The Iraq War: 10 Lessons Learned During My Brother’s Deployment

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.*

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

 

*This was written in 2005. This size restriction is no longer accurate.

10 Memories of 9/11

 

I wrote the following on 9/11/02. Except for the last item, which I added in 2008.


1. First hearing the news — a bulletin on the radio. Just, “a plane has crashed into” and figured it was something stupid, some idiot in a Cessna going into the Tower like bug vs. windshield. I remember thinking — before — there was a lot to do that day but it all seemed very light and easy. I thought I’d take a quick look at the pictures on TV before getting on with crossing items off my “To Do” list. Then it all changed, the world went from laughable to horrifying. An accident? It was my first question, not understanding what I was looking at, the images not really making it past my retinas. And then and then and then that second plane and I and you and all of us knew it was deliberate but that made no sense. A separation between what I saw and what I believed could possibly be true.

2. They can’t disappear, they can’t collapse, they can’t be gone. Can’t can’t can’t. The dust eating up the city and, worse yet, blocking my view. All I had to hold on to then was what I could see, as if information was helping me somehow.

3. Later that morning, when it seemed that planes just would not stop falling from the sky, I walked outside to get away from the TV — to not, for one moment, look. I saw a woman driving slowly down the street and on her face was that phrase I’d always read but never actually seen: utter despair.

4. I called my son’s school. His second week at kindergarten. I know this is stupid, I asked, but is everyone OK?

5. My wife was just outside of Chicago, which was all of a sudden too far away. The planes were now all grounded and it felt like the world had suddenly expanded, what once was a distance of hours was now farther than I could imagine. What did I think was the best way to get home — train or car? I was afraid of that responsibility. I didn’t want to say one or the other because what if I chose wrong and there was another attack and she died? Car or train? It felt like she was asking me the best way to get across a field watched over by a sniper.

6. My mother-in-law had a psychic fool visiting from the UK. London’s being evacuated, he would say whenever he got off the phone. Even on that day when nearly all rumors were to be believed, this one pushed too hard at credibility. No, I said with the sullen certainty of someone who has spent the past six hours watching the news. No, it is not.

7. What to tell my son was the only other topic of conversation. Regina, who I was on and off the phone with all day, had no suggestions. No more idea what to say to my son than to her daughters. Stupid with fear, I didn’t say anything that day. The teachers at school the next day were very clear they weren’t going to talk about it either. By the time he got home, he knew something. After playing with a friend, he knew a lot. I talked to him about it then. Weeks later I would be very aware of what I should have said and didn’t: It’s all going to be OK. Normally I’m not so recalcitrant about lying.

8. I’d never noticed how much noise came from the sky until it was silent. The grounding of all air traffic had an odd benefit of silence and beauty. The quiet marked those days and fit my mood. I loved the view of all that empty blue now and then bisected by a single fighter heading north to its base or south to cruise over New York. My little flying security blanket. Three days of quiet ending abruptly as the skies filled again. Even now I cringe when I hear a jet coming down low to land. I wait after it passes, expecting an explosion.

9. The flags came out for a variety of reasons: Pride, solidarity, protection. Down the street is a little donut shop where, at lunch time, you could also get curry. The owners were from India or Pakistan. That first night their windows were broken. Not even the right end of the continent, I thought to myself, cursing. The day after that an American flag was in the window. Within the month they had sold the shop. The new owners are Asian and still serve curry, but no one will ever confuse them with Arabs.

10. That day I was supposed to finish a book proposal. The topic: A humorous look at parental paranoia. I haven’t looked at it since.

9 11 papers

Related:

Why Finding Nemo is a great movie about 9/11

War on Terror makes it to Afghanistan!

The fine folks at TerrorBull Games, makers of The War On Terror: The Boardgame*, have made sure that the war on terror is helping out our troops in Afghanistan. When I told them my friend and fellow boardgamer, Lt. Pete, was over there they sent out a copy free of charge.

Lt. Pete writes:

I just wanted to let you know that War on Terror made it to theater!  I was a bit worried because once we got here they said to just use the APO because any address with the word “Afghanistan” on it typically gets routed thru Kabul and doesn’t always make it to Bagram.  Thankfully it did!

I really appreciate the effort you put into this and will be sure to update you with pics, etc.  I am doing a right seat/left seat ride with the person I am replacing right now and we are quite busy with turnover. Once things settle down with the turnover I should get a chance to play.

Again, my sincere gratitude – boardgames are the best stress reliever I know, so it will be very theraputic and fun for me!

Anyone else wishing to send things to either Lt. Pete or Lt. Autumn, please drop me a line a cvon (((at))) areporter DOT com or post a note in the comments section and I will get you their shipping information.

*Official board game of CollateralDamage and heartily endorsed by the Penguins of Irony!

Can you help a couple of friends of mine?

