Living Out Loud

War and Peace


I don't know how much the average American thinks about war. In the 21st century, our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged out so long and the news from the war zone was so repetitive that it was seldom at the forefront of any outlet's reporting. The names of some remote provinces may have become familiar due to repetition, but military specifics were vague to most folks and uninteresting as well. 

We really don't talk too much about the hidden cost of war. The trillions of dollars we wasted go unmentioned while people moan and complain about social spending. It's the American way to buy everyone their own cruise missile while screaming about the cost of school lunches for poor kids.

It's not only money. Our daughter is married to a wonderful guy who just happened to have been in a US Marine HUM-V that was blown to pieces by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. His clothes hide most of his physical scars from the blast and the multiple surgeries that followed. He can't really stay on his feet that long and he prefers not to talk about his PTSD. He is 100% disabled and will be for life.

Another of our daughters works for the VA and spends her day helping disabled young vets (and some older ones) through physical therapy. Her first husband died of an overdose after coming back from Iraq. Her second husband also spent 15 months in combat and is pretty bitter about it. He came back to the war from being on leave to find out that his best friend was killed while he was gone. It's the only war story he tells. It's enough.

Two of my other children were in the military. My son left for basic training two months before 9/11 and during his time in the Navy faced discipline for giving an interview to the Associated Press calling bullshit on Bush's phony pretense for sending thousands of Americans to their deaths. My daughter thankfully went in and did her time and got out before being called to go overseas. 

My youngest brother spent time in both Afghanistan and Iraq and while he's pretty proud of his service as a medical provider (He is a PA), he knows that he spent years in a war zone while his kids and wife worried about him at home. He knows there are side effects from that.

I know it too. My dad spent two full years in Vietnam when I was a kid. My wife knows it because her dad did the same thing. Our fathers are so different in their feelings about the experience. My Dad brings it into conversation and has been back to Southeast Asia twice as a civilian. He doesn't talk about being wounded or his helicopter being shot down. It's a lot of anger at the brass and stories about the guys in his platoon. Her Dad never talks about any of it. He doesn't talk about the Army at all even though he retired from it. 

My own service in the Army and National Guard happened during the cold war and I never came close to combat. There were plenty of guys from Vietnam still around though as senior NCOs and officers. In those days I didn't think about foreign policy or whether we belonged in Central America. I just thought about our training schedule and how much time I would have to spend away from home. And beer. I thought about beer a lot. 

In many areas of the US, I guess, people's lives aren't as intimately tied into the war machine as ours seems to have been. Even here there are plenty of people whose only connection to the military is going to Ft. Liberty on July 4th to watch fireworks. I don't know. I just like to issue a reminder from time to time that all of the stuff our country has done was done by living breathing people who went to war and came back and are still here among us, sometimes a little different, sometimes a lot. Some will be paying the price forever and for some it's just something they went through and moved on.