Ain’t Got Time To Die

This is Sean. My blogs are usually just plain out rants, shit-talking fast food menus, making fun of movies, and generally being an ass for kicks. I hope it’s okay if I drift from that just for tonight.

Although a large part of my social life, and Ian’s for that matter, are the people who went to the University of North Carolina with us, the fact is that I didn’t get there until I was well into my twenties. Before going there, I was a public high school drop out that was taking advantage of the incredible Junior College system in California. I was living in South El Monte, which, for those of you unfamiliar with Los Angeles geography, was just north and east of “South Central”.

I was the only guy in my neighborhood who had no involvement whatsoever with the drug trade, so I was adopted by my neighbors like an exotic pet. I was this goofy white kid that spent hours singing show tunes in his house and had friends over who like to play Dungeons and Dragons well past adolescence. I had a run down two story townhouse that I payed $450 a month for. The laundry machines cost a quarter, and they were outside under a lean-to.

Most of my friends were other public school flunkies, and some of us had decided that, instead of going to Ju-Co, we would join the military. I was heavily recruited. I think the military must have known I was failing out of school, because they thought I was a prime candidate for some toughening up. In my case, this didn’t happen, but I did have some friends who went that route. This was 1989-1990.

When Iraq One broke out, the guys I knew were really excited to go but I was terrified. It turned out that no-one I knew ended up fighting in Iraq One, but there was still this impending sense that they wanted to go, they wanted to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I was ambivalent, but my extended family, (aunts and uncles, not the lefties that post on this blog) were thrilled, convinced that Hussein was our generation’s Hitler.

The military gave my friends a sense of purpose that they were lacking. These men were not animals, not violent men. These guys weren’t the types of people who wanted to shoot other people. These were strong smart men with a lack of direction and a poetic dedication to their country. I teased them, as I’m sure anyone who knows me can imagine, for their belief in “America”, for their dedication to Bush I, for their willingness to run a 10k wearing 150 pounds of equipment just to prove they could.

This morning, I was watching the morning shows, and they did a story on a young man who was shot in the stomach trying to save a fellow soldier. He was willing to give up his life for his fellow man, for his friend, and it is a miracle that he has lived. He’s been in the hospital longer than any other soldier in this war. The administration found out about his heroics, and he was featured on all the morning shows this morning.

I mean, I know how that works, you don’t get on the morning shows unless you have a publicist, and you don’t have a publicist unless you have a story, and someone’s getting that story out. And this kid saved a life by giving up his own, no matter how you slice it, he is a hero.

I was undecided about this war, and I did a lot of research during the build-up. I believed that Hussein had the ability to traffic in arms, and I knew he was capable of killing his own people in large numbers. I listened carefully to the case made before the war and was frustrated with my knee-jerk liberal friends who dismissed the information as lies. How could people like Colin Powell *lie* to the Congress? These weren’t crazies saying this stuff, this was Colin Powell, these were rational smart people who said the war was necessary.

I was lied to, and I believed it because I couldn’t believe that so much lying was possible. The level of dishonesty was astonishing. When people like John Kerry voted for the war, and then against it, they were voting first on a lie and then on the truth. My knee-jerk liberal friends are still jerks, but this war has no justification, and they were right.

So, when I say I support the soldiers but do not support the war, it means something different than you might think. It’s the junior college dudes, the ROTC scholarship guys, the blue collar underacheivers who are fighting this war, and those are my friends. We’re all in our thirties now, none of them is in the military, but the completely random luck of my birth year doesn’t remove me from the friends I would have had. Those friends who conflated their sense of honor with their ache for a life rich with poetry, and found meaning in being a soldier equal to the meaning I found being an artist, who are fighting and dying for the lies this administration told.

This morning, the father of that wounded soldier started to cry on TV and said, “I wish he had gone to college.” And that’s the worst thing. For many of us, the military is a chance at being a person with dignity, with a paycheck, with a life. And there is a war going on, a war between, on one side, zealotry and fear and, one the other, true democracy and freedom. But those zealots are in Darfur, in Africa, in Iran and Saudi Arabia, in North Korea. Our soldiers should be dying for this cause, but not in Iraq. And fathers, who should be proud, are wishing their sons were sitting this one out.

A soldier has to march into the face of an enemy, he has to put his life down for his country, that’s part of the deal. The military is not a works program, it isn’t there to provide jobs or welfare for young poor men and women, they are there to serve the country, the country is not there to serve them. The fact that it is an option for building character is one of the benefits to the soldier, the life you are willing to lay down is the benefit for the country.

But dying for your country, or laying your life down and surviving by a miracle, in a capricious struggle built on a foundation of lies devalues the soldiers. They shouldn’t ask the questions, they shouldn’t speak out, if they did they would be bad soldiers, they have to have blind dedication to their superiors and they have to be willing to give the ultimate sacrifice willingly and free of second guesses. But we can ask the questions. We can demand that the conversation not end with this election in Iraq. And we have to hold this administration accountable for sending our friends needlessly into harm’s way.

0 thoughts on “Ain’t Got Time To Die

  1. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Excellent post, Sean.
    All of you Williamses are such good writers. Thanks for posting all week! I have enjoyed each entry.

  2. Salem

    Beautiful post. Most of my friends know that Bush 2 drove me to reject many of my conservative tendencies. Hopefully, as a former Republican and Liberal in training I will be permited an observation. With regard to Colin Powell and others. I still have a hard time with “liberal math”. Help me out.
    Black + Man = Liberal Street Cred
    Black + Man + Poor Decisions + Lies = Confused Liberals changing their own positions and falling in line.
    Black + Woman = Bitch your on your own.

