Saturday, February 27, 2010

Policy vs. Reality

One of my clients yesterday was a soldier just back from Afghanistan. He is a beautiful, wonderful person, loving father, dedicated husband and a real warrior in the best sense of the word. He isn't just a foot soldier but isn't a general either, somewhere inbetween. His rank means he "sees action" as they say, but isn't always out there shooting at other people.

He didn't say a lot about what happened, but what I was able to surmise from what he did say stopped me dead in my tracks, derailed me from my customary world view. For instance, he told me he had pulled a muscle during what he called a "hard helicoptor landing," (one that broke the landing gear off the helicoptor, can you imagine?) He said his back still hurts because "the body armour weighs eighty pounds," so even riding around in a jeep is painful. He wasn't bragging. What he told me helped me figure out what to do once he got on the table.

I asked him if he had culture shock, my euphemism for PTSS. He said yes, when cars stop suddenly at stop signs, he reacts since that's the way suicide bombers drive. Loud noises make him jump. He isn't sleeping well. He hasn't been back all that long, so he's still adjusting. It must really be a bitch trying to act "normal" in the wake of what he has just been through.

What stopped me dead in my dogmatic tracks was his attitude about being deployed and his sense of what's happening in Afghanistan. He didn't say much, but he did say, so gently, that he believes in what he was doing there. I am an extreme pacifist, against all wars because I believe all violence begets more violence. In the case of Afghanistan, I think we have no business being there, that it's an effort in futility, that we should get out asap.

Yesterday I was confronted by someone who has actually been there - three times! - someone with firsthand experience of the situation, someone who has lost friends and colleagues. Listening to him, really listening, as well as working with him on the table, opened my mind and heart. It was so powerful.

I hold fast to my lofty ideals, all high and mighty in the sweet comfort of my luxurious American lifestyle. It's so good for me to come face to face with someone who has experienced the reality of what is, to me, policy I disagree with. That soldier made me think hard, question everything I hold dear. It's good to think, it's always good to question, to wonder. You can't imagine how grateful I am to have had this encounter.

All I can say is wow.


Minka said...

Nobody should have to experience that. Nobody.

ellen abbott said...

Not to undermine this wonderful man but I wonder how much of their belief in what they are doing stems from coping mechanisms. Wouldn't they have to believe in the goodness of what they were doing to be able to survive?

If someone attacks me, my family and my home I don't think I would hesitate to use violence to protect myself and them. I don't, however, believe in taking the offensive to another country to 'protect' my home. Especially when the object of the invasion is no longer there.

The full tragedy of these young men's and women's lives won't become fully apparent for at least 25 or 30 years when the parents/caretakers of the multiply maimed have died, when the government and veteran's administration has abandoned them, when they cannot get jobs, find spouses, when the bravado of surviving has given way to the misery of having lost not just a leg/s or an arm or an eye but all three. What an extreme price to pay for no end result.

Reya Mellicker said...

All I'm saying is that I have ideas about war and being a soldier, but I have not experienced anything even close to what this guy has been through, so in a sense it's all metaphor to me. I doubt seriously that I will change my position on the policy of war, but he opened my mind to the possibility I might not be seeing the whole picture. Incredible experience! Wow.

Minka said...

I understand both your positions and as I see it, all three of us are not so far apart when it comes to beliefs related to war. None of us wold send those young men - sons and fathers so far away to experience THAT! And I don't think any of us believes that anyone has the right to do so...

What he belives, in my opinion, you have to respect. But you don't have to agree with it.

Tom said...

i'm with you. I'm pretty sure the only reason we have wars is to keep people employed making weapons, and making certain people rich in the process.
Would that money be just as well spent making smarter kids, making teachers wealthier, and promoting friendship with our neighbors? I won't even start in with health care, because that's a lost cause.

Linda Sue said...

We are in such deep do-do, none of it makes sense and trying to justify it just adds to the big lie. Which does not mean that we show less compassion to the youngsters that have chosen to do that thing- it's a job- a very high risk, ruin your life sort of job- a job that has little merit in the countries we decide to invade. Suckism at it's best. Ellen is right on target.

bobbybegood1 said...

Presiding over a country requires tremendous courage, strength, intelligence. It comes with grave responsibilities. What would the consequences have been, I wonder, if there was no Civil War? What would have been the end results if Hitler had not been stopped? People are unscrupulous, war unfortunate. But security of an entire nation lies in a president's and his or hers administration's control.

If given the choice between peace or war, I'm sure most heads of states would prefer peace. As is the case, because the whole world is not at war. However, if people are not willing to sit at the table of brotherhood and discuss/address the concerns of its citizens and what's in the best interest of the planet, hell bent on destroying a nation and its people, resources - what's to be done? There are no simple answers. No painless decisions. It's easy to sit on the sidelines and judge what others should, should not be doing. But, are you willing and able to take on the responsibility of securing and heading an entire country? I'm not saying you personally, Reya, but anyone. I'm certainly not.

No one knows what a president is thinking when making choices such as, whether to go to war or not. Whom to send to war? We all know the effects of war, missing limbs, PTSD, death. Freedom bears a weighty price.

Mary Ellen said...

Honor the soldiers - and work like hell on peaceful solutions to local and broader conflicts.

Deborah said...

wow indeed
i go through this with soldiers here
and honor their viewpoint and experience

at the healthcare summit (which i had to switch from tv to video streaming because of the interruptions by inane pundits) there were three or four Republicans who really cared more about healthcare of Americans than lock stepping with the inflammatory majority of the nay saying Republicans--they did have true philosophical differences, they did cite those things with which they agreed with the President and they were civil and smart--it is the first time in many years where any Republicans have commanded my respect and appreciation and it felt good.

so much love to you

Hecate said...


Would you mind emailing me at hecatede
metersda tteratho tmaildo tcom?


lakeviewer said...

Well said. Only when we see things face to face we can hope to understand.

Reya Mellicker said...

What I'm just beginning to really understand is that everything ... I mean everything is so complicated that any simple ideology cannot begin to address it.

There have always been wars, always been warriors. I abhor any kind of violence - in fact I'm almost psychotic about physical violence, but I don't know the whole story. I can't.

The older I get, the less I know for sure.

Damn. Those terra cotta warriors really had an impact on me! And now this. Wow.

Pam said...

A humbling post Reya.I see things from all perspectives here,but I do think many in high places are itching for war to try out their latest scientific technologies and research, and of course much money is to be made in the weaponary business.So much evil, which contrasts to the motives of those who enlist with the best of intentions,to serve their country,and provide financial security for their loved ones, knowing full well they may have to sacrifice their life to do so.I cannot imagine seeing a child of mine off to war,it would be my worst nightmare, but I would, as you are, be grateful to that loved one of mine on their return for their bravery. I would be equally proud should if my child objected to participating in a war on moral grounds. This caused a rift in our family in the Vietnam war years,my father, grandfather and uncles having been proud to serve in WW2, and completely incomprehensible that any could see it otherwise. Should the worst happen however, I would be completely unforgiving of a system that asked this of my child.Our children are too precious, the enemies little ones included. I don't know when we are going to teach by example to our world's children.

Steve said...

I think he would HAVE to believe in it; otherwise, how could he have served? Unfortunately, I think there's an element of brainwashing involved in the military, so it's not surprising that he'd support military involvement.

That said, it IS good that you had this exchange. It never hurts to listen to someone with opposing views, and be open to the possibility that what you believe is wrong.

Reya Mellicker said...

I don't my ideology, that I'm against wars and killing, is wrong in any way, but the warrior spirit, which is based on protecting one's clan, is instinctual, a part of being human.

Steve I think there is an element of brainwashing in every ideological system, and I do think that in the past I have oversimplified the stance of people in the military.

Honestly I doubt seriously that anyone, other than Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, is thinking exclusively about the money. I think there is a patriarchial thought form that echoes the instinctual urge to protect one's family and clan that gets magnified in the military. If we didn't have such big guns and bombs, we could let the armies duke it out without causing too much trouble for civilians.

Sometimes we are too clever, too territorial, and too protective, for our own good.

Reya Mellicker said...

I don't THINK my ideology ...

The Pollinatrix said...

Reya, I really like this post, and I especially like what you said in your 7:33 comment. I've never been able to jump on ideological bandwagons of any kind because of a deep-seated sense that I can't have the whole picture, ever.

Kerry said...

Oh this is a hard one for me. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer In Afghanistan in the 1970's, teaching in a girl's school. I do not want Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the Taliban, with their brutal policies towards girls and women. No.

Yet when I see pics of my nephew, a marine with 2 stints in Iraq and now one in Afghanistan, I see a young man sucked into a military machine that is terrifying (and it must seem terrifying to the Afghan civilians). I cheer him on, send him care packages containing snacks and cheap novels.

Yet how does this fit in with my basically pacifist beliefs? It doesn't, really. But I don't know how we could leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban ever again.

And whoever fights there and comes back to the US, that person is going to need a healer. Thank you Reya. Thank you.