When Big Brother Sergeant First Class CollateralDamage was in the sandbox many friends sent him stuff. On his birthday or Christmas or something he got so many cards that he actually cried. (He does it once a century whether he needs to or not.) I have two buddies currently serving in the George Bush Desert Classic. One is in playing on the course in the mid-east, the other is on the course in the far east. (Full disclosure — one is a buddy of SFC CollateralDamage whom I’ve never met but who he says is really neat despite being a lieutenant.) Both could use some care packages. If you have a moment and would like to help make a soldier cry for a good reason then please post a comment below or drop me an email.

My further thoughts on the topic, below:

IRAQ: My 10 Lessons Learned

1: I can hold my breath for six months. It’s not that hard, really. I just inhaled when my brother shipped out and exhaled again when he returned for R&R. I did it again when he went back until he returned from his tour. This is a convenient literary description of what it felt like – but in my memory it is the literal truth. I know people who’ve done it for 15 months, several times.

2: How to listen to the news. A mental flow chart I followed whenever I encountered any reports about Iraq. An answer of “that’s not my brother” at any step allowed me to return to my daily life.

  • Has somebody died?
  • Iraqi or American?
  • Civilian or military?
  • Was it someone in the Army?
  • What part of the country?
  • Is this near Fallujah?
  • Is it my brother?

When I reached that final question, I felt relieved and then horrible. I knew my reprieve was someone else’s loss.

3: What to send. Batteries. Hot sauce – MRE’s are bland. Hard candy. Chewing tobacco – it’s a form of currency. DVDs. Baby wipes – help people clean off when they’re in the field. My son sent some of his toys and stuffed animals to give to Iraqi kids.

4: What not to send. Don’t send chocolate. It will likely melt during shipping because of the temperatures in Iraq. There have been many reports that the military is trying to develop a chocolate with a higher melting point. Officially you’re not supposed to ship porn, alcohol, and/or anything with pork in it. While there are serious doubts as to whether or not anyone actually checks for these things, people at home disguise them anyway. A friend of my brother’s got some mouthwash in a box from home, screwed the top off and took a swig out of it. He spit it out and said in total surprise, “It’s mouthwash!”

5: Nothing bigger than a shoe box. That’s the optimum size for shipping. Anything bigger than that will take forever to get there. For some reason speed of delivery mattered even when he was going to be there for a year.

6: The USPS is very helpful. When shipping overseas you have to fill out one of two different customs forms depending on the weight of the package. I was always filling out the wrong one. No matter how long the line behind me, when the clerk saw the address on the package he or she invariably said something kind and didn’t mind waiting while I filled out the right one.

7: People are very kind. You send things because there’s nothing else you can do. I asked other people to send things, too. And they did. Lots of things: packages and dozens of birthday and Christmas cards and prayers. Always prayers. You send those, too, because there’s nothing else you can do.

8: I don’t care what you think about the war. Before you tell me that, tell me if you’ve had someone over there. If you know what that constant dread is like or what it’s like to be terrified when the phone rings late at night, then I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ve disagreed with people who’ve been through this, but I’ve never argued. We have too much in common. It’s irrational, but I think we are the only people who should get to discuss the topic. Anyone else – even the ones who agree with me – I tend to view as a clueless fool.

9: Many people have it worse. And it’s not just the families that have had someone killed or injured. He is my brother but he is Stacy’s husband and my parent’s child. The times they were awake at 3 AM were much darker than the times I was.

10: I am a hypocrite. If truth is the first casualty of war, then the first truth to die is the fact that your opponent is human, too. I passionately believe that all human lives are equal. For the entire year my brother was over there I didn’t care how many Iraqis died or what else happened to them. Now that he is back, I am compassionate again.

Game proves satire is world’s most dangerous marketing strategy

The War on Terror is still terrifying people. And in this specific case I mean the boardgame, not the George Bush Desert Classic. As readers will recall, War on Terror: The Boardgame was released in November of ’06 (though I was reporting on it in July of that year HAH!). The satiric game seems to be what would have happened had Randy Newman designed Risk.

“The ‘War on Terror’ was once just a violent hobby for greedy imperialists. Now, courtesy of TerrorBull Games, it’s also a boardgame! That’s right, now everyone can experience the thrill of waging war on an abstract noun – and liberate the world in the process.”

Components include an Axis of Evil spinner, a balaclava with the word “evil” printed across the forehead and a “Suicide Bomber Gift Certificate,” bearing the legend “thank you for funding the War on Terror.” I really think one of those should be given to every US taxpayer.

While I doubt it’s been a huge seller it has certainly been a PR bonanza for TerrorBull Games — one that just keeps on giving. Initially it was decried by every UK news organization with a slow news day and then banned by the big toy store chain over there. Also the company wasn’t allowed to even rent a booth at the London Toy Fair. More recently the game was cited by the police as evidence that a bunch of UK treehuggers at the Camp for Climate Action had a “sinister weapons cache.”

… on Monday night police found a stash of weapons that included an assortment of knives, a pointed throwing star, shields and chains hidden in trees and undergrowth around the site.

