By J.D. ENGELHARDT
08/26/05 "ICH" -- -- Every morning I wake up and follow at least one routine that I will carry out for the rest of my life. I look into the mirror and see an average guy with a turbulent past and an uncertain future.
I see my flowing brown hair growing longer everyday and a reddish brown beard that has now consumed my entire face.
I see dark circles under my bloodshot blue eyes and wrinkles from at least four years of undue stress. I have just turned twenty-five but I feel as though I’m forty. If experts say that smoking tobacco will add ten years to your life, I wonder what they would say about military service.
I see a new person, one that I never thought I would meet, one that I never knew could possibly exist, but there he stares at me in the mirror. Not so much a stranger, but completely different that I would have ever imagined.
Everyday I see myself in the mirror and am reminded of the new person who stares back. A new me, a refined me. A happy and optimistic me. A fresh mold, a new start. Things will be better now, for I am free and very gratefully alive. The future seems so bright and pure now compared to where I was only a few short months ago. I am in control of my own life once again. I have embraced this new unknown with open arms, waiting to challenge any obstacle that is thrown in my face. I know this new path in life will not be easy, but I will proudly assume responsibility for all my future accomplishments and failures.
As I walk from my home and stroll through the streets, I hit the ground running. New and exciting possibilities loom around every corner. Everywhere I look I see people running to and fro, consumed by their worldly responsibilities. Running errands, heading to work, earning money, spending money. So much to do, and yet I drift through the madness like a ghost. I know I have responsibilities of my own, but they no longer seem to anchor me down like the ball and chain that was my past.
Because I can, I walk into a tavern for an afternoon beverage. “Long island ice teas taste better in Europe,” I think to myself, noticing that almost every cocktail I’ve had in my hometown seem to be watered down. No matter, though. Its just that Europeans have better taste concerning the finer things in life, such as an afternoon head-change. Its not America’s fault. We’re simply a very young nation and have not yet learned to perfect the Art of Living like that of our ancestral neighbors across the Atlantic Ocean. But then again, they are not so big on watching televisions in their pubs, and as I stare across the gray sunlight room, I notice a enormously looming and mind numbing television perched high in the corner.
The few customers in the vicinity of this Electric Fix seem to be watching the broadcast, but I can clearly see that they are not. They have the look of a deer in the halogen headlights of an oncoming vehicle. No reaction of danger or panic, but rather no emotion at all. Completely transfixed by the meaningless visions of commercial advertisements, muted on the big box, emitting no sound at all. In the whole of the land, its just them and the flashy images that fall upon deaf ears.
Within seconds this senseless barrage of consumerism turns to news updates on the channel that broadcasts CNN. A reporter behind a sleek studio desk is moving her mouth, but nothing is said. At first it seems unclear what is being discussed, but in no time another little TV pops up behind and to the right of this talking head, and the theme of the moment is suddenly clear. As the program transcends from the reporter at her desk to actual media footage, it becomes starkly obvious what is going on in that flat screened box. Apparently the war is still happening in Iraq, and wouldn’t you believe that its getting worse.
The images I see perturb me. The feeling is not so much fear as it is uncomfortable distress. Because while most people only see car bombs and explosions and American soldiers running frantically to contain “the situation” on a muted television screen, I see it in real life. I actually hear the booms and bangs of insurgent bombs, and the crackling of machine gun fire, and the hysterical shouting of frightened Iraqi civilians. I can hear a military radio asking for reinforcements, and I can hear the diesel engines of real humvees racing to the scene. I can hear the cocking of M-16’s and orders being shouted to scan for hidden enemy targets. There may not be any sound emitting from the television, but I can hear it, I can smell it, and I can feel it. I know what it is, because not too long ago I was there.
