In time, I became a thespian, competed on the debate and speech team, varsity letters in football and track, summer water polo league, student council. In time, I knew my classmates and they knew me.
They were mostly members of TAR, the Teen Age Republicans of Grover Norquist fame; the girls' great sense of accomplishment would be selected to the drill team; the boys' as Officers in ROTC. All of them seemed to be Born Again Christians.
I published and distributed an underground paper in homage to Tom Paine called Publik Occurrences. All of the paper's issues dealt with the Viet Nam debacle. Several issues called for the banishment of the ROTC to off campus; others dealt with the propriety of regimental marching while twirling replicas of rifles as a school activity; many issues dealt with church and state.
Like I said, in time, I knew them and they knew me.
In 2000, I received an e-mail from a fellow thespian inviting me to an Alumni Debate Message board. She was living in Chicago and had been posting on the board for a while and thought I might enjoy the debate.
Over these years, I've felt as if I was whispering on Everest. The debates became my lone voice against all the reason of Christian Conservative certitude.
One other thing I learned; don't ever question GW Bush!
In spite of it all, these Christian Conservatives were my friends from our youth. No matter how spirited the debate, no matter the names called and the accusations leveled; I worried over their sick and dying relatives; I commiserated over jobs lost and marriages failed; I rejoiced in their children's diplomas and their 25 year wedding anniversaries.
But I figured no one heeded any of my politics and opinions.
Today, one of those classmates posted some info that made my heart sink. Even though he and I have argued vociferously about the war and other issues, I didn't feel very superior when he wrote:
Had a very surprising phone call this week. Seems that this 52 year old (at that point 53 y/o) Air Force reservist is being activated for about 6 months, with about 4 months of that overseas in Kirkuk, Iraq. I'm slated to leave right after the first of the year for 3 weeks of ground combat training at Ft Dix NJ then deploy overseas from there. Should be home sometime in early June.
I'm going to make sure I take a few email addresses from the board with me. I'll have limited email capability and I thought I'd share what I see and experience with the board.
Most of the responses were like the following two:
I'm sorry to hear you're being deployed to Iraq. I don't know the country very well so I hope you'll be out of harm's way. I admire your courage in going to a war-torn country at your age. Let's face it, in business you would be a youth. In the military that's something different. But you'll have plenty of good people around you and maybe they'll appreciate your experience.
I appreciate the sacrifices that servicemen make for my freedom. I'll keep you in my prayers.
You will be in my prayers to keep you safe and out of harms way.
Let us know before you go.
Al was a Lieutenant in ROTC during high school. He went on to serve during the end of the Viet Nam War. He made the Service a career; he is military through and through. We had locked horns in high school and continued to do so. Still, I wrote:
I know we have our differences; and I wish for you not to go. But you be safe and know our prayers are for and with you.
I won't pontificate on my opposition to the war and this administration; you have a job to do and you will do it. I don't know if you would call that courage, but it is loyalty to what makes America great. I acknowledge and salute you for it.
My goal, my fight is to assure you come home safe.
Keep your head down, do the great job you always do and we will fight like hell to stop this madness and get you back.
I have read many times on dKos that the most effective way to wrest our country back is to calmly, but firmly make our point with those that matter; those that matter are those that disagree with us.
Imagine my great surprise when I read the following posts. Bob is a `Nam vet and is mostly republican/ libertarian. We disagree on most everything. In the past, he has defended our presence in Iraq as part of the war on terror:
Best wishes to you and I hope you don't have to go...
You have done many years of loyal service to our
country...It's hard to believe we are so strapped
for troops that men in their 50's are first call
at this point in an active war zone....
It's also hard to believe anyone still thinks bush is nearly
smart enough to be president. He is in way over
his head-Americans have written this fool a pass.
Nothing is better now for the US than 4 years
ago in the Middle East.
When I read about 52 (or 53)year old alumni guys going to Iraq
it makes anyone with common sense realize bush and his crew
have let everyone in this great country down. This war has
been mismanaged from the get go. Seriously, it is like
reading about at the end of WW2, and Hitler drafted men up to
64 years old to serve in his "Volkstrumm".
This Iraq war is going to cripple both the US all
volunteer armed forces and our best people joining
the reserves for many years to come.
It will take years to see long term
effects but they will be huge...
Doug worked in the Nixon White House right out of high school and has been part of the Conservative Movement religiously:
I agree with Justice all the way on this. I've probably agreed with him once all these years. But I would go further and would urge you not to go.
If I were you, I would put in my retirement papers immediately. Your age may persuade the chain of command to approve it. You've put in a full 30 years and then some - why in the world are you still involved in an "active" status? You should be fully retired and not have to worry about getting called up. By keeping an active status you have been playing Russian roulette for the past 3-4 years. Your number has now come up and the gun is pressed against your head. Don't spin the cylinder and don't pull the trigger - get out while you can. Live long enough to collect some of those retirement checks.
It is one thing to die for a cause you believe in. It is another matter altogether to die for something that other people believe in. We are not perceived by the Iraqis as liberators but as occupiers. The Sunnis hate the Shiites. It will take decades for them to sort through all the hatred and form a stable society. The Moslems hate the Jews and Christians and hatred for Americans is widespread. Why give your life for people who do not think as you do?
You've probably maxed out your retirement benefits already. You probably won't be getting promoted again. There is NO GOOD REASON for a 52/53 year old man to be hanging onto an active status and taking the chance of getting blown to bits by a suicide bomber in Iraq.
If you want to live long enough to collect a retirement check, stay home and live to a ripe old age. Be smarter than the Pat Tillman's of the world.
I absolutely would not go. Don't do it.
Allen responded to my post in a way that that gives me hope the ideals and values of the America I love will survive:
Differences are what makes this country great....we're free to share our opinions....and yes...they aren't always alike. Wouldn't it be boring if we all thought alike.
When the conservatives and republicans make proclamations as profound as those above; it makes me want to continue the good fight.
© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen