You join the U.S. military thinking you are going to defend your country. You spend months of intense training that will make you a soldier. Your ego and your pride becomes the high grade oil that makes all the moving parts work smoothly. Your equipment is the best in the world. The pay and the benefits are more than acceptable, seeing that you could not find a job before enlisting.
When you arrive in-country at the age of 19, you are more than ready to be tested by the training you are convinced has prepared you for war. You wear your unit patches with dignity. You are ready to obey orders. Then one day, eleven months after arriving at this place, and shortly after returning from a combat mission, you realize the entire war is a profound lie, and that you are the enemy.
You have just taken part in a killing frenzy, that broke every moral rule that was ever taught to you by a so-called civilized society. Everything you have ever been taught at home, at school, and at church has just stopped. You are in an emotional whiteout. There are only 30 days left in your tour, so you just walk around in what appears to be slow motion, and the only thing you really hear is the ringing in your ears. You never fire another round from your M-16.
It’s over. When you arrive home after taking a cab from the airport, the first thing your father asks you is how you are doing. You answer by saying everything is fine. Your mother says she loves you, and they are so happy you are home. Both of your parents notice that your face has changed, as you look much older, but they are afraid to say you have aged. They can see grief in your eyes. Your mom says you can stay in your old bedroom until you report to your next duty station. After dinner, you go up to your room and straight to the closet. You remember that your mother stored your old toy soldiers there in a shoe box. She just couldn’t give them away. When your parents are asleep later that night, you grab the box of soldiers and head to the garage and look for a can of lighter fluid. When you find the container, you notice your dad’s American flag hanging on the wall. You also grab it and the matches your dad always kept in a certain drawer. You take a walk in the woods behind your parents house like you did thousands of times as a child growing up. After five minutes of walking you come to a clearing where you use to play. You spread the American flag on the ground, pour the toy soldiers in the center, pour the lighter fluid on the toy soldiers, strike a match, and light the whole goddamn thing on fire. It’s over. You will not report to your next duty station. The price of freedom is beyond belief, as your old belief system goes up in flames. Profit is the lubricant that oils the war economy.
Photo by Mike Hastie: This picture of a small boy playing with toy soldiers was taken at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Portland, Oregon. It was Memorial Day in 2003, two months after the U.S. started bombing Baghdad.
This article was written by Mike Hastie (Army Medic Vietnam), “In memory of six friends who didn’t die in Vietnam, but as a result of being there.”