A decade ago I would have never imagined what 10 years later would look like transmitted back to me with all of the hindsight that the future brings. I was seventeen-years-old and my newspaper editor dad’s ride up the southern California coast to Camp Roberts, a base that time forgot built of white washed 1950’s vintage wooden paneled barracks. I would be dropping him off to invade Iraq with a local transportation company of the California National Guard; the unit’s ranks made up of business owners, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, working class Joes, piles of soldiers with prior active service and just a few young ones still wet under the ears.
We were cruising in my newly licensed used compact that I had purchased from one of my father’s old reporter friends Jeff Wong. While my recently turned 50-year-old father rode passenger through Santa Barbara in 2003, Jeff Wong was on a ship bound for the invasion as a Marine Corps infantry platoon commander, he had ditched the journalism for an adventure at 20-seven-years-old; my current age, shortly before the towers fell in 2001. I can’t really recall much of seeing my father off to war, I think my high-school buddy Mike Vang and I helped him drop his gear off in one of those old buildings and that was it, no tears or fireworks.
I was glued to the television for a couple of complex reasons. In 1990-91 I had watched more of the gulf war on television than maybe any other six-year-old in America. The minute Saddam invaded Kuwait I called my dad’s office in Los Angeles to let him know what was going on, I can still recall the phone number by heart because I would hear the tones of the numerical buttons in my head like a favourite song. The next reason was I knew many people preparing to invade that country to include my father; my friend Mike who rode with us to Camp Roberts brother Jerry Vang was an Army combat engineer, and our high school buddy Joe Robbins had enlisted in the Marine Corps, the Marine recruiter who signed Joe up was a friend of our family and would be killed in Iraq with just over a year left on life’s clock. I had entered the delayed entry program which meant that I signed the contract to leave for Marine Corps boot-camp after I graduated high-school. After school I would spend time in the recruiter’s office to prepare for my adventure with heavy thoughts of my father and friends helping me find motivation to lose some weight off of my softness, physically and spiritually. My father would be content to die in a combat zone, he would avoid it if he could but I knew that if it happened I could find peace in my old man’s story because he lived his life like no other, and we had talked about it before he left.
While my father was in Iraq I was doing what needed to be done to graduate and nothing more. I was a television reporter for my high school t.v. show and had covered a war protest in Hollywood. Our show played on local cable access and after the story ran so many of the 10 old people that followed our show called in to complain that they took the program off of the air forever. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey arseholes, my dad’s in Iraq!” I have found in this culture that no matter what my life experience, I will never be able to attain more free speech points in the land of free speech. Which leads me to today’s reflection. I can orbit the major media websites and view wise finally accepted truths that everyone knows because it has been 10 years so it is time to have a sit down and learn from these mistakes. For every story about the war being for oil I want to see a story about the veteran suicide epidemic, 10 stories about bad arse veterans who succeed in transition every day and will continue to build this country that misunderstands them because of the media, and a story about the never ending backlog that I believe kills service people in higher numbers than the war. Some of what I learned from the war validated what I already knew, this country is a sensationalist country, it likes drama and whether it will admit it or not, most of it regardless of political affiliation, loves war. War gives both sides something to attack and defend, it gives the people something to protest and something to fight for, and validates the perspectives of every side.
Every time something dramatic happens the news is all over it. I read articles about many sources complaining that the media dropped the ball on Iraq, I laugh out loud, as if there were anything else to do than to cover the orgasmic explosions of “Shock and Awe,” to feed the people’s eyes that are so hungry for legitimate drama. I say the media did a fantastic job covering the war. It’s not the media that’s fucked up here, it is the people who will it. If people want to watch something in America someone will figure out a way to show them, the more watching people the happier the business that provides this service. I saw plenty of critique from the media regarding weapons of mass destruction even before the invasion, the war protests were covered and when we went into Iraq so was something so unique to history that in March of 2003 a war was covered more extensively and brought to the viewers live for almost nine seasons. You can’t make the people pay attention to what bores them. War is not boring.
I could have told you at seventeen that I anticipated any longer involvement in Iraq post-invasion would mean something serious to me, not like it would for the disconnected viewer. I figured that if the people loved this war so much, they would send me there to fulfil my destiny. I hate when our society refuses to accept that it is the people of a democracy that run this country and if it is not that way it is only because the people of this country are too lazy to make it some other way. If you ever wonder what mystical forces compel the strings of media, look no farther than what normal American people want to see, violence first and then sex. I can’t wait for a university in a hundred years to sit its students down and dissect this great gift of anthropology the media will have left behind regarding the war in Iraq. When I see the media apologise for itself I understand it is only doing what the people will it to, if they didn’t buy it, no one would sell it. The media gave all of the information to a people who willed war.
My father returned from reporting on the invasion on Friday June 13, 2003 which was the same day I graduated high school. I saw him for the first time in my first moments of my transformation from a school-boy to a young-man. I knew more people in the invasion than my father had known who served in Vietnam, I was influenced and proud of my peers who seemed to be the only people willing to put skin on the line for what their country wills. I went to this presentation about the Iraq war in Portland a couple of months ago. The only veterans in the crowd of a dozen or so was myself and a representative from Team Rubicon.
The presentation was designed to be a discussion about the war and as I discussed my feelings about the war and inquired to a beatnik lady of correct vintage how she felt about the troops she responded, “I bleed empathy for everyone on this planet but it is like, they are over there oppressing people you know?” The majority of the crowd agreed with her and I really didn’t know what she was talking about though I want to hear more people say what they really think.
When I shipped out to boot-camp my dad dropped me at the recruiter’s office behind my old high-school in Jeff Wong’s former car, there was a hug and no tears and I was off to where the people willed me. When there is a VA backlog and a veteran suicide epedemic it is because the people of this country will it, if they cared enough they would not let the government get away with saving money on suicide. Every vet that kills themself saves the taxpayers of their country a lifetime of care. I don’t blame the media for the war; the troops sent to it, big oil profiting from it, or the government facilitating it, I put the blame where it belongs, on this country’s decadent majority fuelled by its fascination with violence.
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