At times it feels as though many years have passed. Weeks go by so fast in my new civilian life that I don’t even realize that it was only five months ago when I was counting days to escape the suffocating madness of Operation Iraqi Freedom II (It Looks Good On Paper). But it doesn’t mean I have forgotten about it. On the contrary, I think about this meaningless war everyday. I can’t hide from the soldier I once was much like I will never be able to bury the memories of one year in combat. Whenever I glance at war coverage on a television, or hear the ignorant hate-talk of our blood mongering president, or read the latest death tolls in the news papers my eyes fill with rage and my heart fills with sorrow. It is impossible for me to ignore what is going on in Iraq when I am constantly reminded of the death and carnage, as well as my participation in the war machine. Some people boast the war chant “never forget”. Well, I never do.
There is nothing that I feel can alleviate the guilt for being directly involved with our illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq. I ask myself from time to time, “Why was I so afraid to resist the order to go to war? Why didn’t I object to the whole damned thing?” I have been told many times not to be ashamed for my service to this country, but I can’t help a genuine intuition that this war is not designed to promote freedom and our beautiful American way of life, but instead only carried out to proliferate Western imperialism and corporate profits every time a bullet is fired. My guilt is synonymous with the sentiment that I was indeed on the wrong side of the wire.
I know that many Americans are completely unaware of what damage our military is wreaking not only in Iraq, but also on our homeland security. An estimated 100,000+ of innocent Iraqi civilians have perished due to gross negligence at the hand of the US military. Not a single day goes by without a non-combatant man, woman or child being slain due to stray bullets, wildly aimed mortar or rocket rounds, or the use of massively destructive air deployed warheads in urban areas. And as this unjustified war continues to rage with no end in sight, the anti-American sentiment across the world continues to escalate enormously. While in Iraq, I never once saw a terrorist with extreme inclinations for senseless bloodshed, but only angry farmers and shop keepers who for one reason or another wish to end our empirical domination over their homeland. What I saw was an honest insurrection fought by average citizens, a perfect guerrilla war ran by no centralized leadership and with the potential to overcome any obstacle furnished by the conventional coalition forces. By any sensible logic, fighting terrorism with war is only counter-productive and in the long run only adds fuel to the fire. With every insurgent we kill, five more stand in his place. One has to ask how this illegitimate attack on innocent citizens is keeping Americans both at home or abroad safe from the perils of a desperate terrorist attack. One thing that I learned in this war was that the Iraqis are people like you or me. They want the very same things out of life as anyone else in the world. Like everyone, they wish only to raise their families and be merry with friends and enjoy life for all that its worth in a peace and harmony that everyone deserves. But the hardest aspect of this lesson rests in the knowledge that every time a child is murdered, a terrorist is born.
Upon returning to the United States I began to feel isolated and alone in many ways. I felt that what I did in Iraq was an enormous crime to the people of Iraq and a great dishonor upon myself and my family. While I was in combat I wrote on this blog site not only to give people a different perspective on the war in Iraq, but also for my own therapeutic reasons. It was a great relief to be able to express my opinions on the matter and hopefully help to spread the awareness that what was being done in the Bush administration’s interests was a great crime against humanity. I thought by writing about my experiences I could do some little bit of good from within the war machine. However, once I returned back to a normal society I felt as though my story was done and finished. I felt that no one really wanted to hear what I had to say anymore and besides, given the jingoistic sentiments being shared all over the country, it seemed that nobody cared anyways.
However, during a conversation I held with a Vietnam veteran who was hitchhiking, I was enlightened to an opinion that this fellow expressed to me in regards to what he felt needed to be done not only in his time, but also in mine. He told me that the most important thing to do now that I have returned home was to speak openly about the war any chance I could get. He told me to grab anyone I can get my hands on and tell that person about the war and make that person understand. The only way to end this vicious melee is to spread the awareness to the public, and only then will we as a people begin to take the power back. All this made perfect sense to me, and at that moment I realized that the veterans of the Iraq war have a huge responsibility to convey our experiences to those who are blinded, show them the truth of this ugly debacle and collectively end this war.
