Dedicated to Jacob David George who served three tours in Afghanistan and then became an anti-war activist who rode across America on his bike and wrote the song “Soldier’s Heart”. Soldier’s Heart was the Civil War name for what they called shell shock in WW I and combat fatigue in WW II and PTSD in Vietnam. He died Sept. 20, 2014, an apparent suicide. His song documents the effect of seeing orders for the mobilization of “500,000 … soldiers, sailors and marines” in 2002 and coming “home” to the “war drums” of 2003.
More than 10 years ago a full decade a young woman showed up at Stone Soup Poetry to read a poem about encountering troops in the airport on their way to Iraq and she felt so sorry for them that she told them so, and they were like “don’t be sorry for us” we’re ready for this, this is what we do, it’s our job. I, of course, knew no one is ever ready for combat, indeedy, combat is always more than ready for you but what could I say against the war dance (just like now) blaring on the mains stream media loud speaker.
Yes, now more than 11 years after the invasion of Iraq I see Gen. Stanley McCrystal, C.O. of the special ops assassination squads 2003-2008 on the Military Channel with the monuments in a row behind him of the regiments who fought there at that field in old Gettysburg and he’s talking about “volunteers”. He was a “volunteer”. His army was a “volunteer” army. He even mentions them not being “draftees” (as if there weren’t draft riots in New York City just after the battle of Gettysburg?). He says the Civil War veterans were “volunteers” like him and his. Of course, I was a draftee. I would never have volunteered, but I had to go because I couldn’t think ‘otherwise someone else would have to go’. It was just like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and someone would get the black ball or at least live in that most constricting of bureaucracies, the military. We were always saying, you asked for this we didn’t. We were always sticking together so they couldn’t stick it to us. They hated it, but there we were the only thing that kept them from having everything exactly as they want it, even though every time they get things exactly as they want it, it’s the worst thing that can possibly happen. They the generals, the officers can take any position anywhere in the world, but don’t think they can ever figure out a political solution which is the only way to end war. That’s not their job. They break or kill things not mend/heal.
For 13 years we’ve been told to “support the troops’. Their sacrifices are used to justify each new escalation, each new adventure but when they come home after multiple tours and horrible head injury, shaken brains, and blown up by improvised devices bodies engulfed in the highest of explosives explosions they are committing suicide about two dozen a day. How could they send them back so many times. How could they kick them out with addictions and PTSD to make room for more “volunteers” . Where were the draftees to say this crazy, no one can go back to combat so many times years on end. Where were the draftees to say “enough” and puncture their patriotic bubble. For many, many years the “volunteers” have gotten the volunteers exactly as they want. I wonder if they think it’s just a job, now? They always like to talk about how badly Vietnam-era veterans were treated on our return, but I never experienced anything like being spit on as they always say, but even if I had I’d still say, these poor “volunteers” they sent back over and over on 15 month tours had it much worse than we did when our guys knew they’d never go back after a year and a day. At least I could always think I wouldn’t have been any part of it if they hadn’t made me do it. I was a draftee.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970’s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.