Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some Other Time

*Retold with permission.

When I flew home for R&R [mid-deployment “Rest & Relaxation”], I had a layover in a stateside airport for a few hours, so I settled down inside the terminal, put in some headphones, and tried to unwind a bit. I was eager to get home and get my mind off of Iraq for a couple weeks.

No sooner had I found a good spot and kicked up my feet when a guy and girl approach and start asking me questions – obvious questions.

“Are you in the military?” I was wearing my uniform, so yes, obviously. I politely respond that I am.

What followed next was a barrage of questions about what was “war life” like. What’s it like to be in Iraq? What’s it like to be hit by an IED? What’s it like to arrest or shoot somebody? Have you ever been shot at? And then, without waiting for an answer, they launch into a tag team of, “…because this is what I heard in the news...” In other words, they didn’t want to hear my opinion, they wanted to tell me theirs – based on a new reports which, in my opinion, very poorly depict the conflict over here. Nobody ever has a “boots on the ground” perspective, and few seem to be interested in hearing it either.

I always try to politely answer these questions, since I know many of them are asked out of genuine curiosity, but the reality is that I don’t want to talk about it. R&R, after all, is my time to get AWAY from Iraq and relax – not dwell on where I was and what I think of it.

To worsen matters, these two weren’t the only ones who approached me. It happened repeatedly while I was in the airport, and other airports, too. The audience was often college-aged people, but by no means limited to them only. As for me, all I wanted to do was not think about it, but people kept bringing me back to it, and sharing their uninformed opinions on it.

Here’s a thought: if a guy in the states loses his dog, people will carefully avoid the subject out of respect. Same if somebody loses a relative. They’re considerate of it. Why, then cannot people do the same thing for us?

The most frustrating are the college kids that have taken one course in political science or military history and now consider themselves experts. They are extremely arrogant, often condescending, and attempt to talk down on me or AT me, giving the impression that they know what I’m seeing out there, and are fully versed in international diplomacy and current events. Few, if any, talk WITH me.

The reality is this: few of these people really want to hear what I have to say about it. They’re far more concerned with telling me what THEY think of it – under the very weak guise of approaching to ask my thoughts on the subject. Usually, their opinions are very negative, too, and the product of being fed (or deliberately pursuing) misinformation.

Only once did I hear something positive and polite; when an older man wearing a USMC had with some medals came up, shook my hand, and said, “I know you’re on vacation, but I wanted to say thank you.” And then he kept walking. He knew I didn’t want to talk about it, but wanted to express solidarity all the same – without trying to initiate an unwanted conversation. War, he knew, had unpleasant factors, and neither of us really wished to talk about them.

Out of respect to these people, and out of respect to the military and my uniform, I always answer as patiently and politely as I can. Usually, though, there’s a point when it’s easier to just tell them I don’t want to talk about it, as dismissive as it sounds. I’m really on the verge of blowing up, but I refrain. But, every now and then I just get weary of listening to them and make up a horror story (completely fake), to convey that I don’t want to talk about it. It’s only when they’re disturbed that they get the message. I really don’t want to talk about it. I often find myself just trying to run away from them. And run to get out of uniform to hide from the public as a whole.

When I tell them that I’m actually on “stop-loss,” they immediately want to talk about the movie “Stop Loss,” which is a terrible representation of the military and an enormous deviation from fact. No, we’re not all nuts. No, the feds do not send black helicopters after guys who go AWOL. And no, we are not all trying to sleep with our best friend’s girlfriend. In fact, not all of us are unhappy to be here. It’s part of the contract, so if we don’t know about it, it’s our own fault for not reading the details of the paperwork. I volunteered to serve, and this is what they’re asking of me. So, I’ll do it, and I’ll do my best at it. Eventually I’ll get out and move on to other things. There’s nothing to be gained in complaining about it.

I’m often torn when people approach me. Part of me really has no interest in talking about what’s going on, because it’s not the sort of thing you simply discuss with strangers, or even friends and family. Part of me wishes they’d stop talking to me. Another part of me wants to correct all their misassumptions about Iraq and combat. But ALL of me wants some peace and quiet. We wouldn’t have R&R in the Army unless we needed to unwind and get some rest. When I’m trying to get home, that’s what I want to think about – not continue dwelling on my time in Iraq. R&R means “rest and relaxation,” not “go home and listen to the public tell me what they think about Iraq.” When I want to talk about it, I will. Some other time.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

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