A few months back, I had just finished performing in another war play, which is to say I had just finished performing in another anti-war play.
First, I need to put things in perspective. I’m perhaps among the earliest articulate writers who has no firsthand memory of Desert Storm or any military conflict prior. My only window into those events was a different color scheme of G.I. Joe, which by that point was just a Saturday Morning Cartoon and matching toy line—at the end of the day, they went in the same drawer as Captain Janeway, a couple Star Wars characters and whatever Transformers I owned that hadn’t lost all of their missiles.
I’m also an Eagle Scout. I didn’t make the best leader, but I learned to recognize faults—including my own—in those last years with the organization. I learned to respect the military. I see no use in blindly condemning warriors. I understand the notion of peacekeeping and foreign aid that many of our troops, and my friends in the military, share. The capacity to disagree does not inherently make one correct.
With every war play I performed in, I wanted to understand what it was that made people sign up for combat. I wanted to know why anyone would want to put themselves in harm’s way, why female members of the Hitler youth voluntarily went out looking to get pregnant with the explicit purpose to raise soldiers…
As I got older, the words “just war” floated around discussions. For instance, World War II was considered a “just war” from the United States’ perspective. We believed, truly, that we were saving the world.
During high school, I decided that, were the United States to be caught in a “just war,” I would sign up. I wouldn’t wait for a draft. I’d be right there. 9/11 occurred. A good friend signed up, on the same day he announced that he was engaged. Something told me to wait. Suddenly we were in Iraq. This Hussein guy I’d never heard of starts popping up on TV. There’s talk of WMDs…but wait, wasn’t this about 9/11?
After this last play, as I listened to the explosions during a cloudy Fourth of July, I thought—though it hasn’t been that way, what if we were struck first? What if 9/11 had been a part of a larger military movement by foreign powers? What if we were invaded? I live in a city with some old architecture; it wasn’t hard to close my eyes and imagine those booms were tank shells and artillery fire echoing through the streets. The squeals of childish delight in the streets shared the melody and tempo of screams of terror—if merely the timbre was a little different…
The United States does not deal well with the idea of occupation. We believe, simply, that we are above it. We have the luxury of being able to fight against corrupt banks and for civil rights, because reneging on a mortgage or having our love recognized as illegitimate by the nation is, on this day, the worst thing we can imagine having happen to us. That’s not to say those struggles are petty or illegitimate, mind you.
Let’s imagine now a sign that read, “[Your town] 1 mile,” and at the end of that mile was a bunch of half-shelled buildings with some chunks of what was once perhaps tupperware. Where our houses or apartments stood was now a series of craters. It’s hard to imagine. As someone who didn’t really know what the World Trade Center was before I saw black smoke billowing from it, it’s actually borderline impossible.
When we talk about war, it’s always “over there.” Well, I never saw “over there” except how Hollywood wanted me to see it: some shooting, random explosions as directed by Michael Bay, underscore provided by Harry Gregson-Williams… Had I understood then the painful reality—that I cannot accurately imagine homeland occupation—I would have signed up for the military.
Instead, I became a writer.
Just because I am not a soldier does not mean I am without anger, though. I am furious that it was under false pretenses that we sent our boys overseas, and now we are facing delay after delay to pull them back. I am furious that the occupation I cannot imagine is being inflicted upon countries where I feel we have no business being. I am furious at the fear-mongering that the media subjects us to every month, be it from China, from Russia, from North Korea, Pakistan, Afghanistan…
“…what is there to say except that war puts a strain on human nature that breaks down the better half of it, and makes the worse half a diabolical virtue? Better for us if it broke it down altogether; for then the warlike way out of our difficulties would be barred to us, and we should take greater care not to get into them.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Consider it a privilege, if you will, that I have never been asked to take up arms; for if I did, the pictures I would paint with words would sear this nation for so long as I had hands with which to write.
Wars are not won simply by those who bear the better equipment. In the past ten years, we have seen regimes toppled by pictures and words, without a single bullet or a drop of blood. I didn’t become a soldier because I hold a pen better than I hold a gun. But that does not mean I do not know how to make war.