Monday, August 13, 2007

One Soldier's Experience

Matt Sanchez who is embedded in Iraq, writes of the complexity of being a soldier. The whole article is worth reading. Here's a snippet:

Private Beauchamp questioned the criticism of those who had never fought in Iraq, but Nate Fick fought both in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Fick asked just as many question as Beauchamp and humbly left plenty of the big questions unsolved. Fick risked his life and that of his reconnaissance unit to provide medical attention to a young Iraqi girl because he knew his humanity was in the balance, and not just the life of a stranger. Nate Fick not only wrote about his experiences, in the best selling book One Bullet Away, but his story will endure as required reading for any young man aspiring to become a Marine. Fick may not have set out to write an iconic work of the complexity of the warrior, but sometimes the written word can have unintended consequences--Private Beauchamp can attest to that.

I've met plenty of troops who question the reason, logic and futility of being in Iraq, but I met no one who said the experience has left them less of a human being. Those who read the misadventures of Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp and shook their heads in pity felt a false kinship with a caricature that devolved. The reality is quicksilver complex, where hardship and discouragement meet duty and resolve. Despite the heat, horrors and hardship of Iraq, the honest lesson is not that war turns men into monsters, but that men go off to war and often come back even better men.
Any sane soldier would have doubts, questions and mixed emotions when it comes to war. Any sane voter has the same. It is possible to have doubts, to question and to hold the government's collective feet to the fire without betraying your buddy or your country. And it is possible for war to improve the person.

War reveals the character of the person. Like fire, it purifies the spirit and a true nature is revealed.

I look forward to rich and complex literature and other art forms coming out of this war. Some of the best writing has been written by former soldiers: Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Hemingway, even Churchill. The writing is great not because these men are simpletons or automatons or monsters but because they've seen the fleeting nature of life, the brutality of men and their morality tested. We live in a flawed world, the battlefield magnifies those flaws.

But heroes rise out of adversity--more heroes, than villains. And to only see evil is to choose to be a pessimist. We are too blessed in this country, both in war and in peace, to be pessimists. It is the height of ingratitude and the ultimate in cynicism to assume that all soldiers are evil.