Wednesday, November 26, 2008


My neighbor in the housing development is welcoming her husband home. I can tell not just by how many times she's talked to me and everyone else about it, but by the signs and homemade decorations that adorn our dingy apartment complex. "I love YOU, (Soldiername!)" "I love you, honey!" Construction paper hearts and letters and AAFES-mass-produced signs let me know how much she wants her husband to know he was missed.

In my cynical way, I scorn it. I don't rain on her parade, but every time I pass them I look at the commercial quality of the sign, the child-reminiscent nature of anything made with construction paper. I think to myself how glad I am that I never received a display like that, that the saccharine nature would make me hurl.

But I wonder how much my elitist thoughts serve to hide any thought of what I would have liked to have received. The truth is that I came home to a much-needed divorce and a child that had been taught to call someone else Mommy. I've never really had anyone to come home to, then or now. Sure, there's family-a father that talked all my life about his boyhood inspiration, the heroes at the VFW post, and now that I'm a member and offered to bring him inside to have a drink, he gives me an embarrassed smile, and says no. I'm not the son who could have killed him a dozen with my bare hands; not the son who could have erased his 4F status when it came time for Vietnam. Nor, even if I were a man, could I have been. I'm not the sort to revel in bloodshed, or the men I have indirectly helped to kill. Who is the killer? The one who stands and points and says "Him" or the one who pulls the trigger? Both, and neither. We are all the killers. We are all the guns. My father does not want my remorse, or to hear my thoughts on the war. He is still jealous that I shook McCain's hand and does not comprehend why, having done so, I would not vote for him. I am still forbidden from his house, the casualty of a chance google search that pulled up thousands of provocative hits.

There is a mother, who even when posted stateside, called, frantic, because a military plane went down somewhere in America and she wanted to know if I was on it. I cannot comprehend her fear. I cannot live touched by her fear. I disentangle myself as much as possible, as she tells me, once more, how she was tricked into signing the papers only because the recruiter promised there would never be a war. Does she have reason? Perhaps. She saw the fallout of Vietnam-lost friends and lovers, some to combat, some to hidden wounds and their own hand. My godfather put a bullet in his head at the age of 30, and it shattered her. She is fearful now that I will join him, and listens for it every time I talk, in the catch of my voice, in a breathy silence. Everything is a cue. She offers me organic foods and healthy alternatives, as though a return to a lifestyle of a more peaceful and hopeful time might somehow save me as well.

And there are lovers. Lovers that are loved as the Army has taught me to love-never to make any one person too important. You will always have to leave, the Army teaches, albeit unconsciously, and you must be prepared for everyone you love to leave you. Whether a PCS or a funeral service, if you make someone else the focus of your world, what will you do when they are gone? You get used to saying goodbye, to smiling at someone with sadness inside you as you show them the orders taking you away. Civilians find it too hard-they rail at you, angry at you, the Army, the universe for taking you away. They do not understand, ask the significance of things that have you in tears. It is better to stick to your own kind-but your own kind is adept at self-protection, at building defense barriers that can mask a career full of pain. Once you are out of sight you are out of mind. Temporarily Divorced for a Year, What Happens On Deployment Stays On Deployment. When you are there they will welcome you, cherish you, make extravagant gestures for you. Once you step on the plane, it is a different world, one in which you are a faded memory that they will reference only obliquely. It's the same for you, though you won't admit it. Already you're thinking of someone else, someone who will make you smile and laugh. It's the way of survival-but it's hell on homecomings, welcomes, those picket fences you think that you might have wanted.

I cannot laugh at her for loving in a different way than I.
But I cannot allow myself to think of having someone to myself, someone who would not go away. I cannot allow myself to think of the possibility of caring too much.
So I hurry by, run up the stairs as though I were trying to answer a phone, or save a life, or catch a dream.
She, in the apartment below, thinks only of happiness.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Krav Maga: Eye Gouges and Groin Punches for all!

I'll start with a cautionary tale for any who aren't fond of violence: you do not want to read this post. Really. Do not be fooled by my views on the Iraq War. If you are a pacifist, this post is likely not for you.

That said, OMFG, I am in love with Krav Maga. Why aren't we training in this instead of combatives? Seriously. It is much, much more useful. And versatile. And utterly brutal...but I anticipate myself.

