wouldn't pass the IQ test. The military is desperate for bodies to feed this machine. Some of these kids will learn from their service. They will get job skills and a sense of camaraderie. Most, I fear, won't.

They will go off to a hellhole where they will learn to view all Arabs as lazy, corrupt, crazy, cowardly or worse. "Hadji' is the new 'gook'. They will have to work with a National army that does not fight its own. They will be sniped at, attacked with mortars and IED's. And when they get home they will be subjected to the brutal inefficiency of the Veterans Affairs system.

I don't know what his motivations were and I truly wish I did. But no matter what they are I felt I owed him an honest and straightforward opinion. In the end I thought that might do more good than a yellow ribbon magnet. Nothing would make me happier than to be completely and totally wrong about everything in that letter.

Anonymous said...

I think you were right to send the letter. He must approach his journey, and his eventual return, with open eyes. Wearing blinders of denial about the nature of the situation will only set him up for a rude awakening at some later date. Shielding him from alternate views only makes you a participant in that eventuality.

To serve, and be told afterward that the gist of your service is met with general disapproval is to be betrayed. To serve, knowing the truth be it comforting or not, is to serve with the highest of honor. To do your best, without expecting universal gratitude, is the highest measure of mankind.

It is my hope, that he takes your words into consideration, and follows the higher path within himself.

Anonymous said...

Hello all: I believe I know who this young man is. And my hat is off to him to serve and my heart is with his parents although our relationship is strained as of the last few years. He is a good kid, young man, personal aquaintance so many feelings here for and of him. I like him. No your letter will not damage him. The experience there hopefully will not damage him either. You know my oldest step son Chris. Joined the PA national guard and they up and activated him and over to Iraq he went for a year. Yes it changed him. No he was not wounded. He has been back now a year and guess what? They are sending him back over there again this Sept. I hope and pray that he will be safe as well. Perhaps they can get together over there..if only briefly. It is war, not Pennsic war but the real thing. I honor those that do serve now. I would suggest that you can email him as time allows but also write real letters telling him all the mundane crazy stuff you do..all of us. It will keep him knowing just why he is there and what he helps keep alive here at home. I dont have anyway of contacting him myself but I will find a way. He is a great kid/man, son to great parents. I will light a candle for him and one for Chris when he leaves Blessing to the family as well.