Since then I have become heavily involved in what some would consider to be the “peace movement”. Not only do I share my stories with friends and family and strangers I meet in social situations, but I have also met other veterans who have returned who are not happy with the current administration’s gross belligerence in dealing with our country. I have joined forces with the Veterans For Peace and Iraqi Veterans Against War and met with them at a conference in Dallas, Texas to discuss plans on how to strengthen the antiwar movement. We even went to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas to help Cindy Sheehan establish a peace camp in hopes of meeting Bush, Jr. to ask him a few simple questions. The whole Texas experience was amazing and I really felt that not only did I meet a huge amount of brilliant minds, but also had the pleasure of joining forces with good people and great allies.
I’ve had an extremely busy month traveling with friends and meeting new people who are dedicated to reverse the neo conservative trend happening in this country. In fact, very seldom do I meet anyone who agrees with this madness taking place in our society. Just last weekend I had the privilege of meeting many great individuals at the Hunter S. Thompson memorial in Woody Creek, Colorado. We all had a great time there paying our respects to the late Doctor of Journalism, talking about literature and music and media control and the war and politics all day long until the point when the Doc’s ashes were shot in a great display of pyrotechnics and dispersed across his beautiful Rocky mountain homestead. Rest In Peace, Hunter!
(To all the wonderful people I met this month in Dallas and in Woody Creek, a huge debt of gratitude for your hospitality and for sharing a great sense of solidarity. You all have taught me a very inspirational lesson this month, being that in these ominous times, WE ARE EVERYWHERE!)
So I suppose things are looking brighter everyday, although the proof may not be so obvious at the moment. I get the feeling that with every passing moment the great Pendulum of Fate is starting to swing back to the left. More and more people are becoming aware that we are being conned and fooled into believing the deranged lies of crooks and criminals in Washington, DC. There seems to be less support in taking the lives of innocent Iraqis and having the blood of brave American soldiers calculated into the prices at the gas pumps. I still firmly believe that progressive change cannot happen until we hit rock bottom, and although it potentially can get much worse, I can’t see all the good people in the world allowing it to happen.
As incredibly bad as the army can be at times, it did teach me some very valuable lessons. One is that just because someone with authority is “in charge”, that doesn’t necessarily mean that person is Right, or even a Good person. Not every order handed down is based off of good moral pretexts, and many times the outcome of immoral orders makes the situation as a whole much worse. Eventually common sense, self respect, and real honor for first-rate decency must prevail. Whether you are subjected to the draconian structure of the military or that of our pernicious government, honest dissidence should always remain constant. In the words of the wise Timothy Leary, “ Think for yourself; question authority.”
I would like to say that this will be my last entry on Fight To Survive, but somehow I don’t think it will. My involvement in the Iraq war is over and done, but my experience there is something that I will live with and work through for the rest of my life. I will carry the shame and degradation of probably every soldier who is forced to fight against his common man and against his will, but I shall not let these burdens drag me down. My goal from now on is to overcome the adversity of violence and decadence that is so prevalent in our society. The weapons I choose to fight this battle are communication, peaceful resolution, and complete understanding. The war is now on all fronts, and for me the real war is ending the one in Iraq. I feel I owe it to the victims of this horrible conflict, both the freedom fighters and innocent families on both sides of the spectrum. I simply cannot sit down and allow greed mongers and war hawks to run our countries and govern our lives any longer. I have decided to do my share, collectively with others, to bring this tyrannical administration to its knees through words and acts of civil disobedience. If we allow the bastards to take a little more, soon enough they will have it all. The time has come to stop the madness.
To the many readers of our blogsite I give you my total and sincere appreciation. When I started writing from Iraq I never thought that anyone would care enough to hear from just another soldier. I was soon proven wrong. Your positive insight and support were a huge inspiration for our writing, even after the command ordered us to stand down. We have always felt that the supportive readers of this site were more than friends but trusted allies as well, and we thank you very much.
Until Freedom Forever!
(former) Specialist, 1st Infantry Division, US Army
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