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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An abstract war

Sometimes it seems all the national news, and the punditry and commentary that goes along with it, is just another form of entertainment: something for us to talk about at the proverbial water coolers or fret about at the breakfast table. We follow wars and politics from afar like sports teams, cheering for our sides, but not really experiencing what’s really going on. We get in national debates about events without much access to the complex and ambivalent facts, and end up repeatedly simply listening to each other’s prejudices and fears. The event itself remains distant, mysterious, and abstract.

Iraq is a good example. Which of us knows what’s really going on there? We’ve learned enough to be conversant: Sunis, Shia, Kurds, Maliki, Al Sadr, Abu Ghraib, Falujah. Just like we learn the characters of our favorite TV shows or the star players of our sports teams. I for one keep up with the news fairly well, but I know only the vaguest things about the real people and places described here: a few pictures and events I’ve associated with them.

Will Bush’s surge help? Well, certainly I don’t know. Most of the pundits and talking heads seemed to think it was a bad idea. But nobody really seemed to display any depth of understanding. Nobody discussed the kinds of specific operations or troop movements this would entail. I got the impression most of them were no better in touch with the real situation than I was. Nobody really informed me. The whole thing continues to be very abstract.

We’re all in this boat aren’t we? We’re Monday morning quarterbacks who didn’t get to watch the game. Despite my guesses and worries, I don’t even honestly know if, Bush’s war won’t turn out to have been a good thing in 50 years. Certainly those making the decisions know more than I do. Maybe he deserves the benefit of this doubt. Sigh.

I had just about come to terms with my ignorance and irrelevance and the abstraction of the war, and had almost given up having an opinion. But this Christmas, my stepbrother made an announcement: he is going to be sent to Iraq soon. This is a kid I met when he was 7 and I was 18. I watched him and his brother while his dad worked during the summer. I lived with them for several years and watched him grow up. He’s an intellectual and a musician. He’s 27 now, confident and competent, but has an easy sense of humor and an appreciation for others. He’s a political liberal -- I bought him John Stewart’s book last year for Christmas -- and he isn’t even in favor of the war. He joined up earlier this year after graduating college, primarily to try to pay off some school loans, as I understand it…but also to “make a difference”. Until Christmas, I was under the impression he’d be getting a technical position stateside, but now it looks more like he’s a grunt.

I’m scared and angry. We all hung out and enjoyed the holidays as usual. Then we all took pictures with him, just in case. I kept trying to understand his decision and to value it. But in my gut, I think of the war is a complete waste of life, and it’s very hard to accept that his life is on the line for Bush.

And now he’s back with his unit preparing. This surge will undoubtedly include him in one way or another. And all of a sudden, it’s not abstract to me. I’m not an armchair quarterback anymore.

I wish him well, though I fear for his safety. And I will truly hope that the whole mission amounts to something more than an oil grab. And I will support all efforts to bring the troops home. It’s personal.


Blogger TDEC said...

Empf, that is scary; and I have yet to meet an Iraq veteran who thinks the war is a good idea - that is what scares me - if these people on the ground don't think it'll work, and generally public opinion doesn't think it works...
Well, I hope things work out better for him than for many others.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 2:07:00 PM  

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