This Veteran’s Stance on War

Erasmus, a 14th century Catholic Priest wrote that, “Peace is at once the mother and the nurse of all that is good for man. War, on a sudden and at one stroke, overwhelms, extinguishes and abolishes whatever is cheerful; whatever is happy and beautiful and it pours a torrent of disasters on the life of mortals.”

I am a veteran of the United States Army so what I am about to say may seem contradictory, insincere and downright hypocritical. I assure you that it is the blood that I have spilt and the blood that I have seen on the battlefield that has shaped my views on the following issues. Recently I wrote:

Too Many Years
I fell down into a field of flowers today
I found that the petals of the rose looked more like the rotting limbs of the putrid dead to me
The buds of spring reminded me of hope that would never bloom
Even the fresh green grass took on a hue of despair
I flew from the nest at eighteen with resolve to never come back
I am thirty-four now, and after too many women, too many heartaches and too many years as a soldier I have collapsed back into that nest
My life has rebounded full circle
I am a failure

I am a failure. I often feel that way, but am I truly a failure? At what have I failed? I volunteered for combat, and I am less able to recover from that than I am from what I have seen and done in the course of that combat. I must ask myself whether it is that I fought or that I chose to fight that bothers me so.

D.H. Lawrence wrote that:
“Man perhaps must fight. Mars, the great god of war, will be a god forever. Very well; then if fight you must, fight you shall, and without engines; without machines. Fight, if you like, as the Roman fought; with swords and spears. Or like the Red Indian; with bows and arrows and knives and war paint. But never again shall you fight with the foul, base, fearful, monstrous machines of war which man invented for the last war. You shall not. The diabolic mechanisms are man’s, and I am a man. Therefore they are mine, and I smash them into oblivion. With every means in my power except the means of these machines, I smash them into oblivion. I am at war! I, a man, am at war. I am at war with these foul machines and contrivances that men have conjured up. Men have conjured them up. I, a man, will conjure them down again. Won’t I? But I Will! I am not one man, I am many, I am most.”

My last and final injury in service of this country was on July 4th, 2008. As the second anniversary of that incident approached I wrote:

For you it is red, white and blue; firecrackers, cookouts and American beer. How easy it must be to assume that by saying “God Bless Our Troops” you are patriotic. I have an entirely different view of the 4th of July.

Every boom to me is an IED, every pop a sniper round. If your God was present when my brain was shattered he did not show up to see me through my recovery. You presume that every soldier is a Christian like you.

I was an American soldier. I’ve bled and I’ve killed for this country. I left pieces of myself behind in faraway lands. It was my choice. Do not use me to support your moral propaganda. I am a veteran. I am not your political stage-prop.

Even as those words leave my lips I am astounded by how empty they sound. I have already been a prop, have already been a pawn and have already been a tool. That cool wash of pure reason should have allowed me to conceive of a way not to be, but yet I still find myself to be nothing more than a violent animal. As Voltaire said:

“All animals are perpetually at war; every species is born to devour another. There are none, even sheep or doves, who do not swallow a prodigious number of imperceptible animals. Males of the same species make war for the females, like Menelaus and Paris. Air, earth, and the waters are fields of destruction.

It seems that God, having given reason to men, this reason should teach them not to debase themselves by imitating animals, particularly when nature has given them neither arms to kill their fellow creatures nor instinct which leads them to suck their blood.”

It was reason that led me to volunteer for war. It is reason now that I abhor it. The chapter should be complete. Why then can I not walk away? Why do those actions haunt me still? Just the other day I wrote a poem called I Dream.

I dream
I dream of sand. I found it years after the war; in my socks or pants or boots and it remained with me. My washer is no longer filled with it and my clothes no longer abrade my skin but yet I still dream of sand.

I have ceased to dream of bullets and blood. I dream instead of the glimmer of hope on a weather-beaten face. I dream of strength and courage.

I dream that the strongest, the fearless, the most apt for combat choose not to fight. I dream of the conscientious objector. I dream of that strength.

I dream foolishly. I dream that our differences can be overcome. In life, however, I am repeatedly shown that they cannot. I dream. I dream and hope that tomorrow I do not wake.

We may delude ourselves to think that we are not the ones who choose to go to war. We may believe that the decision for war lies solely on the shoulders of those we vote into office. We further delude ourselves to think that those whom we elect into office have a reason for war that we may not be privy to. I say, however, that we do send our men and women into battle. We do decide the course of their lives and, ultimately, their injuries and deaths. We decide this by our decisions not to act. When we choose to be silent we say so much more than when our assenting voices are drowned out in the capitulation of the multitude. Our lack of dissent is louder than the voices that acquiesce to the terms of declaring war. Our silence is, in effect, a declaration of war.

Erasmus also said that: 
“At the conclusion of war, it commonly happens that both sides, the victorious and the vanquished, have cause to deplore. I know not whether any war ever succeeded so fortunately in all its events but that the conqueror, if he had a heart to feel or an understanding to judge, as he ought to do, repented that he ever engaged in it at all.

If there is in the affairs of mortal men any one thing which it is proper uniformly to explode, and incumbent on every man by every lawful means to avoid, to deprecate, to oppose, that one thing is doubtless WAR.”