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This is in response to this post featured on the Freshly Pressed, called “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”.

Every time I see one of these photos, the same question arises: why is the child bleeding?

Did the child fall victim to carnivorous tigers and a courageous US soldier just happened to be there to rescue the victim from the jaws of death? Or was the child playing peacefully when a US guided missile crashed through her front door, blasting the rest of the family and leaving the orphan to fend for herself? No, that couldn’t be it. I know: The Taliban were attacking peaceful civilians and the child was caught in the crossfire, and a US marine, fully decked out in gear and wielding a plowshare , was stationed there to oversee the peacemaking process, and is courageously taking the child to no-man’s land. Except that he’s not feeling very courageous at all. He may be feeling guilty, profoundly guilty, because they targeted the wrong straw hut, and the villainous clan elders are getting away while the innocent family members who were unfortunate enough to live in the wrong hut wail in grief….

But here is the catch: what if the child was in the “right” hut, and the villainous clan leader happened to be her father? And now she doesn’t have one. Or, what is the child is the villainous clan leader, a child of 12 or 15, fighting to protect his family, to protect the interests of his people? What does the soldier feel now? Fear? Confusion? Worry? Tremendous stress?…

And when you’ve been crawling on your belly for the last 3 days and there’s mold growing in your hair and grime under your fingernails and not a soul for miles around except one of the enemy, somewhere, lurking, or rather, another human being who is also scared and exhausted and also has children waiting at home and praying and hoping that this will be over some day and his children will have a brighter future, but now it’s time to find and shoot you because if he doesn’t, you’ll find HIM and shoot him first, at least that’s what his superiors have been telling him, and your superiors telling YOU, you realize that war is about KILLING PEOPLE and you don’t want to kill anyone, really, and you never did, you may realize that this isn’t what you signed up for….you just wanted to protect your country…

This is war.

According to the first definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, war is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations”. Usually, arms are used to disable (damage, hurt, destroy) property, weapons, and, most importantly, the people controlling them. Let’s not allow ourselves to forget this. Sure, the media, the US Army, branches of the government, and everyone else who is a stake-holder in the business of war wants us to think otherwise. It’s about courage, heroism, about good guys vs. bad guys, and of course, the lines between the two are age-old and set in stone!!!… Except here of course I am reverting back to sarcasm, which is just a more urbane expression of rage.

Tony Benn said: “All war represents a failure of diplomacy”. We teach our kids to share, we tell them not to hit back, to “use your words, honey”, but when talking doesn’t get us, adults, our way, we turn to violence. But how many millennia have to pass before we realize that violence only begets violence, war cannot bring us peace, and if we live by the sword, well…

I don’t believe in making sacrifice of human life. I don’t believe that evil is necessary. Sorry.

And I know, I know. How dare I speak against the military and still enjoy all of the benefits that a powerful military brings to this nation? How hypocritical of me….

But first of all, I am speaking against war. And second, I am speaking in YOUR defense. You don’t actually have to go and fight. You don’t have to die or live with the guilt and nightmares haunting you for the rest of your life.

Recently on NPR I heard a staggering statistic: more veterans commit suicide upon returning home than perish in combat. You don’t need this . And the tragic thing is, we don’t need it either. According to a Forbes magazine article, the happiest nation in the world is Denmark. I wonder how big their army is…Second in place is Finland. The US does not make the top ten. So the correlation between the wellbeing of the people, and the size of the stick you carry is, at best, questionable.

So how about those swords? Let us beat them into plowshares.

Or at least, let’s be honest about war.

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Driving to the San Diego airport at 5 in the morning with Dad and Mr. Fatty Pants, I feel profoundly exhausted, exhilarated for no reason, and seeped in an altered state of consciousness. Memories, thoughts, dreams, dreads all mingle and nausea takes the wheel as I recall not for the last time that vacation is over, and that what I am returning to is a dilapidated, raw, and overbearing marriage situation in Houston. And of course the merciless heat.

There is too much to say, and so Dad and I are silent. Then he tells me about a dream that he had.

“I had a dream last night about altered reality. You know, the kind of dream where you don’t know what is real and what is a dream, and if it IS real, whose reality it is?…In the beginning of the dream we were living our life, I was working, doing research, and then suddenly I was called to service. To serve in the armed forces, that is. Well I went and before I could start there were several tests that I had to pass. There was one particular test that everyone spoke of with an eerie distaste. From the name of it I couldn’t understand why those who had gone through it were so unwilling to talk. But then one of the soldiers explained. What happened is that a rope, like a bungee cord, was tied around your feet, and you were supposed to jump down, head first. Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, I told the soldier. He looked at me strangely and replied, “The catch is that you have to jump down into a dark pipe. You don’t know how long you fall before the rope straightens out. And then they have you hang there for a while…”. “How long?” I asked. “With each person it’s different. However long you last…”

Last thing I remember from that dream – I was peering at all of the soldiers sitting around, playing cards and laughing as if they were having the time of their lives. And I was looking at them, hard, trying to figure out what is it in them that makes them survive – that allows them to withstand that test…”

Dad falls silent. We’ve almost reached the airport and the weepy feeling of nausea has escalated to where I can hardly speak. I gulp down, process the information he just shared, and, feeling a bit confused, ask, “How is that dream related to altered reality?”

“Well simple. It’s as if you’re living your life, thinking you are in control, living out the decisions you yourself once made. And then suddenly you find that you were wrong. You are not in control. And you don’t know who is. Or how long you’ll be falling…”

Yeah, I think, you can say that again.

Then a strange twist of fate, or chance, or mercy…and we miss our flight. We are just a few minutes too late. As if in a trance Dad walks Mr. Fatty Pants and me out of the airport and back to the car. And now we are driving again.

I recall an episode from a few years ago and tell Dad.

“Remember when I worked at the UCSD library? That first fall of college, my boss and her family had flown to Boston on vacation, and when she returned, a few weeks later, I greeted her at work and asked her how her vacation was. She looked quite ill and told me that it was terrible; that the day they were supposed to get on the plane and fly home she got really sick. So sick that they ended up having to cancel their flight and take a different one a few days later…”I’m sorry..”, I told her, “But besides that last day, was everything else good?” She looked at me kind of funny and kind of alarmed. “Well, Anya” she said, “That flight that we were supposed to take from Boston…it crashed in Pennsylvania…”

I can’t go on and there was no need to. There is no place for words. Of course, how could I forget that sunny morning on the 11th of September…

And so we drive home. Me – filled with a sense of discombobulated relief, a haunting premonition, and something akin to joy. The sun-scorched, golden hills are bathed in morning light, and a raspy voice whispers in my soul: with each person it’s different…however long you last…

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