The Hobgoblin has written an incredibly moving post on his blog, asking his readers (and his readers readers, and his readers readers readers) to blog about exactly what it means to support our troops. The conclusion of this post will be his elegant plea for bloggers to begin a discussion about this command and in my own words I ask you to please, if you have a blog, post just one post about this topic in order to engage in this conversation. Okay.
My dad never sleeps very well. In order to get any sleep at all he ingests different sleep aids with different cocktails, never enough of anything to do any permanent damage but enough to let go of the tension he carries with him throughout the day. His physician monitors his liver enzymes and such and is well aware of this self-medication, because his physician does pretty much the same thing. Even with a couple of drinks and a pill or two, my dad is the lightest of sleepers, prone to waking up several times a night, observing every noise in our old house. When he does fall asleep, as often as not he succumbs to horrible nightmares that make sleep a trecherous thing, something more pretty dreadful.
My dad sleeps on his back, with his arms crossed over his chest, because that’s how he slept in Vietnam, only then he kept his rifle beneath his arms.
My dad doesn’t feel well, ever, either, despite the fact he runs miles and miles every day and lifts weights and golfs and is in perfect physical condition not only for a man his age but for a man much younger. A few weeks after returning from his second tour of duty he had his first panic attack, and after that similar attacks took him over until finally he was hospitalized and doped up on lithium which caused a whole a host of other problems, all equally as terrifying.
My dad has moods that are long and dark like winter and he will disappear, sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically, sometimes both. When he disappears you can talk and talk to him and never receive a response. Of course, I think I, too, would disappear, if I spent two years in a war, with a mother and father who never wrote me one letter. Ever. Even at Christmas.
We had rules in our home, and one included never sneaking up on my dad because, and I remember repeating this verbage as a little girl, you don’t sneak up on someone who was in Vietnam. You didn’t get physically close to my dad when he was upset, and you never ever woke him up from sleeping, because if you do my dad is instantly transported back to the jungle and cannot be held responsible for his first response. Once, the cat leaped on his chest while he was napping, stalking his the hands on his watch. She flew through the air with the greatest of ease.
We didn’t talk about Vietnam, in my house, though. Few fellow marines ever stopped by or called my dad and we found out why when we realized most of them didn’t survive.
For my father, his life will always be a before and after – before he went to Vietnam, and after. Certainly, growing up, he didn’t have an ideal childhood, but many people don’t have that. After Vietnam, he’s managed to fight the jungle ghosts that stalk him, but there are times I know it would have been so easy for him to give into them, but he has just enough strength and just enough capacity for joy that he hasn’t. I always thought he would become more at peace with his experiences in Vietnam as he grew older, but the opposite seems true – he seems more troubled now by his tours of duty than he did when I was young, although perhaps as an adult I’m just more nuanced to his emotions than I once was.
The hobgoblin makes the excellent point that “Support Our Troops” really means, Support Our Commander in Chief, and I agree. Because otherwise, we would recognize what a ridiculous mandate “Support Our Troops” is – after all, these men and women return to families and loved ones (if they are lucky) who can’t share or begin to comprehend their experiences, who only know their particular “troop” as someone who was once one way, and is now another. How ridiculous to think my mother, a young wife from a wealthy family who wanted to own Bloomingdales someday, could “support” the broken man my father was when he returned. Could she love him? Yes, and she did so beautifully. Could she make him meals and cool his forehead and promise him everything would be okay when panic seized him? Yes. But as for actual, real support, the kind of support that comes from understanding – well, what an insane thing to ask from anyone. It’s simply not possible. Asking us to “support” our troops is an inconceivable request, one born of not out of concern for our soldiers but out of the arrogance of the Bush administration that somehow has convinced part of the population that if you don’t support his heinous war on Terror then by proxy you don’t support the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, when really one has nothing to do with the other. I don’t in any way support a war founded on lies and retribution, but I sure as hell believe in, and have great hope for, the men and women brave enough to serve their country.
I should say, I’m not particularly a pacifist. I do believe some wars are necessary and while my heart so often hurts for my father, and all the pain the war has caused him, I also know it shaped the man who raised me – he taught me you can get through anything, one second at a time, and he read to me the poetry of John Dunne, which he discovered over there, and he has loved me and worshipped and loved my mother and taught my brother how to be a good man with a true heart and maybe if he hadn’t been a marine, maybe none of this would be so. But wars separate families for months on end, and they dramatically altar the person fighting, and they do irreparable damage so a soldier returning will never, ever be able to love or laugh or do something as simple as fall asleep the same way as he did before. So if we are going to risk the lives of young people, if we are going to send them to a country where death is not the worst thing they enounter, and we understand that we are forever altering the core of their being, then we had better be damn sure it’s a war worth fighting for. Think of never being able to fall asleep, even in the safety of your own home – of having an experience the woman or man you love most in the world will never be able to understand – think of recognizing pain in the world not through broken love affairs and daily human cruelty but instead having some of your earliest experiences be bloodshed and gore and hatred and fear. And think about what that does, to a person. And then go ahead and spend some time resenting the fact that over the last five years those of us who don’t believe in the war are automatically told we don’t support the troops. Although, maybe we don’t – maybe, as I wrote earlier, supporting our troops isn’t our job. Maybe loving and caring for them and unconditionally hoping for their future is all we can do. Maybe, just maybe, supporting isn’t our job.
And now, the hobgoblin’s plea. Please do your own writing on this subject matter. Please.
So, here is my plea. I want to start people talking more and more and more about supporting the troops. I want people to think more about how we treat the people who have made the sacrifices for our country. I want people to think about how cynically politicians exploit the troops for their own ends. I want people to think about how a drunken frat boy draft dodger can be seen as a hero and biggest supporter of our troops, and I want people to think about just what this absolute and complete collapse of meaning says about our country. Please, write something about this. Spread the word. Talk about how we need to support our troops in real, tangible, material ways–starting with bringing them home from this evil, stupid, stupid war. Reference me or not, link to me or not, but talk about it. Ask everyone who reads your blog to write about it–just one post–until everyone in the blogosphere is talking about it. Create a chain blog, an enormous pyramid of entries. It may mean nothing–probably will mean nothing–but things only start to happen when people talk and agitate.