War and Wisdom

Carlo Valle
Nov 3, 2015 · 4 min read

It would be a lie if I were to call myself a writer. Outside of my past college assignments, I have never really successfully completed anything. It is one thing to work on deadlines and a clear set of objectives, subject matter, and grade them to a measurable standard; it is another thing entirely to write on any subject with almost no real limitations nor guidance. This new found sense of freedom conjures up the feeling of aimlessness and chaos one gets upon entering civilian life again from military service. These transitional moments in life invokes a level of self-doubt in one’s decisions. How do we understand the rewards and consequences of our decisions if we do not have any previous lessons to draw upon?

As a veteran and a self-proclaimed student of History (a degree in History does not necessarily make a person a historian), this sense of self-doubt can be terrifying. However, self-doubt can both doom us or it can make us wiser. Today, as a 31-year-old and recently married man, I know that I will never know everything about anything and this was not always the case. Rewind back to March 2003, I was a young Marine radio operator with the First Marine Division. I knew everything: I knew that Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction and that he also had played a role in aiding al-Qaeda carry out the September 11 Attacks but my experience during the invasion of Iraq quickly destroyed my sense of righteousness and truth.

Now, in vivid detail I see and smell the unforgettable: A mental diorama of the tank and its cooked crew-members lying beside it, where an elderly Iraqi man in despair tries to bury them using his own bare hands.

The reality of war had hit me quickly and hard the moment when I was driving by a smoldering Iraqi tank on the outskirts of Baghdad. Now, in vivid detail I see and smell the unforgettable: A mental diorama of the tank and its cooked crew-members lying beside it, where an elderly Iraqi man in despair tries to bury them using his own bare hands. Immediately and since that moment I carried with me the inexplicable feeling of guilt, of having been an accomplice in killing those men; in robbing an entire country of its sons and its future. Over and over again I tried imagining what lives these dead men had lived. Who did they love? Did they hate their job like I did? What would they have done had they just simply chose to desert and go home? What if this war did not ever happen?

As months turned into years I found myself doubling down in my support of the Iraq War but as History played itself out, I could not continue to do so for very long. With every argument I made to my friends and family, the news tended to betray my words and my sense of guilt persisted. After a failed attempt in civilian life, I enlisted for a second time, now in the Army hoping I could somehow make the occupation of Iraq better all by myself but discovering only more disappointment. Making more war was simply not a solution for war and this led me to live another agonizingly long enlistment with two more tours in Iraq before realizing it.

Like Erich Maria Remarque and Fritz Fischer long before me, my writing provided me the means through which I can try to rectify the mistakes of our past and like them, writing turned old brothers-in-arms against me.

Like my fellow vets, I wanted to feel proud of my service, after all I served honorably and never let my comrades down. Yet I was still haunted by the mistake of what I thought I knew and the truth. My new endeavor into a university degree surprisingly proved just the thing I needed. In becoming a student of History, I finally felt the sense of empowerment and consolation, in the context of History I was not alone in my unexplained angst. I learned how to understand the present through analyzing the past. Like Erich Maria Remarque and Fritz Fischer long before me, my writing provided me the means through which I can try to rectify the mistakes of our past and like them, writing turned old brothers-in-arms against me. I draw upon their example for guidance. For me, war is no longer fought on the battlefield but with the pen — with ideas and arguments — and truth. War gave me the questions, History provided the means to answer them.

Today, I write to make the world a better place. I am not by any means a pacifist since war can be described as the natural state of human society. I can live with that. War is an endeavor from which we can never come back and one with grave consequences we cannot always predict (as we have seen with the rise of the Islamic State). This is why we must see war as the very last option and we must be willing to question it and ourselves because wisdom is knowing that one does not know everything, in essence: wisdom is self-doubt.


Honduran-born, Carlo enlisted in the Marines shortly after becoming an American citizen and credits his decision to having read Making the Corps, by Tom Ricks. Carlo deployed in the opening days of OIF as Marine and twice as a US Army Soldier. After 7 1/2 years of service, he left to pursue a degree in History at Concordia University in Montreal and graduated in 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @cvalle0625

Point of Decision

Carlo Valle

Written by

USMC and Army Iraq vet with an eye open to all things foreign policy.

Point of Decision

Foreign Affairs and Defense

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade