This winter break, I returned home thankful that my second-to-last finals week was over and that I could relax with my friends and family. Homecomings have not been so easy for many of the men and women who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 2,000 citizens have come home in coffins and urns. Of those returning in good physical health, many bear the emotional scars from their terms of service.
At a local bar toward the end of break, I overheard some guys about my age sharing their experiences in Iraq. “I saw my friend go face-down in the dirt,” one guy said, and then he repeated himself: “I saw my friend go face-down in the dirt.” Those words stunned me, slapped me in the face and have since rung in my ears. About 10 minutes later, I saw one of the other guys, a tall burly man, sobbing in the corner with his face in his hands.
When confronted with a situation like this, I could not help but put myself in those guys’ shoes. What if I saw my friend go face-down in the dirt? In Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” a soldier describes his friend getting killed in Vietnam: “Like cement, Kiowa whispered in the dark. I swear to God – boom, down. Not a word.” What if that was your friend? Boom, down, in front of your eyes. I’m not trying to be morbid; I’m trying to be real. I’m trying to make this war – which most of us are sheltered from to the point of apathy in our self-interested college bubbles – even a shred as real for some of us as it is for those who have served and sacrificed in our names. When it stops being real, lives become poker chips in the hands of our leaders, and nobody cares enough to do anything about it.
For many of those speaking out against the war, like Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq, and Rep. John Murtha (D