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by Susan Letendre
I just called a small office where I knew the people well, or so I thought. I asked Sarah, the administrative assistant, how her holidays had been, and she answered, “They were a bit sad. My husband is deployed.” I didn’t catch the word “deployed” and thought she was saying his name, “Dick Boyd?” and that I should know the story by hearing the name. I said, “I’m sorry, Sarah, I didn’t catch that.” She repeated, “My husband is deployed, in Afghanistan.” In a flash, I realized that this was the only person I knew who was off fighting a war, and I only knew him secondhand. After a moment, I asked for his first name, it’s Rob, and said I would keep him in my prayers. She was inordinately grateful, and I wished I could say something else. Perhaps, “Thank you for your and Rob’s service,” or “I’m grateful to you and Rob for keeping us free.”
I wished fervently that I could believe he is off fighting for freedom, for justice, to create peace. But I do believe, as Bob Dylan phrased it, that he is “a pawn in their game.” As most of us do, I watch the powers that be right now, the oligarchy, and how they twist reality to suit their gain.
This is nothing new. War has always been glamorized as a means of selling it to the populace, and to those who join up. It is no accident that such high percentages of the fighting men and women are minority, ranging from nearly 0% in the top ranks of officers to well over 43% in the bottom two ranks of the enlisted.
They are also overwhelmingly from lower economic groups, and the military keeps them that way. Just look at college graduation figures of those going into the military: over 82% for officers, under 6% for enlisted. These men and women are sent into mortal danger to guarantee our supply of oil, to make profits for the huge and growing monster that is our security industry, and to insure that legislators get re-elected. Even if they are not killed or maimed, they live in fear because of a lie, leave their loved ones in fear for them and themselves because of a lie, come home damaged emotionally from having been taught to kill their fellow humans, and from living in mortal terror, because of a lie, and then have to live this lie so as to justify what they have seen and done and been.
In the meantime, I talk and write against war and militarization. I work for peace and understanding. Yet, I live a lie, as well, because I live isolated from it, as if the world were a loving and safe place. While right around the corner, just down the street, in the next small office, is Sarah, missing Rob.
Susan Letendre is a writer and educator, a peace and social justice activist, and a storyteller who recounts only true stories. She lives in Rhode Island.
image: On May 27, 2007—Memorial Day—Mary McHugh mourns her dead fiancé, Sgt. James Regan, in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60. Regan had been killed by an IED explosion in February in Iraq. PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN MOORE, GETTY