THIRD TOUR IN IRAQ: THINGS YOU'D RATHER NOT SEE

James' mother Leeanne brought me this photo from an AP article quoting him as saying:
"As long as we clean up our mess and get this country back up on its feet, it's worth it," said Lance Cpl. James Whelan of Kalamazoo, Mich. Just 20, he is on his third tour in Iraq."

This caption came with the picture: "Lance Cpl. Jeff Bartlett, a team leader with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and Lance Cpl. James Whelan, a rifleman, show two members of the Iraqi Security Force the proceedures for patrolling. Photo by: Cpl. Randy L. Bernard. Date the Photo was taken:12/10/2004. This Image has been cleared for release."

James is the one in the middle. I'm grateful when he comes by to visit his aged teacher along with Jef (author of "Zombie Panic Room", free plug) and the others. Our DVD player was a Christmas gift from them and there are no awards I'm prouder of. James loves zombie movies, the gorier the better and Italian horror flicks like Argento's. He prefers coffeehouses to bars. He is quiet, laughs easily, is anything but a "gung-ho" asshole, and his eyes under the dark glasses resemble the medieval angels at the cathedral of Rheims-- so girls seem to Like James A Lot. We have no direct knowledge of this because of his gentlemanly discretion.

James is one of those kids who joined up in the weeks after September 11, with the understanding that we were under attack and they were going to hunt down Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead he was sent to Iraq, walking from Kuwait towards Baghdad. His second tour was in Fallujah. The shotgun, I am told, is used in combination with bolt cutters for going through locked doors. This is James' third tour of combat duty in Iraq, though the last time he visited he was too young for us to take him to a strip club that serves liquor.

I have never been a pacifist, and have no illusions about the power of non-violence or sweet reason when people are trying to kill you. James knows that I have been and am against this invasion of Iraq, and see it as a ghastly strategic mistake in the war against terrorists. But I also tried to assure him (in my fatuous, safe at home way) that he is to come home alive, no matter what he has to do to make sure of that. Remember Richard Pryor saying he would never be trapped by a crowd in a burning theatre, because if he had to, he would eat through the asshole of every motherfucker in his way. Be standing safe on the sidewalk wiping your mouth while the firemen scratch their heads at all those people with their assholes eaten out.

I don't like feeling the need to give cruel blessings to good young men being sent into a bad situation, like that hideous professor in "All Quiet on the Western Front". Goddamn any man who wastes young men like this, no matter what ideology he thinks he serves. There aren't enough hells for the True Believers on both sides who have brought James' family to this moment.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

May he come home safe and sane.
Dee Ann

Anonymous said...

I have seen James' eyes for myself, and they are as beautiful as a cathedral window...I hate to think of them being tainted by the cruel and senseless violence that they witness on a daily basis in Iraq.

Dee Ann is right...may he come home safe and sane.

Taocat said...

I've got enough of a personal connection to the United States Military to have felt an extremely personal connection to the attacks of 9/11 (my wife and I know people who were working in the Pentagon at the time). I don't know James, but I don't need to know him to hope he makes it home in one piece. Whatever it is that non-christians do that is like prayer, that's what I'll be doing for James and his family.

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

Taocat:
Completing your loop of six degrees of separation, Bridget's aunt Cheryl, whom we stayed with in London, was on her way to work as a government lawyer at the pentagon that morning, and another cousin was three blocks from the towers in New York that same day.
The mood I remember on the day after (and this was among "liberals" who would later be sneered at by chickenhawks like Cheney) was the feeling of What-Can-I-Do. It was like descriptions of the day after Pearl Harbor, or the "Over There" talk before WW One, girding up their loins. James joined up in that fervor. Even our gentle friend Lewis was wishing he could help if he was a little younger and had studied Arabic instead of Chinese.
People from Kansas were New Yorkers. "Spider-Man" and "The New Yorker" had black covers. The French were Americans, as in the days of Lafayette and Ben Franklin. At the Last Night of the Proms in London, a mad party I've always wanted to attend with everyone singing Land of Hope and Glory and wearing funny hats, they instead played Butler's Adagio for Strings (the same song they played when Roosevelt died) and "Ode to Joy" and the thousands of people in the park were singing William Blake's "Jerusalem" and waving American and British flags. We were watching on TV and weeping as we sang and I don't know if I ever been prouder to be a human being.
THAT force might have made a world where terrorism would be unthinkable except in the minds of the occasional psychopath. Instead we have the attention deficit President Bush and his earnest little functionaries, all perfect foils for the fanatic Osama bin Laden with his big dreams of alienating the West and restoring the Caliphate and his earnest little functionaries who probably can't believe that we walked into this fight with the tar baby in Iraq.

