Eleanor Stevens, a student in Jann Gates' senior seminar, Modern Dilemma, at Santa Fe
Waldorf High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, read and responded to the YES! Magazine
article, "Iraq Veterans, Activists for Peace" by Sarah Olson.
Prompt: “When we hear so few critical military voices, we lose a powerful tool for understanding the Iraq War and more broadly, the consequences of U.S. military action abroad,” says Sarah Olson, author of “Why Iraq Veterans Can’t Stay Silent,” an article concerning the widespread ignorance about the suffering endured by American military personnel in times of war. What is it like to fight a war? Why should American civilians take the trouble to understand the subjective reality of war and the human-level consequences of American foreign policy? Who is responsible for the wars America fights and for the damage they cause?
Fill the Void
By Eleanor Stevens
An imagined letter to be sent to Marine Captain Alexander H., a former acquaintance.
Last week I received your request for a letter of reference in support of your application for a position at the company. They have already received your résumé, and, for my part, I will be delighted to write you a recommendation. As you prepare to reenter civilian life, I know how badly you need the job, and I will do all I can for you. You understand, of course, that getting hired in these times seems to be more a matter of crossing your fingers than anything else. Good luck to you, keep them crossed, and know that if this position does not open up, I am more than willing to send that recommendation anywhere else you may apply.
You mentioned that you are concluding your third deployment in Afghanistan. There was something else you did not mention, which I noticed in your paperwork. My deepest sympathies, sir, for your recent diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. I cannot tell you that I understand what you must be going through, or even that I can imagine what it is like to fight a war because, truthfully, I do not understand, and I cannot imagine.
Perhaps I should count myself lucky. Yet the more I consider this, the more I think I must deviate from the original purpose of this letter to explain to you a certain disquiet that keeps arising in my consciousness and to offer you an unsolicited word of counsel. I want, too, to request something of you. Forgive me, but let me speak my mind.
You are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and you will find it easiest to endure this condition by accepting or forgetting what you have seen and done in the war. You will want to suffer in silence. It is imperative that you do not take this course of action.
America is currently fighting two wars, and very strange wars they are. Currently, war in America is more rumor than a reality. Because Afghanistan and Iraq are so far away, we, the American people, no matter what we may read in the newspapers, find it hard to believe in the wars at all. I have been told that somewhere across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, in strange, arid lands, soldiers in green and grey uniforms crouch behind mountains of sand bags to do… whatever soldiers do in wartime. Truly, however, even if a bomb blows up those very soldiers as I write this sentence, they will never be real to me. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq do not touch us. They lie beyond our control and beyond our comprehension, as well. In general, unconscious of what they will pay for, tax dollars flow without protest from American hands into the great America war machine, so that the machine feeds not on passion or patriotism or idealism, but only on the forces of ignorance, disinterest, and disconnection.
Could there be a power more terrible than disconnection? You can see it in the warrior. The fighter who feels minimal connection to the enemy is capable of committing any act. The functionary signs a paper, the soldier shoots a bullet, the pilot depresses a lever to open the bomb bay doors, and then the act is over. Warfare creates a unique condition where action and consequence are separated. When action has no consequence, inhibition vanishes, and anything can happen with impunity. The greater the disconnection between the soldier and the enemy, the more the solider is capable of committing. This, at least, is what I have read in books.
And here you see why the unreality of the wars to most Americans is not to be taken lightly. At least the gunner is dimly conscious of killing. At least the pilot knows of the power of bombs. At least the functionary understands what a death warrant means. But the taxpayer feels nothing. Perhaps taxpayers should be condemned more harshly than soldiers who commit war crimes, for war criminals are capable of regretting and suffering for their deeds, but taxpayers, whose support makes the crimes possible, never suffer and cannot regret. Did you think wars were fought consciously? No, wars fight themselves by the appalling power of disconnection. It is the force that makes possible all the truly terrible things in the modern world.
Behind America’s executive government floats a great, unconscious Mind, empty, acquiescent, and unconcerned. It is the sum total of all the consciousnesses of the citizens of America. The Mind can be effortlessly manipulated. In its supreme disconnection, the Mind is capable of any act of destruction. At this moment, America is allowing two wars to continue.
Sir, there is a disquiet in my consciousness that, I confess, stems from my own sense of irresponsibility. As an American citizen, I am guilty of acquiescing to a situation I do not understand. Though it be through my inaction, I am causing harm, and I must not do so any more. You, too, sir, have an obligation. It may be a godsend to America that you have post-traumatic stress disorder, for you are in a position to fill at last the void of the American Mind. We must no longer tolerate disconnection. Let us work tirelessly to teach Americans what war really is so this country may fight our wars responsibly and end them when the time is right. If not, sir, then will occur the worst horror of all: that you and I may commit crimes in our sleep and wake never to know it.
I hope you will receive this unsolicited response with understanding. I ask your pardon if I have misjudged you or the cause for which you have fought. Again, I will do everything in my power to help you secure the position, and I wish you the best of luck. I remain, sir, ever your old friend.
Eleanor Stevens is a graduating senior at the Santa Fe Waldorf High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Next fall she will attend Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. Eleanor plays the cello and enjoys drawing and reading; she is currently reading Macbeth and a Spanish translation of the Harry Potter series.
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