I woke up in sunny Los Angeles this morning, picked up the newspaper, and three stories caught my eye -- and broke my heart.
First, a serial killer has apparently been apprehended in Southern California. It turns out he had recently returned from a tour in Iraq. "I feel alone in the middle of the desert," he had told his uncle shortly before coming back. Next, there was a report on the court martial trial of a marine staff sergeant at Camp Pendleton for his role in two dozen civilian deaths in an Iraqi village. Finally, there was the news of a bomb blast that killed at least 53 Muslim pilgrims in southern Iraq ... "a country shaken by escalating violence since U.S. forces withdrew in December." (Let us not forget the ongoing investigation of the marines photographed urinating on corpses.)
Call me crazy, but I have simultaneously been reading Sebastian Junger's "War," which deals with his year of "embedding" with U.S units in a treacherous area of Afghanistan. The author does a good job of getting us into the heads of those who put their lives on the line for whatever reasons. "They are experts at being funny," Junger writes. (Who's going to die today? a standard one liner) "Maybe it's the only way to stay sane up there. Not because of the combat -- you're never saner than when your survival is in question -- but because of the unbelievable screaming boredom."
Believe me, I wish I could move on to softer fare -- are Justin and Jessica really engaged? -- but the old activist and the frankly female part of me won't allow it. So many things run through my mind. Why the hell did we spend ten years, thousands of American lives and a trillion plus dollars in a place that is going right back to where it started? Why do we think anything better will come out of Afghanistan? Mostly, I wonder, how can we ask these soldiers to come back home and expect to fit back in without serious psychological assistance?
Our troops these days are fighting in remote, tense enclaves where it is difficult to know the terrorists from the civilians, where a dusty little town square can quickly ignite into a battlefield. They can hardly be expected to be familiar with the laws that governed the world wars of the past. With brutal honesty, we should realize how truly tragic every war -- save the ones in which our country's liberty, or freedom from slavery and fascism were at stake -- has been. If nothing else, the film "War Horse" -- serves one noble purpose. It shows the futility and lunacy of young boys diving into battle against one another. Yes, it plays like a video game but for me, that was the point. (Probably not Steven Spielberg's, by the way)
Why aren't women, in particular, more vocal about ending warfare? Yes, it may be because 99 percent of us are fortunate not to have sons or brothers in any danger of fighting in one. But with stories like the serial killer here in Southern California, it becomes clear that the repercussions continue as the soldiers start coming home.
Who knows the answer? Reinstall the draft? Maybe. Un-elect every single public official who votes to continue these wars abroad rather than spend all those dollars at home? Sure. Get more women to the top who hopefully see the folly of kids fighting kids with grownup toys that maim others and mess up their own minds? Absolutely.
In the meantime, ask yourself: For whom? For what?