For those who haven't known me long, I've had a fascination with Krav Maga for quite some time. Krav Maga, again for the unfamiliar, is an Israeli close combat technique first developed for...have you guessed? Defending against Nazis. How much cooler can you get? Then the Haganah got it, the Jewish underground. It isn't religious at all, but the philosophy is definitely very Jewish-you assume the worst, and work from their. You assume that your opponent is not going to back off voluntarily, and that you can get away from the situation best by crippling them. You start in some bad positions, and it teaches you to defend against multiple attackers, while you're protecting people, while you yourself are crippled, blinded, etc. It is so many times cooler than combatives that I just want to run around shouting about how awesome it is. Fortunately for my neighbors, I have a blog instead.

The crowd was pretty mixed, and there were one or two guys from my unit there. I had been wondering how triggering it might be-with domestic violence PTSD, a session of people hitting, choking, etc you is not necessarily a recipe for a happy time. But it worked out pretty well-the only problem was that I was a little too violent, out of proportion to what we were supposed to do. (Like for example, when one guy taunted me to hit him and I attempted to punch him in the face before he had finished speaking.)

The instructor was an absolute champ, though. At one point, during a technique (and all stuff was at speed and force), I accidentally sliced his wrist up a bit with my nails. But he didn't say anything, and just continued.

The class was for five hours-five hours of straight glee for me. Tiring glee-as I write this, I'm lying on the couch, and not sure when I'll move. I'll probably have a lot of bruises tomorrow. But it was so worth it. One of the fun points was just realizing exactly how brutal it can be. The point at which the instructor explained exactly what parts of the body you can punch dangerous holes in if you put a key in your fist was amazingly enlightening. So was the groin punching. The guys who were Krav Maga regulars all had metal cups, but the others had lighter cups, and man did they take a beating. The sight of guys wincing and holding their genitals was a common one throughout the five hours.

Five was an awesome number for that-it was also the minimum amount of times to strike your opponent. As our instructor explained, Krav Maga is not a pretty sport that looks beautiful and you do competitions around. Krav Maga is a lethal set of techniques that is used to cripple or kill. As such, if you have to take damage in order to incapacitate the other person, you take it.

Man. Again, so awesome. I can't wait until the next class.


If only more of you people showed those shameless self-promotions, I might have known it early enough to self-promote here for the Blog Awards sometime before it closed. As it is, I still received nominations, but most likely not enough to put me into the finalists-which is okay, because I'm pretty sure most of my favorite blogs did.

Anyway! Thanks those of you who liked my blog, I really do appreciate it. You know, all 18 of you. ;)

Friday, November 21, 2008


Let me start this out by saying that I do appreciate what IAVA is doing for veterans. They're trying really hard to help get them taken care of, and have done a lot of outstanding work on the GI Bill and other pieces of legislation. They're also doing a lot of good work in getting veterans aware that they are a political force to be reckoned with, and that is always a good thing in my book.

Sometimes it's funny, though, how much they march along, whether consciously or unconsciously, with IVAW. For example, their latest campaign/ad "Alone" is a fantastic ad. I really dig it. But in a sense, it also makes me laugh-I had no idea IAVA admired IVAW's "You Are Not Alone" campaign so much! At any rate, here's the ad for your viewing pleasure, and only LT Nixon will be able to say whether or not it in fact measures up to McGruff.

I don't usually promote IAVA here, because I can really only focus on one organization at a time-same way I'm also a member of the VFW and the American Legion, but you don't see me talking about a lot of their programs here. However, after being specifically contacted by one of IAVA's ad folks with a suggestion to put something up about it, I could hardly be so graceless not to be willing to spend five minutes of my time writing a post about it.

As everyone knows, readjustment challenges of "combat stress" (I hate the buzzphrase, because of course combat is stressful, but it is a real issue) can compound the many other challenges servicemen and women face when they return to civilian life. Also, I've talked to a lot of vets, and for them one of the hardest things is losing the welcoming and supportive military community. The lack of it alone can severely tweak a veteran. This is, of course, where IAVA's brand spanking new Community of Veterans comes in.

They're wrong, of course, it's not the only online community for veterans, but it is the first to offer open yet regulated membership. There are still a few bugs in the system-for example, their registration refused to accept AE as a valid state-but I have faith that it will all get ironed out in time.

