This recurring nightmare
We need to rethink our deployments and the purposes for which we send out our troops to risk their lives. We need to rethink what we ask them to die for.
I’d hate to awaken one night and find that this recurring nightmare, with its promise of death and destruction, had come true, as it has already for far too many Americans.
By Stacey Warde
I have this recurring nightmare. It’s come and gone for years, since getting out of the Army in 1979.
It’s nothing like what vets of the Iraq war must experience in their many dark nights, but still, it’s annoying, if not frightening.
The dream usually goes like this: I’m years past my date of departure from military service. Yet, there I am, wearing a uniform, quite older than most of the younger troops, and beginning to wonder: “What the hell am I doing here?”
A buzz of activity stirs in the barracks. Soldiers retrieve their weapons, gather their combat gear and pack their belongings. Officers enclose themselves in their offices, the senior noncoms and first sergeant bark instructions, and occasionally top disappears into the company commander’s office for updates on the status of our mobilization.
“Sir, first platoon’s packed and ready to go. Weapons platoon’s still short a mortar. Full gear formation at 0330, sir.”
At the nearby airfield, the planes warm their engines, waiting for the troops to arrive, loaded down with weapons, ammo, radios and enough face camouflage to hide a football field.
I never saw action, but experienced plenty of mobilizations in the Army’s determined attempts at readiness. Trips to Europe, Panama, and Canada kept us alerted and edgy enough to take on all aggressors—Idi Amin, Ayatolla Khomenei and the soon-to-be-extinct Soviet Threat. Like any well-trained troop, I was always ready, if not eager, for action.
The buzz in my nightmare goes on, word spreads that we’re mobilizing for Iraq. Images of fanatic jihadists jumping out of the shadows passes through my mind—murderous, suicidal bastards with no regard for life shooting at me from every direction. They’re trying to kill me; and I’m just as eager to kill them.
Frankly, I’d rather not kill anyone. I’d rather not fight the jihadists. I search for top to tell him I should have processed out of the unit years ago. I don’t know why I didn’t leave here way back then, but now’s as good a time as any. He’ll understand, I reason, if I just take my orders and go home.
But in this most recent dream, two childhood friends, twin brothers I’ve known for nearly 40 years, solid men who love their mother and support their families, are gearing up for war too. We’re in the same unit. I look at them and realize that I can’t bail now. I have to go with them.
It’s silly and sentimental, except for the fact that when I awakened, my nightmare was still with me. My two childhood friends really are gearing up for war.
The brothers have orders to ship out for their third and fourth tours. Both have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I fear for their lives. But there’s nothing I can do for them.
Except, maybe, pray. And trust that because they are the best soldiers this country could ever hope for, they’ll find their way back home, unharmed. Yet, I know life doesn’t work that way. The best don’t always come back home.
George Carlin recently told an audience that he couldn’t feel sorry for someone who was dumb enough to sign up for military service while the United States was engaged in one of the most corrupt and misguided wars ever to be waged.
Oddly, when I first heard him say it, I laughed and agreed with him. How could anyone be so dumb to think this was the right war? That Iraq had anything to do with terrorism? That George W. Bush was a worthy commander-in-chief?
And then there’s my friend with three healthy, virile young sons, two old enough to become soldiers, who argues, “They can take my sons over my dead body…. War is a racket.”
He’s also right. Except for one thing.
The jihadists really do want to kill us. They hate us enough to wrap themselves in explosives and drive bomb-laden vehicles into our paths. And leaving them alone to kill themselves off in Iraq won’t put an end to their desire and determination to kill us. Too many Americans—sadly, liberals seem to be the majority here—fail to realize this.
So, while I agree with Carlin that stupidity got and keeps us in Iraq, and with my friend about rackets and war profiteering, it’s right that we maintain our readiness to defend ourselves—and to help others.
My friend with the three sons says he can take care of himself. He doesn’t need the government to protect him. I feel the same way. I don’t want the government placing children or my friends in harm’s way on my account. I’d rather take care of myself than have my childhood friends returning to the battlefield for another tour.
Our government fails to understand that our needs for survival, and the security of our future, are greater here at home than they are in adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We can maintain our readiness to defend against our enemies while pouring more of our national treasury into building our neighborhoods instead of wasting it on no-bid contracts with questionable bidders.
It’s been suggested, to the scorn of “realists,” that an army would be more effective and welcomed if it took pains to prevent war by building rather than destroying communities.
My friends, as much as they love their country and their jobs as soldiers, I know, would much rather create community than keep it at bay at the point of a rifle or cannon. We need to rethink our deployments and the purposes for which we send out our troops to risk their lives. We need to rethink what we ask them to die for. I’d hate to awaken one night and find that this recurring nightmare, with its promise of death and destruction, had come true, as it has already for far too many Americans. §
Stacey Warde served three years in the U.S. Army, and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger unit at Ft. Lewis, Wash. He is editor of the monthly literary journal, The Rogue Voice.