I am informed by newspapers that we are about four years into the war in Iraq. But in my mind it has been only 11 months, three weeks and two days. That is the amount of time this war has taken my friend Lucas away from his family and friends. Regardless of how you count it, it seems that the days of this grand misadventure might be numbered.
Last week, members of the U.S. House of Representatives went on the record to oppose the war. Here at the University, Students for a Democratic Society, the group famous for mobilizing thousands of college students against the Vietnam War, has reemerged. But until someone can explain how this plan or that protest is going to bring Lucas home, it’s all meaningless to me.
Always on the periphery of our communal privilege, Lucas never complained about the financial struggles his family faced. Instead, he thrived among a group of friends who skied, summered and lunched our way through a Westchester, N.Y. adolescence. He belonged.
It was not until the second semester of college that the reality of Lucas’s situation became apparent: He could not afford to return to school. For the first time there was a separation between us. I flew back to Michigan to study and Lucas joined the army. He was sent to Iraq last March.
In a column last Thursday, Whitney Dibo described the attitude of detached recognition this campus has adopted toward the war (T&D department ‘Conquers’ with class, 02/16/2007): “I had watched the astronaut attempted murder story unfold on CNN all weekend, but flipped channels during the Iraq war updates. What would (a war photographer) think of my watching E! last night, trying to figure out how exactly Anna Nicole Smith had died?”
I must admit that this concept of separateness – the ridiculous notion that we are somehow removed from the throes of this war because it is not us doing the fighting – has sustained me in this past year. It is this separateness that has assuaged the guilt of a friend and helped to justify her inaction.
Congress is not going to ask us to make change, to stop a war or to create a movement. It has never worked that way. Powerful people – whether they be presidents, senators or simply members of older generations whose ideas have passed their time – are afraid of progress. They hope that we are pacified by reality television and Britney Spears’s underpants. They want us to remain immobilized by the divisions of class and race we have inherited.
It’s nice that the House has decided to rebuke the president for his failed crusade in Iraq. But really, the debate being held in Congress is little more than political posturing. And not unlike other times in American history, it’s up to the youth to stop this war.
The University must weigh in on the war in Iraq, not by protesting its existence (too late) or by exploiting it as a political pawn for partisan gain, but by organizing and demanding change.
The return of SDS to Michigan is promising. I want to believe that it will invigorate the debate and bring an end to this war. But it cannot do so until we acknowledge that the war in Iraq is as much a part of our generation as “The Real World” or MySpace.com. We cannot wait for Congress to solve the quagmire it helped create. The revolution may indeed be televised, but it will not be broadcast by C-Span.
Yes, the idea of separateness is alluring, and in the moments when I feel particularly guilty, I have often looked to it for relief. But for someone so far removed from the classrooms of Angell Hall, Lucas bears a striking resemblance to you and me. He still has his Facebook.com account. I check up on him from time to time, browse his photos of the endless desert and the camouflaged madness. Lucas’s activities as posted on Facebook include, “Building sandcastles with Michael Farracaro.” I smile, encouraged by the thought that what was always a wicked sense of humor may survive Iraq.
Also on his Facebook profile is a quote from Matisyahu, the popular Jewish reggae musician who happens to be from our hometown of White Plains, N.Y.:
Now death is all that’s left to ponder
I wander off hoping to catch my breath
And hold it, mold my memories from untold scripts
And roll up in a tornado twist, now I’m certain
There’s a pertinent reason I’m on this earth
Seasons change in White Plains, but we remain alert .
Lucas – like all our peers in Iraq – does not belong to the ivory towers of academia. But he does belong to our generation. Eleven months, three weeks, and two days in, I just needed to make sure someone else knew it, too.
Mara Gay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.