Also at some point this month, the campaign will extend to families and friends, called Support Your Vet. I think this is a really good idea so that they can talk out their problems and help each other to provide good advice and support. They too really need to feel that it's not alone. I've suggested to IAVA that they should have some communication between the sites, where veterans can maybe anonymously answer family member's questions, we'll see if that gets implemented too.

So keep it in mind! I'm not sure yet how politically neutral it's supposed to be, I may just give it a broad pass for its own sake rather than my own. But those of you, especially those who want support but not politics, should go there and check it out.

Coffee Strong Now Open

Anyone who's been in the Army for more than five minutes knows the important relationship between soldiers and caffeine. We drink it, delight in it, and would probably cheerfully create an IV for it if we thought it wouldn't kill us. Fortunately, there's no need for such drastic measures, at least not by Fort Lewis, Washington, home of the recently established Fort Lewis IVAW chapter. Fort Lewis, for the non-Army folks among my readers, is an Army post located near Tacoma, WA that is scheduled to deploy 10,000 troops to Iraq in the coming year.

The new soldier-friendly, veteran-owned coffeehouse, "Coffee Strong", is now open.

Here the veteran-barristas work on creating concoctions for any and all comers.

At the moment, hours are Monday - Saturday, 10am to 6pm. Those hours will soon be expanded to includ evenings and Sunday.

How do you get there to grap your fresh, hot cup of often exotic and delicious joe? Well, the coffee shop is located at 15109 Union Ave SW, Lakewood WA 98498. They are accessible right off the freeway on the Berkley Ave exit (#122) on Union Ave next to the Subway.

And this won't just be your usual Starbucks imitator with camouflage lipstick. In addition to delicious drinks, good atmosphere, and friendly waitstaff, Coffee Strong also provides soldiers, families, and recent vets a place away from post where they can learn about resources available to them. There at Coffee Strong, they can meet with GI Rights and other types of counselors, and access regular VA workshops to advise them about their benefits. In addition, the coffeehouse will hold weekly movie nights, concerts, and other events.

And don't forget, feeding our delicious, delicious, legal addiction.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I owe posts!

I figured if I listed them here, the public humiliation would be a motivating factor for me to actually get it done.

1. A post on IAVA's new PSA.-Done!
2. A post on Coffee Strong -Done!
3. CJ and his guest last night.
4. Balad
5. Stars and Stripes Loves Me
6. Casey Porter and Living Fobulous
7. The Lautenberg amendment and domestic violence in the military

Have a topic? Post it here ! and I'll do my best to respond to it in a timely fashion.

Yes, Darling, You Can

I didn't post about it, because it had nothing to do with the cause I fight in this blog, or my military life. I didn't post about it for two weeks, and that fact is probably one of the most shameful things I've done in activism. It wasn't intentional, but can I honestly say that a corner of me wasn't wondering: will I lose my street cred on the Iraq War if I come out in full opposition to the Yes On Prop 8 folks? To quote Emerson, "As soon as he has once acted or spoken with eclat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account."

But that is low. That is small, and puling, and weak, and low, and I refuse to do it any longer, if in fact I ever was. If any of you think less of me because I see nothing whatsoever against gay marriage, then I'm sorry for your opinions, and you're welcome to cease associating with me at any time if you are so moved to do so.

I hear a lot about reasons why Proposition 8, banning gay marriage from being recognized in California, passed. One of the things I hear about is an ad, in which a cute little girl is heard saying "Mom, guess what I learned in school today. I learned how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess!"

Not known to most, because I don't talk much about it, is that I, too, have a little girl. I don't mention it because politics is vile, and I didn't want her to see someone outside her school yelling at her because of her mother's opinions. I may not mention it again after this post. But she is beautiful, and smart, and everything a mother could dream.

Why is that ad so vile? More importantly, why is that ad so scary? If my daughter were to come home and tell me that, that she learned she could marry a princess, I would not be afraid. I would scoop her up in my arms, like I do for all the serious conversations, and say, "Yes, darling. You can be a lawyer, a poet, a dreamer or an astronaut. You can be anyone you want to be and if you want to be a princess who marries another princess, then I will dance at your wedding and laugh with your children no matter whose Y chromosome they bear. Because I love you, and your happiness is worth more than my own."

