My parents had only two rules for my brothers and me when we were growing up:
1. Don’t become a republican.
2. Don’t join the military.
So you can imagine everyone’s shock and confusion when my fiercely liberal brother Tona announced that he had enlisted in the marines. To some family members it was a surprise, but I’d known about it for a few years. When we were living together in DC—I was interning at a magazine, he was working the Obama campaign—he told me his plans one night. “I owe it to my country,” he said. This was at the height of the Iraq war, when Halliburton, Blackwater, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush were the reigning powers. Soldiers and civilians were dying every single day. Cindy Sheehan was being ripped apart on Fox News for protesting an illegal war that had taken the life of her son. And those pesky WMDs were still nowhere to be found.
I sat on our creaky stairs crying, unable to comprehend what he was saying. “What the fuck kind of country is this?” I said, “and why do you owe them anything?”
“I have to do this,” he repeated. We went back and forth for hours.
Years passed, and I tried to forget that night, hoping he would too. Then, about six months ago, he went to a recruiting office in east portland, and he signed a contract.
On March 21st he shipped out to boot camp. My family—my mom, dad, two other brothers, and me—is a military family now, but we don’t really know what that means. We are proud and hesitant. We are confused and terrified. As this journey progresses, will we have enough energy to love the soldier and hate the war with the ferocity each deserves?
Every day I wonder if the things I love most about my brother—his independent spirit, his sense of humor, his passion for questioning authority—are still intact. If boot camp doesn’t break him, what will happen when he is deployed to a war zone?
“I hate the idea that he’s learning how to kill people,” I told my mom. She said, “Me too, but I hope he learns it well, so he can kill anyone who tries to kill him first.”
There are mothers in Afghanistan who would say the same thing.
I’ve always been against this so-called “war on terror.” As Chris Hedges put it, “You cannot make a war against a tactic. It posits the idea of perpetual war. It has no discernible end. There is no way to define victory.” Iraq, Afghanistan—these are dangerous, irresponsible wars. I’ve written letters and staffed phone banks and marched in protest of these wars, back when they were only concepts to me, but now these wars are real. I feel them breathing down my neck. They are sirens tempting my brother to come and play.
One of the most cliche ways to express love and loyalty is to say you would take a bullet for someone. I’ve said this before, and it’s true: I would gladly take a bullet for any of my brothers, no hesitation, no second thoughts. Now one of them has volunteered to take a bullet for his country.
What’s a big sister to do?
- Me: Hey wanna hang out tomorrow?
- Bob: I can't. I have to go to The Dalles to help my friend bury his dead dog.
- Me: That is such a lie.
- Bob: You're right. It was his grandpa's dog.