Those were my words when I found out about the extension policy that was implemented on April 12. Minutes before, I read about the death of Kurt Vonnegut at an internet terminal at the Frankfurt International Airport. He died on April 11. I'm glad to say I'm new to his writings, because after finishing three of his books, I still have a lot of his work to look forward to. Vonnegut has the reputation of being anti war, anti imperialism and against any absurdities committed in the name of America. I came to the conclusion that the administration waited patiently for Kurt Vonnegut to die before rolling out this Iraq wide extension. They didn't want to be embarassed by what he would have to say.
And I can't imagine what that would be. But here is what he said about me and my friends in his column in the magazine In These Times:
He speaks, of course, of the hawkish writers that suggest speaking out against the administration, Bush and of the Iraq War was unpatriotic, and gasp! Would seriously undermine the morale of the military. Like a congregation of Tipper Gore clones they loudly bombasted, "Oh, would someone please think of the soldiers!" At the same time, those same people in the Senate, as well as Bush, reject a timetable for troop pullout, saying it would put us in serious danger and give the insurgents a plan for attack.
By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of
wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
Now let that settle in. A pullout date would put us in serious danger and give the insurgents a plan for attack. What are we in now, relative safety, and the insurgency in its last throes? Last throes? Oh shit, where have I heard that before?
This of course comes back to the extension. Secretary Gates issued at least a three month extension to everyone in Iraq, on top of the twelve months they already have. Their plan was to have units home for a full year before deploying again, but some units were coming back to Iraq and Afghanistan in ten months. It wasn't adequate time they decided. And since the military is stretched, especially during the surge, some units would have to spend more time in Iraq than promised. A problem arose from this. They couldn't pick and choose which units to extend to relieve the pressure, so with an effortless gesture of a pen stroke, 160,000 troops are being held for fifteen months (except us, we're staying for sixteen months! Hooboy!). Secretary Gates also mentioned that every soldier spending more than a year deployed will get an extra $1000 per month, and a guarantee of twelve months home between deployments and you're fucking lucky to get that much.
If I've learned anything thus far, a guarantee from the Army and three dollars will get you a coffee at Starbucks.
Let me give you a little backround if I haven't already. I joined the Army out of half patriotism, half desperation in 2004. I was still angry about September 11 and I totally fucked up school. I barely made it out of there with a diploma, and I knew it was because I had no discipline or direction. I thought the Army would be a magic bullet for all of those problems. The war was going on for a year when I joined, and I thought it was just and right at the time. Flash forward to 2007, and please, let's be grownups now. There were no weapons of mass destruction found, reason one. Reason two, the connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda, which is largely unfounded. So why did we attack Iraq in response to September 11? It was like getting stung by a bee in your house and responding by going outside and kicking over an anthill.
I promise you all, there's no method to the madness. I put my life on hold for another four months for nothing. Can you imagine? I know soldiers fighting in previous wars had it a lot tougher. Kurt Vonnegut had it tougher in World War II. But at the very least, they had a goal, a promise of a bright new world free of Nazism. Brave men literally fought for freedom, because if they didn't, the world was going to be in the hands of Germany and Japan. That was the light at the end of their tunnel. Do you know what the light at the end of the tunnel is for us?
Yeah, food. When we're on patrols and house clearing missions, what's keeping us going is not the promise of freedom and democracy in Iraq. It's the vision of hamburgers, fries and ice cream. I can live without a market based economy in the Middle East, but I can't live without a toasted ham sandwich. Several times we have raced back to the base to get to the dining hall as it closed. Something to eat is the high point of the day. Imagine the low points.
As Kurt Vonnegut suggested, our morale is shot to pieces. The few tattered remains left were eviscerated when they extended us four months. The most devious trick the media and the government has pulled in the last ten years is suggesting to the public that the soldiers believe in the mission and the war itself. In my unit that is definitely not the case. We just fight for food and friends, and the hope of getting home. I know a few people who still believe in the cause. I would know one more, but he died when I was on leave.
Remember that naive 19 year old kid I described earlier? The one unsure about his future that wound up in the Army? Those kinds of kids are the most succulent prey in the system. Kids that age and a little older are slammed with guilt trips to reenlist to stay in for several more years. In Iraq they are given $15,000 bonuses, tax free. That's a lot to a kid, very irresistable. At the same time, they are browbeaten by their superiors into reenlisting, saying it's for their own good. You'll fail on the outside. Stay where you're loved. What else are you going to do? All common phrases thrown around in the countless reenlistment briefs I've attended. But it's 2007, not 2004, and I'm not falling for it a second time.
Earlier editions of this blog have mentioned the date in which I seperate from the military, November 24, 2007.
That is merely symbolic now. After coming home, you must stay for three months so they determine you're not crazy and all that. Our return home date is October 15. So that means I'll be held against my will again, until January 2008 it seems.
So Lauren, my sweetheart, I won't get to go on summer walks and picnics with you. I hope Pike's Market is nice in the winter. Mom, I won't be there for your birthday. Yours either Dad. Can't forget Andrew's. And Albert's. Won't be making your wedding either, Albert. To the students of my high school, I won't get to thank you in person for the letters and packages you sent until November at least.
Readers, fear not! Despite the caustic undertone of this entry, I am glimmering with hope. The dining hall opens in ten minutes for breakfast, and they make some killer omelettes.
I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you
different. -Kurt Vonnegut