I am proud that I volunteered and trained as a warrior, fully willing to give my life for my community and my country. I am sad to say, however, that I was part of yet another generation led astray by a government more than willing to take advantage of the selflessness of its young men and women. I was raised on a steady diet of blind faith and allegiance to government disguised as love for country and community. I was raised with an unquestioning patriotism that led me to believe that I lived in the greatest country on the planet and that my Uncle Sam had only the best interests of all the planets inhabitants in mind.
I was a senior in high school on September 11th, 2001 but that did not prompt me to enlist. Money for college did not prompt me to enlist. Wanting to see the world did not prompt me to enlist. From a young age, inspired by nearly all of the men in my family before me who had been in every war since they began emigrating to America in the 1800’s, I felt that it was my duty as an American to serve my fellow Americans, and as a human being to serve my fellow human beings.
If there were terrorists attacking New York, I wanted to stop them or die trying .If there was genocide somewhere on the planet, I wanted to stop it or die trying. I wanted to do my part to help make my community, my country, and the world a safer and better place. If I had been freeing people from oppression, stopping the spread of terrorism, stopping ethnic cleansing, stopping child labor, stopping sex-trafficking, if I had been stopping violence and hatred, I would still be proudly wearing a uniform.
I have spent a decade trying to find reasons to be proud of any of the things I did in Iraq. After all this time, after countless sleepless nights and far too much alcohol, and tobacco, and prescription medication, and anger, and hatred, and resentment, and frustration, and regret, all I can honestly say that I am proud of is the fact that, while looking into the eyes of the Iraqis, both the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys, I came to see my brother and sister, my mother and father, my cousins, aunts and uncles, I came to see the humanity that is there in each and every human being. It sickens me how much dehumanization continues every single day in this country, not just dehumanizing folks in the middle east, half a world away, but also countless people right here in America. From the black men being gunned down every day by police, to the revival of westward expansion as native americans are being trampled by police and national guardsmen, things need to change.
As long as there are trillions of dollars to be made, nearly all human beings will be considered expendable, their deaths written off as collateral damage. Whether locked away in private, for-profit prisons for mostly non-violent, victimless crimes, or living in the wrong village at the wrong time as bombs rain down from the heavens, excuses abound. Whether we ‘accidentally’ hit a hospital, a school, a wedding, or a funeral, it is all well and good since we certainly didn’t mean any harm. That is what we tell ourselves. We didn’t mean any harm, and the people we accidentally killed weren’t American. They probably had it coming.
The problem is that, so long as we consider the death of even one human being ‘collateral damage’ we’re hardly better than the very terrorists we claim to be fighting and killing with US tax dollars, the very terrorists who became Frankenstein’s monster after generations of misspent US tax dollars, and misguided US foreign policy. Greed, imperialism, and the violence it requires has brought us further and further down this road that we have long been on, this road from which we might never return.
Collateral damage is a cold, heartless way to refer to the killing of human beings. Until the media actually does its job and holds the government accountable instead of acting as cheerleaders, as long as black and brown people in America are easily written off as statistics as they are killed by both the police, and the violence and health problems that accompany extreme poverty, as long as refugees drown on their journey from what is essentially hell in places like Haiti, and are written off as ‘statistics’, as long as people fleeing violence die of dehydration and starvation on their way to what they dream will be safety and are criminalized upon arrival, as long as people struggle to put healthy food on the table, and live with inadequate healthcare, or none at all, as long as innocent, defenseless people are killed by taxpayer-funded weapons in Baghdad, and in Boston, and there is no question that it will go on and on and on, regardless or which of the two political parties are elected, as long as schools are forced to cut music and art programs while JROTC remains, as long as we remain delusional and tell ourselves that violence will solve the very problems that we created with violence in the first place, as long as we keep pretending that we are bringing democracy to the world and that Jesus himself would support this latest invasion, or any invasion for that matter, as long as we pretend that hatred and violence and terror beget anything other than more and more and more hatred and violence and terror, as long as we pretend that Martin Luther King’s dream came true, as long as we pretend it makes a difference which emperor we elect to wear the cloak of Caesar and carry out the mission of the empire, as long as we pretend that we care about veterans as we step over them on the nations sidewalks all but one day out of the year, as long as we blindly pledge allegiance and pay our taxes and wave our flags, we should stop pretending that Jesus would support us in our endevors, stop pretending that God would be on our side, and we should stop pretending that we have the moral high ground.
To the young people considering enlisting in the military, please keep in mind that A.) there are other options. Work-trade programs such as workaway and wwoofing allow you to travel the world without having to sign any contract, and more importantly, without having to kill people. B.) No matter which country you’re sent to invade and occupy, it’s residents are human beings no different than tour mothers and fathers, your sisters and brothers, your family, friends, and neighbors. When we kill them, it is not ‘collateral damage’, it’s real human beings who die. The politicians aren’t the ones who have to pull the trigger. Their children aren’t the ones being moved around the globe like pawns on the chess board. The people who profit from the wars and the people who choose the wars, aren’t the sending their children to die in them. Sadly, the wars the government has dragged us into have in no way helped our country or communities, rather, they are doing the opposite.