War Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about war lately. Not on the grand global scale, but on the intimate, personal level of individuals.

I hate the glorification of war, but when I watch something like Ken Burns’ The War, all I can feel is awe at these everyday, ordinary people who have seen and done extraordinary things. I’m amazed at what humans are capable of, both the good and the bad. My life has been so sheltered that I can’t even imagine what I would do in the circumstances these old soldiers recount so calmly. I cannot imagine living with the memories they must have.

And when I look around today at our new generation of veterans, young men and women returning from war today, and regardless of my political views on the war, I can feel nothing but respect, admiration, and a little guilt when I talk with them. They go about their lives looking like every other young person, normal kids in their twenties who should have memories no more harrowing than a bad night of drinking in college. But instead they’ve lived with death. When they tell their stories, I’m amazed that anyone can survive the reality they’ve been through. I’m amazed that these normal, everyday kids have something in them that keeps them going through the horror. I may be a decade or two older than they are, but around them I feel young and naive.

I was thinking about a particular young man I know who is trying to adjust to his new life back home, about how it will never be like the life he had before he went, how the war has changed him, and how he will one day be an old man with distant yet vivid memories of war like the World War II veterans. As I thought about him, over the car radio came this commentary, “A Grandfather’s War Stories.” (Listen here.)

As I listened to the commentator tell about his grandfather’s WWII stories, and then listened to his voice break and the barely suppressed tears as this Navy officer thought about his friends in Iraq and their stories, I couldn’t take it. I had to pull to the side of the road and cry.

Last night on The Daily Show, Lewis Black ranted about our politicians wasting time arguing about the Moveon.org ad and Limbaugh’s “phony soldiers” comment. I think they might do it on purpose. Each day they or the press spend their time talking about Barack Obama’s lapel pin is a day they don’t have to think about the people for whom this war is not a political strategy, but their lives.

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