Friday, May 2, 2008

My Short, Awkward Conversation With Two Army Officers

I did something at lunch today. It may have been stupid. I'm not sure yet.

I initiated conversation with two fatigued Army officers on my way out of Pablo's burrito bar in downtown Cedar Falls. I chat with strangers from time to mime, like a lot of other people but this was different. I had a specific reason for doing it. I had a specific reason and I'm still not sure if it was stupid or not.

Last summer I got drawn into a long conversation with a colleague at work about the war in Iraq. I ended up sharing with him a very detailed version of my thoughts about the US's wars in Afganistan and Iraq. Eventually, we got to my feelings about the troops. Specifically, I told him that I'm not interested in making the grave mistakes some anti-war activists made in the Vietnam era.

Our troops are Americans trying to do what is right. In the Vietnam era there was a strong feeling by some of the war's opponents that no American should cooperate with our government's prosecution of the war, even if drafted. Anyone who did was more than complicit; they were guilty. This lead to shameful events like my father-in-law's pastor calling him a baby killer in front of his whole congregation.

Because I was raised by a Vietnam protester I didn't hear these stories until I was an adult. Wonderfully divided country we have here, isn't it?

I've come to understand that the worst thing I can say about the people our government is sending to Iraq is that they are guilty of trusting their government. If you believe the things about our government that I believe that can sound like a really bad thing, but it isn't. We should be able to trust our government. I'm not going to judge them because I think their faith is misplaced.

On the contrary, our troops have my respect. They are making sacrifices and facing dangers most of us would shrink from. Specifically, they are doing it for their country. It was politicians, ones I have much less respect for, who put them there but they are doing what they are doing for all of us.

I'm not going to drag you through what those dangers and sacrifices are because CNN and NPR have that covered. Those of us who oppose the war may think it is all pointless, but for the troops that doesn't change anything. They are still separated from their families and still staring death in the face over and over and over.

After wading through all of that, I said this, "I want to talk to a solder. I want to tell them that I know how incredible of a sacrifice they are making. I want them to know that I still care about what is happening to them. I want to tell them that I appreciate it. I want to ask them what I can do."

After he was done looking at me like I had three heads he said "I think that's a good idea. I think you should do that, sooner rather than later."

Today I finally got around to it. Why I did it today, at Pablo's, I have no idea.


PeWee said...

Soldiers need to hear it, much more often than they do!

Hahn at Home said...

I was well into my teens when the Vietnam War ended. I was so anti-war - but I was never anti-soldier. I come from a long line of people who served (including myself and my sister).

T'ain't nothing wrong with saying thanks. The cops (even CF cops) could use a shout out too, as could firefighters, nurses, teachers, and a host of other folks who sacrifice to make our world safer, healthier, better.