Monday, October 5, 2009

Still the Empty Plate

“Ben, aren’t you ever going to find other things to write about? There’s nothing you can do about all this. I mean, you’re not even in the military anymore. It’s over for you.” I’m wasting my time, they argue.

It may be over, but it isn’t done.

There are still men and women who awaken regularly to nightmares. There are still men who can stand quite calmly in a sea of corpses without losing their minds, but break down with they smell trash fires that remind them of the IED that destroyed the humvee in front of theirs. There are still men who feel vulnerable without a firearm at their sides. There are still many who rarely leave their homes.

There are still servicewomen who after repeated concussions from IEDs along roads in Iraq return home with their brains permanently scrambled. Many can’t find a partner who understands them. A number can’t remember things sufficiently to succeed in school. A few cut themselves regularly.

There are still VFWs and American Legions packed with drunkards who desperately seek the company of other veterans, but don’t talk about their experiences when they’re together. There is still an empty plate, an upside down glass, a spoonful of salt and a lime in every VFW hall. There are still 74,000 men missing in action. There are still an alarming number of homeless vets. Seventeen veterans a day still take their own lives.

There are still bent old men who inexplicably straighten when a flag passes before them, and younger men who still salute it when they think nobody is looking. There are still men who bear the physical scars of objects thrown at them when they stepped off the planes after an unbearably long tour overseas. There are many more who bear the emotional scars of something said to them.

There are still men and women of all ages who walk out of theaters when the war movie gets too real for them and the street battle too similar to their own experiences. There are still millions with a drawer, closet, or box full of military paraphernalia or ribbons that family members will never see or understand. There are old dogtags and helmets and boots which invoke more emotion than any photograph or conversation.

There are still national cemeteries running out of room as one generation of warrior quickly expires, buried amongst the friends and brothers who went years before them. There are still grandchildren at the funerals who don’t know what grandfathers did. There are infants now who don’t know what their mothers or father did, and why a US flag is always flying in their front yard. There are still 180,000 US citizens serving on combat zones.

There are still millions in the states who don’t understand the concept of national service and won’t appreciate their freedoms until they’re all gone. There are still a few million more who, regardless of the thanks they may or may not receive, will stand to prevent that from occurring. There are millions who still think the troops are pawns in a misguided US foreign policy, or collectively the brutal killing end of the government’s unnecessarily aggressive agenda. There are millions who still ask inappropriate questions that have no good answer. There are millions of veterans who still don’t how to articulate how vile war was for them but how quickly they’d do it again if the nation needed them. There is still an enemy, but there are still people who want grow impatient and want us to quit.

There are still almost 3,000 civilians who, while doing nothing more than touring, traveling or working, were burned or crushed to death for no other reason than they were different from somebody who hated them. There are still nearly 5,000 dead in the global war on terror, and more than 30,000 missing limbs and eyes or who need assistance to complete everyday tasks. There are still 5,000 families enduring the bitter misery of a missing loved one and more than half a million more from other wars. There are still thousands who make annual trips to gravesites for brothers and sisters they knew only briefly.

When those graves have crumbled and the rest of us dead and gone, it will be done. When children know what their parents did in the face of chaos and imminent danger, there will be no more stories to tell. When this nation uniformly learns gratitude, there will be no further need for understanding. When there is no more enemy, there will be no further need for sacrifice. When there is no more war, there will be no warriors volunteering to fight them on behalf of millions they will never meet. When everybody is home, there will be no need for care packages and mail. When there is no more fear, there shall be no requirement for bravery. When all this happens, there will be nothing more to say. But this is not utopia, but real life. And oftentimes it is manifestly ugly.

So, I’ll keep talking. And when I fall silent, others will take my place. We don’t accept defeat.

“Can I see you on the webcam, honey?”

“I don’t know; I just woke up.”

“Honey, I’ve been wearing the same uniform for two weeks. I piss in a tube behind my room. I have sand in everything and shower in a stall without a showerhead. Even after I’m done, I still don’t feel clean. Every other day, I eat the same thing at the chow hall and on most mornings I don’t have time for breakfast. I had my hair buzz cut and call it a haircut. I have a sunburn. I don’t care that you just woke up.”

“Point taken.”

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Uncle Caesar said...

Nope, you will never be finished. Maybe that is not so bad. Maybe you have found your cheese.

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