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A Soldier Comes Home

Published by marco on

Soldiers involved in America’s imperial maneuvers throughout the world have the heretofore unknown privilege of making their voices heard in real-time on the Internet. Their blogs are in a variety of styles, covering a variety of topics, revealing both remarkable sensitivity and ignorance for that which is not American. There is naturally a lot of filtering going on—this is, after all, the US empire’s military—but some really good stuff does get through. On Being Home by SGT Derek McGee (The Sandbox) is the most recent case-in-point. It communicates the raw feeling of a human being who has been almost completely undone by his experience, of a worldview that has been put through a blender, but who has clawed his way back to a place where he can live with himself. It’s remarkably raw and written in a riveting style.

“It’s not that loud noises terrify me. It’s just that I don’t respond appropriately to them. My heart goes off like a Led Zeppelin drum solo, my diaphragm sprints, pulling-in far more oxygen than I need, and I want to fight back. But there is no one to fight, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do. I’m supposed to just go on normally, but my body doesn’t know that and though I tell it, sometimes it takes a while for it to listen. There was a time, when a noise that didn’t belong was heard, people looked at me for some leadership, they wanted me to tell them where to go, and what to do; now they just look and think: who is the weirdo hyperventilating at the bar because a waitress dropped a tray.”

Problems are approached pragmatically; he declaims drinking to excess as a sleep aid in logical terms rather than puritanical ones: “I don’t sleep that much at all. Unless of course I’m drunk. It gets tedious though, to start drinking nightcaps at seven so that sleep will come at two.” Drinking is but one way of keeping an agile mind from examining a history best forgotten. Drowning memories of actions done out of duty is job number one. Alcohol is but one (bad) way, but copious presciption medication for “pain that I don’t really feel anyway” is another. The job in Iraq is described in concise, crisp detail that shows the futility and uselessness of the entire adventure:

“You see, for seven months I ran around everyday wearing eighty pounds of armor plates, ammunition, grenades, water, maps, little cards telling me how to say, ‘Where are the weapons hidden?’, bandages and tourniquets and this powder that burns the skin to stop the bleeding, radios, and little cards that say, ‘Sorry we destroyed your house – go here and we’ll give you money.’”

The soldiers themselves know what we do not: that they have no purpose there, that they are not wanted, and that they are running around performing duties that have net negative effects. Repeated tours of duty strip these soldiers of their previous lives, letting them be reborn as adults in the cauldron of war in Iraq. Multiple tours stretch to years away from home—just yesterday, a single tour went from 12 to 15 months—and loved ones left behind can’t cope, moving on in their own ways, sometimes looking guiltily backwards over a shoulder, sometimes not.

“Somewhere around then my girlfriend left me, or I pushed her away – I don’t blame her, love happens sometimes, that’s all. … Everyone said that they were disgusted because it was the worst time for someone to have to deal with a break-up. They were so wrong. It was the most thoughtful thing she ever did for me. When else can you say, “Well, my girlfriend is banging some other dude? Who cares? At least I’m not on fire. When does the next patrol leave?” If she had waited until I got home, when I would have had time to think and dwell on things; well that would have been bad timing.”

Whether or not he is uses these words to cover deep wounds, the thought is philosphical: why worry about something so small as a failed relationship when death stares you in the face every day? There are other priorities and the vagaries and minutaie of life “back home” are left behind as the survival instinct kicks in again and again. It is a gallows humor, dark and biting to a society that doesn’t want to admit or know about the ferocity of war. Spitting in death’s eye may be all fake bravado, but who cares? It’s also damned funny and warms the heart.

“The next day, when we were leaving the wire, I told everyone in my vehicle, ‘Don’t worry, boys. Nothing can happen to us. I’m invincible right now.’

“‘What the fuck are you talking about?’

“‘Well, think about it. There is no way God would let my ex-girlfriend and her lousy new boyfriend get my life insurance money.’

“‘It’s still in her name, you moron? Why don’t you change it?’

“‘Because,’ I said, shocked at their ignorance, ‘Then I wouldn’t be invincible.’”

“Shocked at their ignorance” … priceless. Who wouldn’t want to get a beer with that guy?