I shared a room with three US Army guys last night. The four of us were staying in Berlin on our days off--I was on spring break from my study abroad program in England; they were on leave for Easter. Hostel life guarantees that you'll be sharing your room with various strangers--probably strangers who will leave you with the top bunk and never talk to you--and I had already stayed with the lone frat boy who shelled out ten Euros for the pub crawl four nights in a row, the quiet Asian couple, and the fellow independent girl traveling alone. But then came the Army guys: a rare specimen to my sheltered, New York liberal university existence. And we not only acknowledged each other, but we had pillow talk even after the lights went out.
They were air-traffic controllers stationed in a small German town, originally from Kansas and Hawaii. They talked about themselves with the self-deprecating humor I would have expected from army guys only in my dreams, earnestly telling me they had enlisted right out of high school because they weren't smart enough for anything else (but were smarter than those sent to the front lines, as per the aptitude test).
We were each sitting on our beds, discussing McCain on the 5th anniversary of Iraq, in a city whose modern history and character are almost entirely defined by war. I've found that Berlin is above all, a city of symbolism (pissing on the parking lot that is Hitler's grave, the strategically placed 1cm plaques at the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe that one has to step over to get by), and this late-night rendezvous was no exception. I asked them a million questions and tried not to sound like the girl who wants to hear members of the armed forces disillusioned with the system, making sure it was clear that I support the troops. But they showed their discontent without my prompts--"I'm finally getting out next month," one said, excited that he was being discharged for simply being "too fat for the army."
So...it's like a blessing in disguise? Did I really just say that? "Yeah, definitely" he said. Oh, good, ok. He then told me that he was worried about the Obama/Hillary catfight--"It's tearing the party apart," he said, all worried, making me feel guilty about not ever really considering the good of the party.
We finally got to the topic of McCain and his life as a soldier. As much as I like the guy and his hardly-conservative ideas on big issues, McCain is too much of an old-timey war guy for what I think the US needs--a future that's not merely a continuation of the last century, a past which McCain embodies. One of my new friends said that, well, McCain knew what it was like to be a soldier, and so he would be the best candidate for them.
Yeah, but wouldn't the candidate who would keep our guys out of battle trump one who would keep them there endlessly, even if he could empathize from afar?
They all kinda thought about it for a bit, and I think they agreed with me. Then we got ready for bed ("I forgot my pjs, would you be offended if I slept in my boxers," one asked) and discussed German girls and movies that make us cry. Apparently, German girls just get with them because they want to get to the states, and Over the Hedge is a particularly emotional CGI movie that I have to see.
I didn't get to say goodbye to them before they left the next morning, but I seriously don't think I'll ever forget their faces. And it's not for some weird patriotic hero thing, or because spending the night with them was as rare as hanging out with the Easter bunny. It's just that they represent an entire portion of the American population whose life is controlled by what our state decides to do on foreign soil, and that amazes me, and scares me. I don't know whether Iran is training Al Qaeda insurgent terrorist Shia fundamentalist Neo-nazi attackers--and clearly, neither does McCain--but I know that as the 4,000th soldier dies alongside hundreds of thousands Iraqi troops and civilians, these guys need our vote and our pressure to help them come home.
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