I need to take a moment to add a few comments about the soldiers I am with. I pride myself in telling the stories of the men and women that are deployed, with as little bias as possible. With a degree in History and as a Photojournalist, there is nothing greater in my view than recording the candid and often vulnerable moments that define us as people. The palette I have chosen at this juncture in my life is war, a challenging and at times treacherous environment that offers a view into the human soul in its full breadth of multiplicity and contrast. I enter each of these embeds with the understanding that I am here to record their story, good and bad, as it happens and as they experience it. As part of that, I work hard at holding my own opinions close.
In the past few days there has been a torrent of anger and hate written in response to a blog titled, "The Other Side of Paradise." I wrote that blog in two parts, showing two different reactions to the election. The posts came about from a direct query from Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, asking for a submission on the reaction of those overseas to the Election Night results.
I let the soldiers know what I wanted to do, and they agreed to let me share their feelings with the world. There was no agenda. The blogs were written as snap shots in time, to offer a view of feelings and reactions to what was truly a historic election.
I have become deeply saddened by the hundreds of responses that have been so rife with contempt and character assassinations. What does all of this say about a country I love so much, or the view of the men and women who choose to serve a cause they believe in? Have we fallen to a repeat of Vietnam, lashing out through the Internet with the same hatred that was displayed through demonstrations and protests of the late 1960s and 70s? What does this say about us as citizens who have voted to embrace a new and better America under the leadership of a new President, that these soldiers who expressed their opinions have now been condemned for holding an opinion that is different than the election results? Have we forgotten the foundations that make our democracy strong... the right to voice what we feel with the freedom and security that we can do so without fear of reprisal?
The soldiers that are in our military are a melting pot of our culture. They come from all walks of life: some poor, some rich, others in between, all making a choice to serve for personal reasons, but ultimately embracing a common set of ideals to uphold and defend the values and way of life we hold so dear. I stand by the fact that these soldiers' opinions are theirs to have, even though they may be highly unpopular. Being unpopular does not, however, make their opinion any less valid nor criminal. And regardless of whether one agrees with the motives and ideologies driving these two wars, these soldiers have made a choice to serve this country and are doing so as they are directed to do.
As I write this I find myself reflecting on an incident that happened in Dallas, Texas over a year ago. A man, drunk and lost, began banging on the door of a house late at night. He had apparently mistaken the house for another. The owner of the home felt threatened, and fired several times through the door, killing the drunken man on his front steps. No charges were filed; it was considered self-defense. A soldier in either of the war zones that would dare fire and kill someone in the same manner would be investigated and most probably charged with murder. We hold soldiers to a higher standard than we do ourselves, always quick to send them out to do the dirty work, always quick to condemn them when they fail to meet the standards of perfection that few if any citizen could meet themselves.
So as we enter into this new period of change, I think it is important to recognize that not all will walk in unison to the same beat and drummer. We are a diverse culture and it is our diversity in race, religion, beliefs and values that makes us who we are. As I read through the hundreds of responses, I keep finding myself asking what this new vision of America is about, and where it will take us. Eight years of war has taken its toll, but I truly hope that the scars of war have not blinded us to the fact the we are all still Americans at the core. What that America will look like only time will tell, but through it I would hope that we will remember that being American is about being free to choose, free to speak, and above all, doing so with the respect and courage to honor the range of individuality that is the foundation for a healthy democracy.