Yet it doesn’t feel like spring in my heart. In fact, my heart is very heavy. I read a report today from a Quaker therapist who works with returning U.S. soldiers and their families. The therapist noted that the returning soldiers are feeling like they’ve lost an important part of themselves because of the actions they’ve done in Iraq, and fear they are damaged permanently by behaving against their core beliefs. The therapist also mentions that most of the soldiers returning from Iraq are angry, and that the anger seems to be a necessity to staying alive in Iraq.
I’ve met these soldiers here in Iraq. I’ve met the angry one who seems to be angry all the time, with a permanently etched scowl on his face. I’ve met the one who tells me of doing things he didn’t want to do and then telling me the ways he tries to cope with those actions. I’ve met the one who seems to have turned off all emotion in order not to feel anything. I’ve met the one who, when he got back home, said he’d done his time in Hell and he wasn’t ever going back.
They have names - Ricky, Jeff, Jon. They have beautiful green eyes that go all the way down to their tortured souls. They have lives, and personalities, that they remember but can’t quite keep in touch with when they are here and can’t fit into when they go home. They’ve seen their friends die, and they fear for their own lives.
Where is the new beginning for them? How can they un-live everything that’s happened to them in this crazy situation and get back to being whole human beings again?
The answer is of course that they can’t ever undo what they’ve seen and done as soldiers. No one can give them back the innocence they had before coming here.
The same is true for me. I lost innocence that I didn’t know I had. I found out that my government and its military have condoned incredible acts of violence, often against civilians. I’ve learned that my government thinks very little about basic humanitarian rules of conduct and that my government’s military was woefully ignorant of those rules in the first place. I’ve learned that all of this can somehow be justified with a large portion of the American public in the name of “the war on terror.”
I do feel terrorized, but not by the usual suspects. I feel terrorized by some of my own countrymen and women who think that people who present some kind of danger to freedom in the United States are somehow sub-human. I feel terrorized by my government who seems to think that human beings are expendable as part of the “cost of freedom.” Mostly, I feel sad that both the citizens of the United States and its government are willing to take the humanity, and the lives, of U.S. soldiers to somehow feel safe again.
by Maxine Nash published by Voices in the WildernessChristian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical violence-reduction program with roots in the historic peace churches. Teams of trained peace workers live in areas of lethal conflict around the world. CPT has been present in Iraq since October, 2002. To learn more about CPT, please visit http://www.cpt.org. Photos of CPT projects may be viewed at www.cpt.org/gallery