“Ginmar” did a tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army. It did not go well. She — well, why don’t I show her the respect of letting her tell it:
I was a soldier in Iraq who rode the gun turret on the long dusty roads of Iraq, past palm trees and herds of sheep, past waving men and women, past fields of sunflowers and charred craters in the Baghdad highway where men and women had lost their lives. I talked, over and over again, to men and women who looked in to my eyes, and told of relatives lost to war, to insurgents, and to disease and malnutrition wrought by years of a blockade that left a whole generation of kids so small that I repeatedly mistook twenty-year-old men for twelve-year-old boys. I took mortar attacks in strike—at the time—shouting at an attack that resulted in bombs every five minutes that I’d wasted five bucks on an alarm clock with a snooze alarm when I could have just used the insurgent snooze alarm. I sat across tables and across carpets with men who’d cheerfully try to kidnap me or kill me and marveled at the manners of the Middle East, where mutual enmity is no excuse for tea and flower language. “Come, let us have tea and discuss this unfortunate situation where this RPG happened to fire at you while it was in my hand.” I’ve seen things that I will discuss with no civilian, because the [worst] things I saw happened to civilians, to civilian bodies, and I believed then and now that it was my job to have protected them, to the point of risk to myself, and that I failed. I, I, I, I know, but I saw these things and the language to describe the intimate details of war, the effects on the heart, are so hard to find that the accounts I do manage of it stumble and start, punctuated by long pauses of helpless silence, until an experience comes to mind that can be described in English words: “bomb, mortar, civilian casualties—Oh, the euphemism!—-blood, my fellow soldiers were injured and I was useless and helpless, I looked into an Iraqi man’s brown eyes at close range with my finger on the trigger and took one extra breath and realized he was not a suicide bomber, I talked with Iraqis and watched their hope and gratitude turn to fear and disappointment and hopelessness, I talked to innocents imprisoned for things they didn’t do and I couldn’t save them from prison, why on earth can’t I find a way to talk about this because it’s stuff that happened to other people that haunts me the most? My fellow soldiers, sailors, and Marines were killed–cruelly, sometimes—-and looking into Iraqi eyes, I saw the same grief and loss. It didn’t happen to me and I have no right to claim it, but when the VA treats me like a mammogram waiting to happen, all this and so much more remains locked inside me, where it boils and comes out in nightmares and knives, with blood the only relief from the guilt and the grief, the emptiness and helplessness, the panic and confusion.
No, freedom isn’t free.