Weeks – trekking, running, sweating, fearing – without a sympathetic shower. Three MRE’s (meals) a day – bland, dry, nutritional. Inside canvas tents, metal cots with flimsy fabric cradle them as they nap. Sleep comes to them like a receding wave, shallow, fading, and then smashed by an unrelenting force. On their backs, they carry fifty pounds of metal, food, aid, and destruction. They sport rawhide boots with thick socks and low cut fatigues. While they march forward in the quest for a dune, a well, a city, shrieking men fall beside them. They know blood and death the way we know work and family. They trust one another implicitly, loyal to country, to corps, to comrades. At night, they review handwritten words from desperate and devoted relatives who survive under their watch, and they cry dry tears where courage ends and the terror begins. They are fathers to children they’ve never seen. Instruments of death construct their music, the IUD’s and dirty bombs exploding with the sort of irregular composition that suggests mania or insanity. They offer their lives for our freedom and then they return on absent limbs, with disordered minds, or in body bags.
Wetrain them to kill, to divest themselves of any moral code. We ask them to forego social convention and to be willing to shoot a man in the head for what is right. We provide them with weapons and rules and hierarchies and orders. We take them when they are eighteen years old and we ask them to watch their friends die. And then we bring them home, and thrust them back into society and wonder why they have trouble reacquainting with civilization. Truth is, moral wounds are not superficial.
Today is Memorial Day, when Americans gather around barbecues and consume hot dogs and German beer. They play softball games and swim in lakes and kiss each other beneath warm summer winds. They fish in streams, square dance, light bonfires and watch sunsets. And in a free moment – when dusk arrives and the potato salad is sticking to the sides of the Tupperware, when the children have chocolaty remains upon their slack-jawed lips, when fireflies are heading out for some romantic tryst, and when America’s soldiers are nestling in and locking and loading for a three-day firestorm – they stare into the distance, and whisper, to men who will never hear them…Thank you for your sacrifice.