Just Another Poor Boy Off to Fight A Rich Man’s War
I heard from my sister-in-law this weekend, about my oldest nephew winning a school prize. He’s a brilliant kid, and according to the school website – of course his school has a website – planning to major in drama and political science. The drama I knew about. He’s got a beautiful singing voice and can act as well. But political science? Not politics, I hope, I’m thinking, as I read this bio –
I’ve got two nephews, actually, this one and his younger brother, and they are both brilliant, and both beautiful (have been, ever since they were tiny kids, but we don’t tell them this anymore, you know, cause you don’t once they get to be sixteen and seventeen), and I know everyone thinks that about their own, that they’re both brilliant and beautiful, but these two really are.
And how I want them safe from this damn war, and from George Bush’s America. I want them out of that world.
I do realize that the two of them likely are safe. And that my kid, six now, also beautiful, also brilliant, she’s probably safe too.
But then I think about the kids that aren’t. The one from my Honors World Lit class last fall, who came into my class a week before the final to tell me that he would miss class on Friday, because he was driving to Little Rock to enlist in the Infantry.
“God, no,” I said, involuntarily.
He flinched: apparently, he had been getting that reaction a lot.
“Why?” I asked, unable to stop myself.
“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I think we owe it to our country. To defend our country.”
I just gaped at him. I wanted to smack him up the side of the head and ask what the hell he had been listening to – Lee Greenwood? Rush Limbaugh? Did he think either of them were on their way to Iraq?
Instead I asked what his parents thought about this. (He was 18 years old, a sweet and lovely young boy, not extremely bright, considering he was in an honors class, but far from stupid.)
“They’re pretty mad,” he confessed.
“You really ought to think about it,” I said. “You really ought to talk to a few people who have been through this. Do you know anyone who’s been to a war?”
He said he didn’t. I told him about some people I knew about, who never had gotten over their wars. He wasn’t listening, though, and off he went. I haven’t heard about him since.
I think about him, who maybe isn’t as brilliant as my nephews, but surely his parents love him as much as we love them. I think about my student who went to Iraq, and has been back nearly a year now, and looks worse each time I see him. He wasn’t even wounded, not badly – the fingers on his left hand were cut when he was jumped from behind by an Iraqi with a bayonet, and the nerves were severed. The VA surgeons can’t fix the nerves, so he has no sensation in three of his fingers, and sometimes when he’s working on his truck he’ll smell something like bacon cooking and that’s how he’ll know he’s burning his fingers, but you know, other than that, no biggie there ( as he puts it).
No, the problem is his skin and his liver. And the VA doctors can’t figure out what’s up with those. His skin keeps peeling off – like all of it at once – and his liver is dying. Why? Who knows. Not the VA. Not George Bush. (Though I’m sure George is doing some hard work feeling this student’s pain.)
He’s about 23, this student. He thinks he might be dying, though the VA doctors won’t come out and say so. He’s hoping to finish his degree. He is brilliant. His family loves him like we love our nephews.
I’ve got another student. She’s got a four year old daughter. She’s being mobilized soon. Her mother’s going to take the four year old. Who will have to do without her mother for a year or two or forever.
And I know the arguments, believe me: I know my students all signed up in the big gamble: pay for my education and if you need me to defend my country, I will. They understood the deal when they took the money. I know that. So do they.
Here’s the thing, though.
(A) What kind of suck-ass deal is that? Most civilized countries educated their citizens without requiring them to put their fucking LIVES on the line in exchange.
(B) And second, you know, it would be different if there were any kind of justification for this war. If my students were giving up their lives, and making their children orphans, and the parents of all these soldiers were giving up their beloved children, for some kind of worthwhile cause, it would honestly be a different matter. But everyone knows this war is a lie. My student is dying for nothing. That four year old is being orphaned for nothing. Those parents are losing their sons for nothing. It’s unbearable.
It rained all Sunday in Fort Smith this weekend, a cold, foggy, grim rain. And that’s what I thought about.