And all I've got to say about this issue comes from a song from SonIa, which is absolutely amazing and expresses pretty much how I feel about not just this but a lot of issues, including patriotism and why I'm involved with IVAW. And I hope and pray that my daughter, no matter who she decides to love or what she decides to do, can always feel safe enough to come to me like this. It's called, "Me, Too"

Her daddy was a soldier in the Vietnam War
And she was proud to see her father in a fresh-pressed uniform
He came home on a stretcher in 1966
Welcome back - fellow Americans throwing tomatoes and sticks

He said, "Darlin', don't you worry, there are two sides to everything.
I did what I believe in; I want you to do the same.
I stood up for my country, and that's a solid bet.
And I'll stand up for freedom every chance I get."

Because America shines, in front of me
All the world could see if they wanted to
I raise this flag for you,
Me, Too

She grew up on a bible, she grew up on love
She grew up thinking she could change the world, if she only worked hard enough
She became a lawyer, hoped to marry a good-looking man
But she fell in love with the girl next door, so that wasn't part of the plan

Because America shines, in front of me
All the world could see if they wanted to
I raise this flag for you,
Me, Too

The years spin by while the corn grows high
For every train you catch, you miss one
So watch your life just racin' by
It's time to tell Daddy this one

She sat down in the corner, she could still see the door
She said Daddy, I've got to tell you something I've never said before
He said, "Shhhh. Everybody has a war."

You see, it's not about oil, and it's not about guns
And it's not about rainbows, it's about daughters and sons
If you believe in tomorrow then I have taught you well,
'Cause if you don't believe in yourself, life's a living hell

And you'll always shine in front of me
All the world could see if they wanted to
I raise this flag for you,
Me, Too

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A President Like Me

Isn't that what everyone's been talking about for the last eight years? They elected a president like themselves, or like they wanted to be seen. They elected a president they thought they'd rather barbecue with, and enjoyed what they viewed as the back-door morality of his decisions, regardless of what they did to the country.

Hopefully mine won't prove as disastrous, but reading this New York Times story about Obama in the digital age, I realized that I now understand what those guys were talking about, even though I still disagreed with their assessment. At last, I have a President who in many ways is just like me.

His messages to advisers and friends, they say, are generally crisp, properly spelled and free of symbols or emoticons. The time stamps provided a window into how much he was sleeping on a given night, with messages often being sent to staff members at 1 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m. if he was working on an important speech.

I've lost track of how many times various IVAW members and allies threatened not to allow me to submit any more work unless I got a varying minimum hours of sleep a night. And god! Correct spelling, perhaps even a grammarian! Despite myself and my best intentions to stay neutral, I can't help but get a little starry-eyed.

He received a scaled-down list of news clippings, with his advisers wanting to keep him from reading blogs and news updates all day long, yet aides said he still seemed to hear about nearly everything in real time. A network of friends — some from college, others from Chicago and various chapters in his life — promised to keep him plugged in.

Again, I'm reminded of that long drive from Florida to Maryland for Winter Soldier, with a documentary filmmaker in the car terrified of how often I was checking my email from my phone, as friends and associates from all over the country kept me looped in even though I had no access, other than cellphone-based email, to the internet.

Oh, Obama. I too, like the right in this country for the last eight years, dream of a President who shares my values, and will even have his staff meeting with IVAW. I dare to hope that with the quirks, dedication, and drive come the shared passions and commitment to sacrifice. I dare to hope that these similarities are not just superficial, but real.

I dare to hope..but yet, the eternal cynic, I fear being disappointed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Emails of Doom

One thing I really, really hate in the Army, though I'll be the first to admit it probably only exists in the MI Corps, is the passive-aggressive email.

It's all the better when the email comes from someone who sits less than ten feet from you, or even when they're just a hundred feet away. It makes me really hate the computers. Rather than take the effort to actually get up, walk over, and tell the soldier what they need (or god forbid, pick up a phone) some incredibly lazy NCOs just send out an email. The advantage is that the stupidity just looks even funnier when it's actually in text.

Like this one. A little background: right now, I have access to the NIPR, because my battalion commander decided to be awesome and while I was pulling a detail, encouraged me to sit down and use the computer and still get the job done. Is my NCO aware of that? Probably not. As far as he knows, today I may not access email, tomorrow is an appointment at Landstuhl, where I'll be nowhere near a NIPR, and Wednesday is the event he's talking about.

"We will be conducting an APFT on Wednesday, 19 November. You will both be graders, along with myself and SFC Laidback.

