I have been thinking about my father a lot lately. It seems like every time we pass another milestone in the Iraq War death count, I think about my dad. No, he didn’t die in a war, but I still believe that war killed him … slowly.
It really saddens me to hear about every new life lost, but for each one of them, how many others’ lives have been irrevocably changed? I was too young to know who my father really was before Viet Nam, but I still realize how it changed him. I was 17 when that realization sunk in.
I was in an advanced history class in high school, which encouraged unusual class projects and different perspectives as opposed to memorization of names and dates. When we reached the Viet Nam era, I had the idea to do an interview with my father about his experiences and how they affected him. He agreed. I had two weeks to write the report. Somehow the weeks passed with him managing to put me off several times.
Finally, the day before it was due, he sat down with me. I asked him to tell me about what it was like. He stared across the room and did not speak. His eyes welled up a bit. He shook his head gently and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t.” He stood and left the room.
Initially, as a rather normal selfish teenager, I wondered, “How the heck am I gonna do this report?!” But then I realized the importance of those two short sentences. It had been almost 17 years, and all he could say was “I’m sorry. I can’t.” That spoke volumes about the horror he had been through. I ended up doing a report on PTSD in Viet Nam veterans and made an A.
In addition to the weight of the terrifying memories, my father also suffered from numerous health problems. Some he believed were related to chemical exposure, most were from alcohol abuse and smoking, both habits he picked up during the war. He would eventually die from cancer, with few treatment options due to damage to his heart and liver.
I often feel like I was cheated. We had a tumultuous family life. Beer was the wall between him and us. At times I thought he hated me because it made him so moody. I was cheated out of having a closer relationship with him, and I was cheated in years as he died in only his 50s. I believe it was war that cheated me and him. I believe that the horrors he experienced changed him forever, and he was unable to cope with it in any other way than by staying numb.
The scene from Fahrenheit 911 that moved me the most was of a young, fresh-faced kid with a hollowness in his eyes talking about his experience. He said, “Every time you kill someone, you can't do it without killing a piece of yourself.” I wondered how many pieces of himself had died already.
I was raised to be patriotic. I even won a scholarship for an essay on patriotism. I love my country, warts and all. I respect people like my father who devote their life’s work to serving their country. I respect them regardless of what mission they are sent on. More than respect, I stand in awe of their commitment. But I respect and love them so much that I can’t bear the thought of them risking death, injury, and emotional trauma for a cause that is not just. They are precious, a resource not to be wasted. It is an INSULT to their honor to use them in an immoral war based on lies and manipulation.
MY troops deserve more respect than that!
My father deserves more respect than that!
Every soldier who has ever served his/her country deserves the knowledge that they and all who come after them will be serving NOBLE causes. It is our duty to ensure that for them.
That is why I march. Justice, to me, is to hold this administration accountable for disrespecting our armed services by committing them to a cause that is beneath them.
I want justice in honor of my father, who gave his life for his country. It just took a long time to happen. I want justice for the men and women we have lost in this war. I want justice for the ones who will come back and never fully recover. I think this justice is also a way of paying respect to the veterans who have served us over the ages. It says “The country you protected strives to live up to your honor.”Thank you, Dad. I know I didn’t say it enough while you were alive. And thank you to all of you who have committed to protecting me.
Friday, November 11, 2005
In honor of her father, on Veterans' Day
My friend Lisa wrote this, and I post it here in its entirety: