Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Lies They Tell

*Retold with permission.

I’ve walked into internet and phone centers repeatedly and been amazed with the lies I hear floating around the room. Guys on the phones talking about how dangerous it is over here and how many terrifying missions they’ve run. Firefights that never actually happened. Exaggerating brief incidents into epic battles that were really little more than a few potshots, if even that. Little of it, though, actually took place.

I’ve sat down at the computers and seen similar things, too. I remember one instance when the previous user forgot to close out his chat program and I read the last thing he wrote: “I don’t see how you can dump me out here. I could die at any minute in a war, and you’re trying to leave me.” Right. It’s really not that bad out here.

Even as a Marine grunt, I haven’t done a whole lot on this tour. And even if you factor in the other two tours, I haven’t seen much. When we first got out here, I did a couple months of patrols out west – without incident – and I’ve spent the rest of my time on a big base police calling trash. That’s it. No glorious combat, no huge firefights, and thankfully, no IEDs either. Even when we were rocketed early on, it was so inaccurate that it was a joke. Basically, it’s pretty slow out here. Yes, I’m sure some guys have had it tougher, been through more and lost more, but for the most part, it’s quiet in Iraq right now. And NOTHING like it was in 2004 or maybe even as late as 2007.

I really don’t know why these guys feel the need to lie. Maybe they need to play the “danger” or “sympathy” card to get laid. You see it fairly often, especially in bars back in the states. Either way, I don’t have the need to do that. I think it’s smarter to be honest. Between one tour over here, one in Afghanistan, and then another one here, I haven’t been through much. Other know guys have, but I’ve been lucky. It’s been quiet.

Not too long ago, our battalion chaplain pointed out that it’s more dangerous for us outside Camp Lejeune on a Friday night (from drunk drivers) than it is out here. Considering the statistics with all the drunk driving incidents, and the number of traffic fatalities we have around base in the states, I’d say that this is accurate. Yes, it’s still Iraq and there’s obviously some risk, but it’s not as high as some of these guys are making it out to be. I just can’t believe that they’d do that to their families. They’re already worried sick about us. I’d think you’d want to reduce that; not worsen it.

Slow is nice. Yes, it’s boring out here. Without a doubt. Nor am I very excited that I’ve spent almost five months police calling and picking up trash. It gets old. But, I’ve had plenty of time to work out, plenty of time to e-mail and call home (and NOT lie), and in a matter of weeks I’ll be home and out of the Marine Corps.

This is good because my mom doesn’t have to worry. Nobody in my family does. I may be separated from them, but I’m not in any imminent danger. I have worse odds in the slums of a few US cities. And it’s the same for almost everybody else, despite what they’re telling their families. Relax; it’s not that bad out here. And no, we’re not going to come back all screwed up.

Thankfully, the guys who lie about all this are actually the exception to the rule. At worst, maybe 20% are doing it. I guess they think they need to make up combat stories to earn respect from people. Which is more interesting to say: “yeah, I didn’t do a whole lot or see much. I mostly spent my time working out and missing home,” or “man, we hit IEDs all the time and got into firefights at least every week.” The latter might sound better, but the truth is better in the long term. You’re not living a lie. How many firefights do you have to be in to feel like you’ve accomplished something, anyway? One? Ten? One hundred?

My biggest problem right now is actually probably caused – at least in part – by the 20% who tell “combat” lies. Between all the horror stories that these guys are telling, and the fact that I’ve done three tours, my girlfriend’s mom is totally convinced that I’m going to be criminally insane when I get back. She’s thinks I’m a single trigger away from snapping and losing my mind. Obviously, it’s not true, though. I keep trying to convince her that I’m fine. She needs to know I’m not nuts, because she’s going to be my mother-in-law quite soon. I’m a Marine veteran, not the combat-crazed lunatic that some of these guys are making us out to be. Iraq has been far worse than it is now. People need to know that, and stop worrying. And other people need to stop lying about it.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. Bravo! Each generation thinks it has invented war. Because of movies, and books on the subject, there is a hype which has to be there to satisfy a public which twitters...doesn't read, and has the attention span of a chimpanzee.

    War has always been months of boredom, waiting and training, and seconds, hours, or days and maybe even months of skirmishes, or fighting. I read a statistic which says 70% of all infantrymen in WWII never fired their weapon in combat.

    Having said all that, does not diminish the bravery or service of each one of those guys now in harms way.

    You really don't need to embellish it. The service is enough. Come home safe and resume life.