Also, on Thursday, 20 November, we will be having an inspection of the winter PT uniform at work. Please bring the PT jacket, pants, gloves, cap, and PT reflective belt. The reason we are doing this is to ensure that we are all wearing the appropriate uniform for the Brigade run the next day, on 21 November.

First of all, again, it is the purest of coincidences that I got this email. I still haven't received any call, or touching base, or hell, even a "Please acknowledge receipt". It is highly likely that I could have gone without knowing that a PT test was magically scheduled and I was magically a grader, resulting in me not showing up to the location and failing to report for duty. Thanks, guy.

Secondly, is he actually serious? We're having an inspection of our winter PTs? I have been in the Army for eight years. In that time, I've done my good share of Brigade, Battalion, and even Post runs. During none of that time have I ever, ever, EVER, had a PT gear inspection the day prior, to be sure that my PT gear didn't eat itself magically overnight. The usual answer is "Wear all your gear, this is the uniform, if it's jacked up, you'll be sorry". And very rarely is anyone jacked up for those. The only time I ever had a soldier with a uniform problem, it was because someone stole his PT jacket that morning out of the dryer. Which, you know, a PT gear inspection the day prior would not have prevented, I note.

I think a large part of the reason why this came out in email form is because any NCO worth their salt would have been ashamed to pass this down. "Hey, NCOs, I need you guys to, a PT inspection.." By the time we were finished laughing, he might have reconsidered. But on email, you don't have to see the other person's face, you can just throw a lot of 'you wills' in, to make any questioning challenging an order.

Man. This guy really pushes all my buttons...

Charlie Chaplin and the Shredder

Well, bloggers everywhere are capturing the exciting moments. A majority of my "Exciting" moments were classified, and also, unless I miss my mark, in the past ever since I was taken out of the deploying battalion I was initially placed in. I'm still not sure what makes someone strongly opposed to the Iraq occupation a potential liability for the Afghanistan War, but hey. I'm also pretty sure it's not the smartest move they ever made. "We're going to punish you, by not letting you be in a high-rotation deploying unit." Man, if only the rest of the Army knew or thought that way, people would be lining up in droves to do anti-Iraq-war organizing.

At any rate, I am in the unit I am in, and it's probably better in some ways. Definitely lower stress than being downrange. But there's also a higher sense of the ridiculous. As, for example, the shredder incident today.

I don't know about the rest of the Army, but the Military Intelligence Corps loves its destruction of classified and unclassified material. It didn't always used to be so high-tech, of course- I remember days gone by where we got to put it all in a metal garbage can and toss a match. Those were good days, as were the ones when we got to use sledgehammers to break anything what needed breaking. But these days, it's usually the shredders of doom.

I won't describe them in too much detail, lest the enemy read this post and design comprehensive anti-shredder technology. But suffice it to say, we were by the ultimate daddy of shredders. It was one of those shredders that if your mother had seen, she would have shrieked at you for not getting a finger caught. That thing was the ultimate doom of unwanted paper. Which was good, because we had about two dumpsters full of material to shred as we pack up our battalion. How did I get tagged for this detail, you ask? Well, somebody had to supervise, and I've never been a big believer in leading from the rear. Yes, exciting Army times indeed, but someone has to do it.

I'm sure I'm forfeiting any potential hearing disability compensation by admitting this, but I'm one of those soldiers who almost never wears hearing protection. This has led to some interesting times when ill-timed explosions have tried to make me regret that decision in the past, but after having met a fellow soldier who set off a cannon (yes, really) by his left ear and survived intact, I have always been one of the folks to tough it out.

After five minutes of that behemoth of a machine, however, I took the damn hearing protection.

This wound up having the delightful result of turning our entire time in the shred room into a Charlie Chaplin-esque silent picture. Wild gestures and body language were used for all communication, along with expressive shrugs, winks, and grandiose gestures. I half expected someone to start shuffling and soft-shoeing during an imminent break. It was incredibly destressing. Anyone's having a lot going on, I recommend that they try out the shred room.

Dealing with these massive shred piles, it's always a little interesting. Like an archaeological expedition. What are you going to find? Everything from fingerprint cards to letters of reprimand for fraternization made it in. Fortunately we didn't have a lot of time to be curious, as it all went down faster than original veteran paperwork at the VA.