  3. CL

    Wow. That was the rare piece of writing that really reached inside me emotionally. And I agree with Laurie – you are all great writers.

  4. hilary

    i feel like these soldiers are victims of the war themselves, because they’re so young, and most have never traveled out of the country before and didn’t “go to college,” so they lack the psychological tools or perspective that comes along with world travel and higher education. they’re just being thrown out there, onto the frontlines, with no cultural experience/education/sensibilities to rely on. it must be so utterly confusing for them. and from what i’ve read, they’re all coming back here, after their tour of service or because they’ve been injured (usually the latter), saying the same thing, “What a mistake. What a disaster. What a mess. I don’t know why we’re over there.”

  5. Sean

    Thanks for the comments, all, I don’t really consider myself a writer so it’s nice to hear.
    With regards to the “liberal math”, I tend to shy away from any conversations where people use the words “liberal” or “conservative”. Lesson One for understanding progressive thought is that there are no absolutes and very little concensus among thinkers on the left, so there is no liberal math.
    But, to answer the question, credibility, in Colin Powell’s case, isn’t based on race, but rather a track record of intelligence and service to his country. At the time, people of all political persuasions were more likely to listen to him than to President Bush or Secretary Rumsfeld

  6. badbob

    To us “lifers” the military is an avocation not a profession or a job (career). Look it’s a word associated with educators, clergy and warriors. Sort of a life-style or culture bonded together by what the military calls Espirit.
    Every soldier who joins gets steeped in it (the avocation side) whether they stay or not. The more elite the unit (likely to see combat) the more “steeped” they are. It’s hard to explain but it’s sort of like we compete to be on the tip of the spear. As such, American military folks aren’t brainwashed nor are they constantly bombarded with illegal orders from superiors teeped in the same culture.
    No, they are volunteers (key word) and the vast, vast majority believe in the mission and want to win……
    Sort of like the Tarheels want to win…except it’s life or death..not fleeting ACC accolades….
    If you support the soldiers as you and many others profess why don’t you not only have “feelings” for them….why don’t you stand behind ’em and “will” ’em to win like you do the Tarheels.
    Aren’t their lives more important than BB players you don’t even know or remember 5 years from now?
    I am just a simple red-zone, state university graduate (BSME not English)) and a 21 year veteran but I sure can’t understand how you can truly say you support them while at the same time NOT support their winning against who/what they’re fighting…..
    And believe me, for the most part, neither can THEY understand you.
    Your constant carping about how we got to Iraq sure seems to us vets that you want our soldiers and America (all of us) to lose. That is unacceptable.

  7. jon

    Sean – I’ve half-heartedly tried to post a comment once or twice on your own blog, but you gotta, like, sign up or somethin’, so I said to hell with it. Funny that you don’t consider yourself much of a writer, though, because when you put your mind to it, you are a GREAT f***in’ writer, man. I mean Could Be Making a Living At It great. And I’m not saying this to suck up, because, well, why would I?

  8. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    I agree with Jon. I have tried to post on your blog in the past, but to no avail. Perhaps that is your preference. . . but I wanted to take the opportunity to let you know that I admire your writing. You and your family have set quite a precedent . . . the pressure is on Ian to measure up after all of the great expression of thoughts this week!
    By the way, Ian, have you fixed your tooth yet, or are you still sporting the Chipped Look?

  9. kent

    To Sean: I understand why people join the military. As a pacifist I don’t have an easy answer as to whether the military is necessary. But since World War II, the United States’ military involvements have all been cynically calculated adventures entered into for the wrong reasons.
    George Bush is a man who has never missed a meal in his life, and has been bailed out of every distaster of his own making. I for one am never going to forget that he has squandered our soldiers and our money on an awful, dishonest, poorly planned war. He is personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of people — needless deaths. In what sort of world is he someone held up for respect? He’s a butcher, and a sloppy and incompetent one, to boot.
    And you’re a good enough writer, but I’m developing a pet peeve about blog comments — it’s nice that they like the writing, but it’s not something we’re doing for their admiration. GARSH YOU WRITE PURTY is a real conversation killer. For me the dialog is more important. Don’t complement me, say something interesting that reflects who you are.
    And maybe that’s impolite. What I learned growing up with The Artist Parents is to just accept complements with a smile and a ‘thank you.’

  10. Lyle

    Sean, your blog reminded me of the guy sitting next to me on a flight from San Francisco to Atlanta several weeks ago. Nineteen years old, the only child of a Mexican-born single mom, he’d had a go at community college and several minimum-wage menial jobs and was hoping for something better. Something to make his mom proud. And he believed the military would do that. And it would bring home better bacon, not to mention the sizeable signing bonus he received for enlisting. He was on his way to Fort Benning. I could tell he was nervous but trying to be brave. In Atlanta I wished him luck, thanked him for serving our country, and offered hope that he’d never set foot in Iraq. Being a mom myself, I occasionally think of that young man’s mom, and wonder what she’s going through every day her only child’s in service. Is this the day they’ll send him over there? And then, if he goes, has he made it through another day? (Smiling ruefully — like, you know moms, y’all are such worrywarts — he’d told me that she’d begged him not to go.)

  11. kent

    I thought you did this blog as a desparate cry for help. Nice to know that it’s the insecurity and a need for the approval of others motivating you, and not an attempt to fill the yawning pit of existential doom you’ve dug in the back garden of your soul.
    And I’ve violated parallel construction there.


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