Also seized — and featured prominently in press coverage — was a copy of guess what boardgame? (Note to the UK cops: a throwing star? There is no less dangerous weapon in the world — except to the person using it. The damn things are nearly impossible to throw with any accuracy.)

Now the damn thing is once-again getting banned by stores. According to the game’s publisher:

When Zavvi ordered 5,000 copies of War on Terror, independent publishers, TerrorBull Games, thought their luck had changed. After a year of obstruction and rejection, they finally had a high street outlet. However, the celebrations were short-lived when the games were recalled the very day they went on sale. A Zavvi spokesman strangely claimed that “poor sales” lay behind the same-day recall, but TerrorBull Games suspect differently. Apparently, while many at Zavvi were backing the game, MD, Simon Douglas, was unaware of the deal until the moment he saw War on Terror on the shelves of his own shop. Douglas reportedly “kicked off” and the games were promptly pulled. Zavvi then refused further delivery and became reluctant to pay for games they suddenly decided they didn’t want. A protracted legal battle ensued that, while almost bankrupting TerrorBull Games, ended in victory for TerrorBull as they got to keep half the games as well as getting paid in full.

In order to make more hay from this the company is going to be “giving away over 100 board games on Oxford St in London to draw attention to the fact that no High Street chains will dare sell the game.” Apparently High Street is a big thing over there. It’s so cute when the Brits act like they’re a real country!

One of these days I really want to actually play this thing.

Chickens becoming threat to national security?

Two headlines from the always excellent Obscure Store & Reading Room:

Coincidence? I think not. Memo to self: Be more specific when ordering steak bomb at sandwich shop.

Image via mellow creme pets

Bush gave up golf for families of Iraq war dead

“I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf,” Bush said. “I feel I owe it to the families to be as — to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

My head hurts from this quote.

Dear George, you want to show solidarity with these families? How about you visit each and every one of them. Maybe explain why neither you nor your children have served in this or any other war. How about adequate funding and administration for the Veterans Administration? How about not being an idiot? How about not starting wars on fictitious grounds?

Good Lord.

McCain? Hillary? Obama?

I’ll take any of them over this fool.

Not Huckabee, though. I can’t live through another administration that views facts as malleable.

Gitmo guards take Lord of the Rings script from inmate

Guards are required to search detainees’ possessions for contraband and seized the box of documents because it contained items Khadr was not permitted to have, including the “Lord of the Rings” script, pictures and Internet news articles, the spokesman, Lt. Col. Ed Bush said.

Dude, you sooooo totally have to read the books.

Prez sez if he were younger he’d go to Afghanistan; an opinion apparently not shared by his daughters

I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed… It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger.” — The Clueless One during a video conference with civilian & military personnel who are facing real danger in Afghanistan. At no time did he say, “Dang, I knew I should have gone to Vietnam.”

US interrogators say Starbucks is better than torture

From a Washington Post story:

The Bush administration announced yesterday that it intends to bring capital murder charges against half a dozen men allegedly linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, based partly on information the men disclosed to FBI and military questioners without the use of coercive interrogation tactics.

The admissions made by the men — who were given food whenever they were hungry as well as Starbucks coffee at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — played a key role in the government’s decision to proceed with the prosecutions, military and law enforcement officials said.

“So which will it be: waterboarding or a venti latte with extra cinnamon on top?”

I want someone to use this in an ad campaign!!!!

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I hate it when they’re funnier than I am, Part 2: Social Terror Networking

Damn you, BOROWITZ!!!

After successfully sponsoring several of the presidential debates, Facebook is spreading its wings once more, announcing today that it would become the official co-sponsor of the United States’ war on terror.

In snagging the coveted anti-terrorism sponsorship, the popular networking site beat out two of its rivals, MySpace and YouTube, who had also vied to co-sponsor the global struggle against Islamic extremism.

As if that wasn’t enough to piss me off, he’s also written:

Obama Wins Country Music Entertainer of the Year … Coming off a weekend in which he racked up victories in Nebraska, Washington, Louisiana, the Virgin Islands and Maine, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) extended his amazing winning streak today by being named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year. For Mr. Obama, who is not a country music entertainer, the award represents a significant upset since it had been expected to go to longtime country favorite Kenny Chesney.

Oh, hell … stop reading me and go read him. I surrender. This blog will now be devoted to knitting and those few other topics I know even less about than politics, marketing & humor.

War On Terror brand suffers major setback as UK ends partnership

File under: Declare victory and go home.

The words “war on terror” will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country’s chief prosecutor said Dec. 27. Sir Ken Macdonald said terrorist fanatics were not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless “death cult.” The Director of Public Prosecutions said: ‘We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language.” … His remarks signal a change in emphasis across Whitehall, where the “war on terror” language has officially been ditched. Officials were concerned it could act as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, which is determined to manufacture a battle between Islam and the West.

NO WAR ON TERROR? But what brand will you use to scare the electorate with????

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