There you guys go. I'm sure you'll be begging for the political posts back any day now.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Donate If You Can

Some of you may have noticed I've added a donation button on the right side of this blog. "What does this mean? Are you selling out? Are you trying to bilk innocent webgoers into paying for your debauchery?" The simple answer is 'no'. The real answer of why is a little bit more complicated.

Everyone's happy about Obama, myself included. But the real fact is that no longer how many times his campaign staff sits down with IVAW, he is not about to end the war tomorrow. IVAW still has work to do, and so do I.

I don't know if I've talked about it here before or not, but in addition to being a member of IVAW, I also head the GI Outreach Committee, which is a smaller subgroup that focuses only on reaching out to existing active duty, national guard, and reserve servicemembers. It also focuses on helping to get IVAW active duty, national guard, and reserve troops organizer training, and any help they may happen to need.

Now that the tide is beginning to turn, many people are resting on their laurels. They're slowing their donations, and waiting for Obama to fix everything. We, particularly the servicemember-organizers of Iraq Veterans Against the War, refuse to wait for anything. We are going out to help bring about the world we want to see, and bring our points of unity to a reality. There are still troops dying in Iraq. There are still veterans being inadequately taken care of at home. Something still needs to be done.

With that in mind, we are continuing forward, and have a very ambitious project taking place this winter. It will mean servicemember-organizers flying all over the country to help organize their fellow soldiers en masse. But, like many other things, it takes money. It takes money to get soldiers on planes, and with how little we're paid, that's not money we can easily afford on our own. And that's why, at long last, I'm asking those of you who can, those of you who feel that there is still work to do and you want to help accomplish it, to donate whatever you can towards this project.

If you can't donate but still want to help in some way, whether it's passing this word on to your email lists, helping to house or feed soldiers, or helping to produce items you want to go to soldiers being outreached, please feel free to email me at

Thank you all for your time, your commitment, your support, and all that you have done for myself, other servicemember-organizers, and the movement as a whole.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fuck You, "Yes Men".

You know, I'm as up for pranks as the next guy, seriously, and I love fake news just as much, in its proper place. The Onion, Jon Stewart...all of these are pretty damn cool.

What's not cool is the prank the "Yes Men" played on New York.

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo.

It is seriously not funny. I think of that guy who's so happy watching it, and I think, how could you people, whoever you are, do it to 1.2 million people? 1.2. million papers looking exactly like a New York Times, except with the news you wish were happening? 1.2 million people, reading. Maybe some of them were soldiers (or veterans, as the Daily News took reaction from a former Marine and Iraq veteran who believed the story, for a while) Maybe some of them were families of soldiers. Maybe some of them thought for one exhilarating movement, that the people they loved would not have to run a chance of dying or being wounded anymore.

It's been done before by deluded idealists, never on such a large scale, and the sense of wrongness has been expressed much better than I could in Julia Vinograd's poem "Ginsberg", which always makes me cry when read aloud (you can hear it in my voice as I read it here).


No blame. Anyone who wrote Howl and Kaddish
earned the right to make any possible mistake
for the rest of his life.
I just wish I hadn't made this mistake with him.
It was during the Vietnam war
and he was giving a great protest reading
in Washington Square Park
and nobody wanted to leave.
So Ginsberg got the idea, "I'm going to shout
"the war is over" as loud as I can," he said
"and all of you run over the city
in different directions
yelling the war is over, shout it in offices,
shops, everywhere and when enough people
believe the war is over
why, not even the politicians
will be able to keep it going."
I thought it was a great idea at the time
a truly poetic idea.
So when Ginsberg yelled I ran down the street
and leaned in the doorway
of the sort of respectable down on its luck cafeteria
where librarians and minor clerks have lunch
and I yelled "the war is over."

And a little old lady looked up
from her cottage cheese and fruit salad.
She was so ordinary she would have been invisible
except for the terrible light
filling her face as she whispered
"My son. My son is coming home."
I got myself out of there and was sick in some bushes.
That was the first time I believed there was a war.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stars and Stripes, We're Back On

Those of you who have known me for a while know that I tend to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Stars and Stripes, the Army's unofficial-official military newspaper. Sometimes I love what they say and the way they try to avoid censorship. Sometimes I hate the way they have been apologists for the Bush Administration long past the time even the Military Times ceased.

This week is one of the weeks that I love them again. Why, you ask? Well, they did in fact publish a letter of mine, and it's finally made it to the online edition so I can link it.

The important excerpt, of course, is:

...But what I was sad to see is that this enormous piece was entirely about South Korean protests. What about American protests? When a major American protest happens, even when soldiers and veterans are involved, we definitely don’t hear about it in Stars and Stripes. We don’t even really hear about the veteran protesters, such as Sgt. Nick Morgan, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who suffered a cheekbone broken in three places from being trampled by a police horse recently at Hofstra University (mentioned in the Army Times, but not our daily paper). Why aren’t these protester-veterans profiled in a two-page spread, instead of three South Koreans?...

I'm also particularly proud of the Stars and Stripes for the courageous stance they took against attempted military censorship during their coverage of the election. As Stripes said, the memorandum is clear: that they are entitled to gain access to common areas to report. Yet for some reason, the Pentagon had an issue with this. One wonders just precisely why. Fortunately, Stripes took their prior orders literally, and still sent their reporters out, and they wrote a very nice piece. It might not be how I would have written it, but still very nice.

Stars and Stripes is also notable for publishing stories about the Winter Soldier II hearings, Matthis Chiroux and other's IRR refusals, and I am told IVAW's presence at the Democratic National Convention, though I haven't seen the article itself. They've also published a few letters from myself and other IVAW members over the past years.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day / Veterans Day

Veterans Day. To many, it marks sales. To some, it marks a time for parades. Only too few remember now what it is and what it has been.

In the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the most brutal war the world had ever seen came to an end. A war so brutal and all encompassing that it was simply called "The World War". No one thought that there would ever be another. I've looked at my great-grandfather's census card, and he lists his status as a veteran, and simply "World War". No one then thought there would be the need to pencil in a Roman numeral after it.

Over 20 million people died in that war. I don't think our minds can adequately understand how many people that is. Roughly two and a half times the population of New York City is how I remember it. Imagine that every voice in that city was silenced, the place full only of corpses. It is not possible. I do not think any of us, no matter how long we live, will ever be able to imagine a place of that much death. I hope not, anyway.

Everyone sees the poppies everywhere, the VFW with them in their hands. Or maybe just everyone near military posts. But even the military too often forget why.
It's because of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, who wrote this on a piece of paper, on the back of a friend during a lull in the bombing. Like so many, he did not survive to see the end of the war.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

It was so ugly that it was called "The War To End All Wars". The war that was going to make us all talk to each other, end petty tyrannies and expansions and evil, end the idea that millions of people need to die because somebody shot the archduke Ferdinand.

Of course, it failed.
We know now that it failed, but the world will never dance and roar as loud as they did then, when they thought they had defeated it forever. Armistice Day was set as a day to remember this peace that would last.

Then the next war came, and it was devoted simply to veterans. The world had grown older, and knew that there would be many more wars to come. There were no superlatives after World War Two. Even now, we anticipate another one.

Today, I remember veterans and soldiers who gave themselves for something they believe in. But I also remember the ugliness of war-not just today, but what happens after. And I encourage everyone to remember those who have given everything not just today, not just in heroics, but every day.

To that end, I also give you "The Last of the Light Brigade", by Rudyard Kipling.

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made - "
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

PTSD Is Not An Excuse

I've thought a lot about this, and have wanted to say something about this for a long time, but I was never really angry enough to break past the filmy barrier that's been preventing us from saying things about this for a long time. Do I care for my brothers who have PTSD? Absolutely. Do I understand that PTSD is debilitating? Absolutely. I have it myself and it's a really hard thing to live with. Can it even be disabling? Yes. If you've seen some of the people I have, you'd absolutely understand that.


I will admit here that I struggle with my anger every day. Every single day. I am number one for walking out on the job right now, because my leadership understands that walking out and cooling down is much more productive than yelling or hitting something. But once you know that you have PTSD, I think you have a responsibility as well to try to temper it. You try as hard as you possibly can to avoid situations that you know are going to tempt you. For example: I used to love going out by myself to strange bars and drinking with new friends. I don't do it anymore, after the time when I got myself involved in someone else's fight and spent the next hour limping, bleeding, and talking my way out of trouble with the MPs. Do I wish I had the control to be able to do it? Yes, you're damn right I do. But I acknowledge that it's a risk factor, and so I don't go out drinking unless I'm accompanied by someone I trust to get me out of Dodge if trouble looks like it's rising.

