In 1948, there was an odd film called "The Boy With the Green Hair." At the time, I really didn't know what it was about, or even what an allegory was, but I had a massive little girl crush on Dean Stockwell.
He played a war orphan whose hair mysteriously turns green, and in the forest he has a vision of children orphaned by war who tell him, because of his green hair... because he is different, it is incumbent upon him to share the message that war is dangerous to children. So he begins his quest to tell all who will listen, his mission of pacifism.
I hadn't really thought about the film for years, but for its popular song, "Nature Boy," sung by Nat King Cole and later, David Bowie of all people....
And then one day...one magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.
It was an eerie night at the Vietnam Veteran's War Memorial, a soft and gentle rain fell as inexplicable fireworks from across the river (we were to later learn in honor of Columbus Day) reverberated and amplified through the skyscraper canyon giving a surreal score of exploding mortars to the speakers "I feel like I'm in back in god damned Saigon", Walter, a Vets for Peace demonstrator and friend from Occupy Wall Street, skittishly laughed.
It was the 11th anniversary of the longest war in US history...I couldnt tell you where it was on a map and always have to google to spell... Afghanistan.
So when it was announced that a 24-year old sergeant, a veteran of 4 combat missions, three in Afghanistan and one in Iraq had deserted, gone AWOL, (which I kept calling AOL) was to speak, I didn't know what to expect. There was a pang of, "isn't that a bad thing? Aren't they like traitors? And then I remembered it's the ones who lie these young people into wars for oil, or Halliburton, or to avenge their fathers... who are the traitors.
I melancholy washed over me thinking of Dan Ellsberg, Sister Mary Corita, Father Daniel Berrigan, Phil Ochs, the dissenters from my generation, as I panned the faces of the veterans in uniform with umbrellas clustered around the mirrored pool. I thought of demonstrations like this in California protesting the Vietnam War and driving to San Francisco with crossed hands singing, "We Shall Overcome" with Pete Seeger and other SNCC members in the mid 60's.
US Army Sgt Micah Turner, a lanky young man tenuously approached the microphone with a Gary Cooper shyness, speaking with a soft, surprisingly mature cadence. He seemed so grown up. He was 24...my son's age.
So I listened more closely. I listened with the ears and heart of a mother.
..."Right now a soldier is trying to drink away the pain that will never leave. Right now, our brothers and sisters are in a war, not just with the enemy but with themselves.
Last year, more soldiers took their own lives than the enemy did. I am 24 years old and a veteran of 4 combat tours, yet I'm the lucky one. A lot of my friends have nightmares that will haunt them for the rest of their natural born lives.
I was in Afghanistan when Bin Laden was killed, we looked at each other, asking 'Is the war over? Shall we pack up?'
Well the word never came, and a lot of good men died that year.
Everyone that we blame for 9/11 is either dead or in jail. There is no justification for this war, there is no reason that our brothers and sisters should die in the sand...
It is my duty to dissent.
One month ago today, I deserted my active duty unit. Tonight I turn myself back in to the military police, the future is uncertain, as is my jail sentence, but if I can raise the voice of those who have no voice, then it's all worth it."
I had to leave. There were going to be arrests and I couldn't risk it, they are going after the journalists now. It wasn't hard to find Micah in the crowd. He must be 6'4...
"You're my son's age. I have to tell you something that helped me get through a really difficult time this year. Nelson Mandela wrote during his incarceration of thirty something years in his recently published diaries."
"I had to go to jail to become the man I am."
Then I gave him a big hug and told him I would be posting his video on YouTube later that night and left, quietly crying all the way home.
(The NYPD arrested 75 peaceful demonstrators during the reading of the names of the dead soldiers at the 10pm curfew, mostly veterans and one bishop. You can follow Micah's journey on Twitter @UNOCCUPIER)