Wednesday, September 26, 2012

War Story Wednesday: It's Not so Simple...

For this week's installment of War Story Wednesday, I wanted to elaborate on my previous description of the small-mindedness and naked aggression often present in the military, and to offer a counterpoint to some of the responses I received. The feedback I received regarding the write-up from last week, while thankfully free of any hateful personal attacks against myself, was entirely one-sided and also overly simplified. I would hope that by offering my (few) readers a deeper insight into my own wartime experiences, and by extension the military culture and lifestyle in general, they might be inspired to engage their peers in an informed dialogue. This same hope was one reason why, during my street performances this summer, my guitar case displayed a sign reading: "Iraq War Veteran Musician - ON TOUR - tips greatly appreciated!" The other reasons for the sign were more selfish in nature, namely the possibility that pedestrians who might otherwise pass by would see the sign and instead stop to listen, and perhaps be more willing to leave tips. The sign worked: one listener, who I can only assume was a veteran himself, left me a $12 tip! However a rival busker, already upset that I had arrived early and taken "the best spot in town", saw the sign and seized on it as a point of contention. I had the suspicion that he was just trying to run me off, but he was a Vietnam-era veteran himself, and he hostilely questioned me as to what being a veteran had to do with music. I tried to explain to him that my identity as a veteran is just as important to me and as relevant as the identity of being a musician; many of my songs are specifically inspired by either my own service (such as my love-letter to the stateside base where I spent most of my enlistment), the inspirational service of others ("Folded Flag", an older recording of a song written when my friends were deploying yet again while I was left behind), or the aftermath (the previously mentioned tribute to Dan Lessig). He finally left in disgust, calling me "low" and "shameful". In the moment, shocked by my accuser's bitter recriminations, I forgot to tell him what I have said here - that I aspire to keep the cost of the recent wars in the public consciousness, to keep the dialogue going, and to help people better understand the veterans that they know.

What I am trying to get across with the story of the accosting busker is an illustration of the intent behind these long-winded, emotionally exhausting, and sometimes scathing posts. What I am not trying to do is merely glorify myself, show off, say "look how cool I am and look at all the bad-ass stuff that I did". Honestly, I didn't really do anything 'bad-ass'; I was a truck-driver, and not a very good one. When I told the story of preventing the beatings that my fellows desperately wanted to mete out to civilian detainees, I wasn't trying to put myself above anyone, nor was I fishing for compliments or sympathy. Rather I was trying to present my view of what happened, how I handled it, and how it continues to effect me.

Further, while I did not condone and certainly continue to oppose unnecessary violence, I do understand where the anger was coming from. My deployment was fairly representative, I think, of what the vast majority of our troops experienced during the majority of their deployments. That is, long periods of boredom punctuated by short periods of extremely grueling and physically demanding work, all under the shadow of seemingly unending mortar and rocket attacks and the looming unseen threat of roadside bombs. Of the entire reenforced battalion stationed at our forward base, only a handful of Marines ever even laid eyes on a known insurgent who was actively engaged in hostilities. Rather, mortars land inside the wire, the Quick Reaction Force rolls out to investigate...and find abandoned mortar tubes, if anything. Convoys and combat patrols range the freeways night and day, often without event, sometimes spotting IEDs which Explosive Ordnance Disposal comes out to defuse, and sometimes they miss those IEDs...usually with no enemy to retaliate against. Intelligence operatives spend weeks gathering information and cultivating informants, only for the raid mission to inadvertently search the wrong town.

So...I fully understand the anger and frustration, the ceaseless fear and stress, and the feeling that here they are, we have them...this is the enemy! We've finally got them in our grasp! Only most of the time, it is just not that simple...

Echo-Four-India, out

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