Taocat said...

Until 9/11, I had never understood it when people talked about remembering where they were were when they heard Kennedy was assassinated. I now understand completely.

We were living in California, Stacy was away for an extended class in Alabama. I had gone on a bike ride before I had to go to work. I came home to a message on the voicemail from Stacy saying "call me in my room". Strange, I thought, because she should be in class. I called and she said, "Are you watching TV?". I wasn't because I had just gotten home from riding and was going to shower and leave for work. Why? "Dude! We're under attack!" I turned on the TV in time to see the first tower fall. By the time I left for work 30 minutes later, the 2nd tower had fallen and the guards at the gate to the base were in full combat gear...

Ormondroyd's Encyclopedia Esoterica said...

I was teaching a middle school English class and the History/Geography teacher next door, who was watching the news with his class, stuck his head in my door to tell me to turn on the television. The first tower had just been hit. Mostly I worked at calming the students, "raise your hand, one person talks at a time", trying to answer their questions with a lot of "we don't know yet, but...", interpreting technical terms, making reassuring noises about fire men and cops and how tough New Yorkers are. I was wearing my hospital face and kept my thoughts to myself. We were watching when the second plane hit, as I suppose the killers intended. The kids were excited but performed admirably (they were used to being silent when its important because their school bus crosses over railroad tracks twice a day.) There were exclamations from the brighter, more observant kids when the bodies started falling but I don't think the rest quite realized what they were seeing. No one laughed or made any tasteless remarks they would regret later. When the first tower collapsed, I think I'll be forgiven for telling them everyone had probably evacuated by then. We didn't know about the firemen yet and the jammed elevators and the stairs. Kalamazoo was safe and the first family concerns were Sean and Cheryl in Washington and Colleen working near the Sears Tower in Chicago (one of Bri's cousin's, now a cop in Flint, walked by the Twin Towers that morning, but we didn't know that yet). You guys were safely surrounded by extroverts with guns, Bridget's father is another large extrovert with a gun, anyone that's not a cop or a teacher was working in a hospital anyway, and the rest of our circle practices the Taoist principle of not being a tree anyone wants to cut down. No one on the television knew where the president was. Little did I know that just a few months later we would all be accused of not loving this country...

Anonymous said...

I was sleeping that day and did not awaken until about noon. For whatever reason I was not at school. When I came downstairs to greet my parents I saw the flames pouring from the Trade Centers and said, "What are you guys watching?" They both turned with a "WHAAAAA?!" "Where have you been?" "Sleeping," I said. And by that time, both of Trade Centers had fallen and James had already made up his mind.
James was at my house within 15 of Marcellus schools letting out and he started in about "protecting his country" and defending his friends and their rights. What he didn't know when he signed up was that he would not be fighting the people who threatened America (not the real ones anyway), but would, instead, spend his time scooping brains out of the back of his Humvee.
I still remember the day my best friend made "the worst decision of his life" as he puts hit, and the idealism he felt that I can only describe by referencing "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." And if I had know what I know now, I would've tried to stop him, but it would have done no good because everyone else was telling him what a good idea it was. That's what I remember about 9/11. That was the day I lost my best friend. And so I say goodbye to Jamie- the kid with Bruce Lee and Pink Floyd posters on his walls, a Godzilla on his TV, hopes of being a writer and a filmmaker, and the love he had for his country before they paid him to kill people.
-Jef