An Open Letter to My Fellow Veterans

As we enter our fifth year of occupation, and as Iraq continues to degenerate into sectarian violence and civil war, I think it important that we talk, vet to vet. Real talk, talk from the heart, as we did back in Iraq, in the Nam, in Korea, on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. Let us put aside, for a moment, all the bunk we have been fed over the years by those who were not there. You know who I mean. The politicians and war strategists who cavalierly make war, decide tactics, and send us off to fight, bleed, and die for a cause that is uncertain or non-existent. Self-proclaimed “patriots” who, while remaining safe at home, try to convince us that the threat to our way of life – - to America and to freedom – - is real and grave and that the disruption of our lives and the sacrifices we make, and that our brothers and sisters make, are necessary and glorious.

It is not easy, I know, to ignore their bull, the mythology they create, and to separate fantasy from reality. Time and pain have seen to that. Maybe, in our rational minds, it is comforting to accept their lies, their brainwashing, and their changing of history. Perhaps it is even therapeutic, as a means of “readjusting,” of coping with the memories and living with the experiences of war. After all, it is easier and preferable to think oneself a hero than a dupe. Easier to believe our efforts and sacrifices are necessary and noble, rather than a mistake, a waste of lives and treasure.

But in our gut, down deep in places we no longer wish to go, dark places, frightening places, we know the truth. We lived it. We were there. We saw the insanity, the horror, the chaos, the suffering, and the death. Think back. Clear your mind. We killed and were killed. We held our brothers and sisters in our arms, embraced them as they breathed their last breath. Their screams will forever echo in our minds. Final glances we will remember for the rest of our lives. Can you hear their cries? Can you smell the smells? Is the adrenalin flowing? Are you there?

Now think. Where is the glory, or the necessity? What is the purpose, or the strategy? Can you feel it? The fear? The frustration? The futility? The waste? The profound sadness? The horror? This is the reality of war, a reality that we know and those who make war try to hide. Memories and knowledge we try to forget, or suppress, or change. This vulnerability they exploit. And from need and from the fear that our efforts and sacrifices and those of our lost comrades will be defiled or diminished should war be seen as it truly is, we embrace their mythology and their lies. While the truth may certainly be tragic and anxiety-provoking, we must realize that the cost of a false sense of comfort is unacceptably high and that we forget or ignore the realities and lessons of war at our peril, and at the peril of our children.

For those of us who have experienced the trauma and horror of the battlefield, or suffered the loss or injury of a loved one, accepting the truth about war, though difficult and disconcerting, will ultimately prove uplifting and curative. When we realize the deception and the mythologizing of war, and begin to see clearly, it becomes apparent that our legacy, dignity, self-respect, and integrity rest not upon fantasy, lies, and fabrications. We have proved our patriotism, selflessness, valor, and nobility, not with shallow rhetoric but by our actions and our sacrifices on the field of battle.

We who know war for what it truly is have a profound responsibility to again come forward, shoulder to shoulder, and bear witness to the truth about war. If our sacrifices and those of our brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short by war, are to have any meaning at all, we must raise our voices in unison. We must warn those who make war lightly — or are ignorant of its consequences and send other children to kill and to die in battle — that we reject their mythology and their rhetoric of false patriotism and will not unquestioningly and blindly support unjust, unnecessary, and immoral wars.

Perhaps war is a reality that will not soon go away, and sacrifices on the field of battle will again be required. But by demanding truth and recognizing war as it truly is, by questioning purpose and necessity, by ensuring a clarity of vision rather than the blind compliance some wish to portray as patriotism, we will ensure that war remains a means of last resort, that no other person will again have to kill, die, or grieve the loss of their son or daughter for a cause that is misguided. We will ensure that those who dare to initiate such wars and connive to use deception and myth to encourage participation and support are held responsible for their crimes against humanity.

Let us make this our legacy. Welcome home.

Camillo