I'm sick and tired of people who claim that their PTSD is the excuse for them indulging in all sorts of bad behavior. It's an explanation, but it's not an excuse. If you had the opportunity to mitigate or avoid the situation but decided to stick it out anyway because you knew you could get away with it by claiming PTSD? You are not a victim, you are an asshole.

I'll put myself on blast here, and explain that my PTSD is 'noncombat', in that it does not directly relate to official combat with an official enemy. Instead it is domestic violence and sexual assault related, in that the combat involved me unarmed, facing an armed enemy who also happened to be my husband at the time. I still, to this day, am affected by it. Every day, I am quick to lose my temper, and god help me if you abuse women in my presence. I once got into a fistfight with a man a head and a half taller and two feet wider than myself over it. When someone deserves it, I am happy, genuinely happy, to wade into the fray even if I am going to take some serious damage. But when someone doesn't deserve it, I hold back.

I've had to deal with a lot of other people with PTSD in the line of work I involve myself in. Dealing with veterans, you see a lot of it. But what I also see, and I wish I didn't, is a pattern of using it as an excuse. Using combat PTSD as an excuse for why someone beats their wife, or raped a woman. Why they attempted to attack someone half their size for no apparent reason. Why it's okay to rip kids off bikes if you think they're doing something like you saw once in Iraq.

It's not fucking okay.
It is not fucking okay.

If you feel like you need to beat your wife? Maybe it's time to go in to counseling. Tell your wife what's going on. Start leaving the house when you start getting angry.

If you feel like you're incapable of getting physical without forcing your way to sex at the end because dammit, you somehow deserve to get what you want? You need to be away from women for a while. Seriously.

And here's another important one: if you want to get people to tiptoe lightly around your mental health issues, you need to tiptoe lightly around theirs. If you want people not to make loud noises around you, you need to listen to a woman's request that you give her a room with a lock on it. If you want people to try not to provoke your temper? You need to try not to provoke other people's, and be adult enough to walk away when you are.

I respect those whose sufferings in combat have caused them great pain that they are not able to fully recover from. But their mental health issues are not one bit more holy or sacrosanct than anyone else's. We all need to be respected, we all need to be treated as human and as brothers. /Especially/ as soldiers and veterans, and especially within veterans groups.

Images here are from the very excellent Men Can Stop Rape campaign, that my SARC showed me to.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama, Part I

I can remember my first sight of the man. I had never heard of him. I was sitting in the Legal Assistance office in Yongsan, Korea, preparing for my divorce. In the room, the Democratic National Convention was playing on a single corner TV screen. Small, tinny, the volume wavering. Yet I listened to this man I had never heard of speak, and I was touched.
"That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door."

It didn't apply to me at the time. It applies to me now. I know that what I am doing is right. I know that it is just and legal. But I fear, where I never did before, a sudden knock on the door. I know others who fear that same knock. And I know that it is wrong, and I am glad and grateful to have a President coming who may remember this, and remember us who believe that dissenting is in fact to be protected.

When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

Yes. Oh, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Back then I had not grown into my strong opposition to the Iraq occupation, but even then I knew that our troops were not being treated fairly in exchange for what they were giving. That they were being sent out unprotected, unfinanced, unloved by the giants that set their actions in motion but would never risk themselves or their children. I can never know what started the process, but perhaps if the seed was already planted, this speech may have helped me on my way.

If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

I grew up in a New York City so tolerant that I did not learn racism still existed until I joined the Army. I could not conceive of a world where people would be prejudiced against based on their race and their heritage. Where their rights would be taken away. This echoed more than most.

Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too:

We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States.

We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

And this is what helped to give my heart hope during a difficult time. That things were not all black or all white. That somebody, somebody out there understood my own pain and difficulties of feeling stretched in the middle, as a fiscal conservative and social liberal. I was not all red or all blue and felt that I could not be alone. That the world could not be so divided into evil and good and I unable to tell which side was which except by looking to which party Bush was sitting in.

I hope dearly that our new president-elect will remember this. Will remember the speech that gave me and others hope. The speech that made me say in the room "Why isn't /that/ guy running for President?" And someone else say, "Someday."

Now it is that someday, and it has come a lot sooner than I expected.

America lived up to and beyond a thousand times my hope for it. It surpassed my already large expectations and dreams.

Now I only hope that he will not get shot, as Colin Powell's wife feared when talk was of him running for office.