*Retold with permission.
I remember Christmas of 2003 when it seemed like half the commercials on TV said something about supporting the troops during the holiday season. The next year after that you still saw them, but not as many as before. Now, though, you don’t see any. People have forgotten. It’s not news anymore over here. Nothing that happens in Iraq impacts them.
My great grandmother tells me stories about how she and all her girlfriends would use a marker to draw a black line up the back of their legs to simulate wearing silk stockings. They didn’t have any, and neither did anybody else. In her day, all the silk was going to make parachutes. I’ve seen photos of Boy Scout troops walking down the streets in columns pulling old Radio Flyer wagons full of scrap metal. The war, the rations, the recycling, the sacrifice, the victory gardens; it was a national effort. In those days, they cared what happened in the war. Maybe it was because so many of them had fathers, husbands or sons overseas. Now, though, the numbers are much lower.
I think people don’t care because they have no vested interest in what happens out here. Hardly anybody has a loved one serving anymore. Only those that do actually give a damn about Iraq. To everybody else, the war, which was once a headline news item is now lucky to be a byline – if that. It’s not America’s war; it’s the troops’ war. To the public, the casualties are just numbers, not sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and wives who were killed in service to their country. More than four thousand times now parents have buried their sons or daughters. No doubt it’s the most terrible grief they’ve ever experienced. The war only concerns those fighting it and their families back home. The numbers are too low for the public to care. But, forgetting is human nature.
I know people forget, and I’m sure I’ll forget, too. But more than just disinterest towards us, there seems to be hostility. People hate the war so they take it out on the Soldiers. They think that I chose to be here. The fact is, I didn’t want to come. God knows I’m not doing this for any sort of self improvement. Iraq sucks, it’s dangerous, and we’re only here because our country sent us. We’re doing this for somebody else; not ourselves.
When they hand a flag to the family of the bereaved, they always say something like, “On behalf of a grateful nation…” They should update that, though. “On behalf of an ungrateful nation…” That’s how most of us feel the public views us.
I have a friend who stopped at a gas station only to get heckled by the owner. “Don’t come around here anymore,“ he told my friend. Whatever happened to respecting somebody who did something honorable? Most people don’t have the boldness to serve, but they don’t even care that we did.
And what about the people who protest the military funerals? When I heard about what they do, I experienced more contempt than I do for even the enemy. How can they justify depriving the loved ones of at least an honorable burial? That man or women died to preserve their right to protest. Just because you have the freedom to do something doesn’t make it necessarily right to do it. If I run into any of those people, I’m probably going to go to jail for what I do to them.
It’s hard to put to words. It’s emotional. It’s anger, disappointment. I’m more sad about it than anything else. Here some young man or woman’s last memory is of being far from home, lonely, stuck in a sandbox, then their lives are taken from them. And back home people are more concerned about politics and foreign policy than the fact that another US family is devastated with grief. From what I can see, people are divided between hatred of the military or total lack of interest.
Even my old friends don’t really care. Every now and then they’ll check to make sure I’m okay, but then they go right back to their XBox games – mostly war games, oddly enough. Everybody wants the thrill of a war game, but few want the sacrifice of war. To most of them, nothing is worth fighting or sacrificing for.
I’ve wondered for quite some time why people are so unwilling to do something besides watch out for number one. I’m afraid that even if the country was in a state of crisis that most still wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice or fight. They’re too busy entertaining themselves. They forget that somewhere on this planet, maybe here or elsewhere, there is an “Ali Baba” trying to get his hands on a nuke to blow it up on Americans. It’s a credible threat, and it’s not going away, either.
I know the country is changing; it’s inevitable. We’re not going to see a culture of honor, discipline or patriotism like we did in World War II. Those men are mostly gone now. But what about simply caring about the course of our country? Most don’t, and I have no idea why. I also don’t know why they seem to hate the few of us who do choose to serve. For a society of people who seem to care for nothing but themselves, they sure do invest a lot of energy in hating us.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved