I stopped my book reading for a glance to see what movie was on. I had turned on the t.v. just in time to catch “Glory” and I had to watch it. The first time I saw the movie was at the Naval Air Station Millington, TN while undergoing my avionics training in the Marines. I cannot express what I felt when I saw it the first time, nor how I feel now. When I first told my family that I intended to join the Marines I was made to sit down and watch all the war films of the time. Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Deer Hunter, Hamburger Hill… I had to sit and endure all of these. At the end of the last one, Full Metal Jacket, I was given the look as though I were a moron by my mother and with her hands on her hips and that sarcastic tone that is her normal speech she says “now do you want to go in?” Yes. I then got the phone calls from uncles, grandfather, stepdad, and more about their experiences in the military and why I should not go in, that I could not handle it, it was too tough for me, I’d lose my innocence and more.
War is indeed a hell. Even so calm of a war as Desert Storm had its moments. The sound of fighters scrambling overhead, the triple boom of a patriot missle going off (launch, afterburner, sonic boom) and the sound of a scud hitting off base in the distance. It wasn’t the explosions that was on our mind. It was the large needle kit in our pockets while we sat in the bunker in full chemical protection gear, a heavy charcoal lined suit. Sitting there with full knowledge about the speed and deadliness of the chemical agents used by the enemy. Suffocating because the command to breath doesn’t reach the lungs from the brain is not a pleasant way to go. In our pockets were needles of agents to be injected into our bodies upon exposure to nerve agents. For weeks we had been taking cocktails of pills and shots to combat anthrax and other possible chemicals. But I had it easy. I was on an island in the gulf and scuds had to be launched at us, through a thick cloud of constantly circling fighter jets and a defense of patriot missles. Watching dozens of fighter and attack aircraft launch one after the other, loaded to the gills with weapons is an awesome thing. And in the midst of the launches and the alerts of incoming scud missles, we Marines did our job. If we were not on duty we were either at our tents or the chow hall. We’d gear up in our chemical suits and drink canteens of kool-aid and watch the fireworks of the exiting patriots. In the ready room, several t.v.’s were always on CNN. A missle headed our way stopped short, just over the water from us at Daharain and into a chow hall, killing several Americans. An American pilot was shot down in Iraq and aircraft circled him all day, not letting so much as a beetle get close to him before rescue arrived. A friend is part of a helicopter crew taking out Marine Force Recon and the copter isn’t even on the deck yet and when he turns back around to tell the Marines that they can start rapelling out he finds an empty compartment. Later on a return trip the Marines are back and have a prisoner with a large knife sticking out of his shoulder. We liberated Kuwait and stopped from entering Baghdad. Everyone wanted to but we held still. The Kurds were roused to insurrection but we stopped short of giving them our support in their rebellion against Saddam and we withdrew back to the U.S.
Back home the Vietnam veterans came out of the woodwork for us. Everywhere I went I was approached by one. Back home in Arkansas my dad took me inside the paper mill that he works at and in the lunch room I was given handshakes from everyone, especially the Vietnam vets. I was told over and over again that they didn’t want us to come back to the hate that they came back to. I can count the number of Vietnam vets on one hand that I’ve personally met who were glad they went to war. They deserved better.
Along comes news of a syndrome of ailments called “Gulf War Syndrome”. I read in the newspaper about a rash of births at an army base where the children, conceived after the fathers have come back from Desert Storm, are born with birth defects. One case of a child without a heart gave me a paralyzing fear. I stayed awake at night worrying about that one for a while. Imagine meeting a woman and falling in love and having the fear that your child will be born with a crippling birth defect or might die because of it.
Further reading into Desert Storm gives clues about the causes of the war. Was it a war of independence, of freedom for the Kuwaiti people… or was it a war of oil. My optimism from the past about our noble intentions turned sour with the notion of an oil price war. I became hateful of the yuppie in his SUV. I put my life on the line so that Barbie could drive three blocks to the mall in her SUV by herself? Those Americans died because of lazy bastards bitching about their damned gas prices?
Over the past year I’ve moved back to the middle. Yes, I believe that motives in the war for all sides had to deal with oil. Americans might not have went to war if the invaded country was not Kuwait, but some poor thir world country without any exports of merit to the U.S.. Regardless… REGARDLESS of the greed and evils of men, myself and others like me, held our colors high and without complaint we put ourselves in harms way because I for one believed I was liberating Kuwait. If you had asked me to go to Somalia, I would have. Bosnia? Our unit was on standbye and ready. Once while in Kuwait in 93, Iraq amassed troops on the border for invasion. Our unit was in the middle of Iraq and Kuwait City. A handful of Marines passed around the ammunition and squads were assigned to defensive positions around the perimeter.
In the university history class and in other books that I’ve read we’ve visited the Civil War. Cases were made about its true causes, what were the real motivations, why? Some of the more base motives are quite true. But please remember that one mind in itself is more complex than to be either A or B, and multitudes of individuals, arranging themselves in multitudes of organizations likewise have multitudes of motivations. Some of those soldiers in the Civil War did indeed fight for freedom… the very concept of Liberty given homage in “all men are created equal”. Whatever else might be said, there were sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines in Desert Storm who indeed fight for that very same notion.
Glory wasn’t released yet before I went into the Marine Corps. But if it had been, it should have been one of the movies played for me when I told of my intentions. For if we are going to show on film all the horrors and reductionist motives and forgotten morals to be had in war… then by god let us not forget to instill in those who are called to military service the sense of honor, character, courage, and sacrifice that so many have given before us. Let us not get so carried away in our exhaltation of the errors of war and the sins of succumbing to it that we fail to honor the memory of those who put their lives second.
Here’s to the Massachussets 54th regiment.