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On the other effects of war…

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to use this new (new to me anyway) media known as the blog. Do I want my blog to be personal? Should I write about my most mundane experiences or only the most exciting? How much information about myself do I want floating in the blogosphere? How will the words that I emit into cyberspace affect me in the future? I decided on a stream of consciousness aroused by my new surroundings here at the Vermont Law School. So, without further adieu, I enter the blogosphere.

The following is not a repudiation of war, which I view as a simple unavoidable event given the close proximity of humans and the inevitable shortage of goods (sometimes innate and sometimes artificial). I see war much as I see carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, inevitable. While I agree that we can reduce the emission, we cannot avoid it altogether.  That being said, I can move forward.

War is a horrible event. While the goals and aims can sometimes stem from noble intentions, the outcome is always brutish. Though acts of kindness are common during the course of war and interactions on the battlefield can often meet the definition of humanitarian, the propensity for killing is simply too great to ignore.

I have served this country as a professional fighting person for 14 years, including tours to Guantanamo Bay, Kosovo and Iraq. It is on my most recent tour, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), that I would like to focus.

I was a platoon commander during OIF and responsible for the lives of 28 men. I felt, as all military officers feel, an absolute obligation to return these men to U.S. soil unharmed. (Breach of this obligation, mind you, is often unattainable due to the nature of war and is in no way a benchmark of success or failure.) As fate may have it, we all returned. We never struck an IED (improvised Explosive Device). We never fired a weapon in anger. We were never fired upon wantonly. My greatest duress was the simple and constant fear that one of these men would be harmed.

Many honorable men have returned from these conflicts with serious medical ailments, both physical and mental.  The most common mental ailment reported on, in the public forum, being Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I suffered neither physical nor serious mental harm and I am deeply thankful for that truth. The following is not a claim of damage, but simply an observation of the other effects of war.

I returned from Iraq and the only lingering effect has been a deep feeling of apathy. Here is the twist; my apathy stems from joy. Before I left I could not shake the fear that I would never see my newborn daughter again. On the day I left for Iraq I sobbed as I held her in my arms and placed my forehead again hers. Those final moments with her, before we boarded our buses and headed to the airfield, were perhaps the most punishing of the deployment. I find now, that my sense of relief is so deep that I have lost the fear of failure that propelled me for so many years prior to now. In other words, I find that my sense of satisfaction has increased so exponentially that my thirst for success has declined.

Two men, who had served with me prior to my arrival to VLS, have perished in the last month. Two others have suffered serious injuries. Each death deepens my sense of relief and increases my feeling of apathy. Apathy is something I have never dealt with. I have always had great drive, great vigor and a dedication to completing tasks to the best of my ability. Born in New York City and my family relegated to public assistance for a majority of my formative years, I felt truly fortunate for every opportunity placed in my path. I felt an obligation to pursue each opportunity with great vitality. I still do, I just find the pursuit far more taxing.

Yesterday I went to Hurricane Flats with my daughter (now 2 ½). We bought vegetables on the honor system. We stood in the rain with our umbrellas because she wanted to stand and watch the farm for a few moments more before we returned home from dinner. I got to hold her hand. I felt the same relief when she reached out for my hand that I felt the day I returned home. Vermont is the perfect setting to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of this country and reinvigorate the desire to move yourself, your community and the world forward toward something better than we have, but perhaps short of Utopia. That’s why I came to VLS. So I am home, but I internally I am still at war.

This struggle is unique to me, because it is mine; but, struggle is a common ground for us all.


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