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The War Hits Home

Reflections of a family member of an Iraq-bound soldier

January 11, 2005
By Mary Shaw

My dear friend's nephew will soon ship out to Iraq. After seeing her nephew during the Christmas holiday season, my friend shared her thoughts with me regarding his impending deployment. Her powerful words speak for themselves. With her permission, I am sharing her sentiments below, in her own words. Her name is withheld to protect her nephew's identity.

It is high time that America's chickenhawks wake up and see the tears in the eyes of America's families. If this war is really as necessary and as righteous as our president would have us believe, why do we not see Jenna or Barbara Bush signing up for combat duty? Will George W. never have to feel the pain of sending a loved one off to battle?

Here is how war affects the millions of Americans who are not as well connected as the folks in Washington:

***

Mary, I am writing this to you as it is helping me to deal with this situation.

My feelings on the Iraq war are as clear as water. I'm clear on the fact that the nephew I have loved for 22 years is doing his duty and faces the reality of his mortality by going to Iraq. He is my brother's only son, and he has two sisters - one older and one younger. He is an uncle of two little girls. He is my mother's second grandson. I ask - why must he go to war?

I worry about his safety. I worry about how the war will affect him later. I have a brother who went to Vietnam, and I have witnessed the devastating effects that war can have on the life of a young person.

My nephew came to visit over the holidays, and I pray it wasn't to say his last goodbye. He is young, intelligent, handsome, and funny. He has not experienced much in life yet, and I can only hope that he has a full life ahead of him in spite of going to war.

As I hugged him, crying, all I could see was that cute little boy with big eyes and a warm heart. He was the record holder in wins for his high school wrestling team. He was nicknamed "The Rock" because of his athletic ability, striking good looks, and charismatic personality. I watched him grow into a man, and I can't love him more. He is an incredible person, too young and too loved to go off to war.

He joined the Army after he completed his third year in college. He joined to help pay for the remainder of his college education and for the promised sign-up bonus to pay off the $6,000 in tuition bills he still had from his first three years in college. I don't think he or my brother ever thought he would be shipped off to a war, especially one that is wrong!

He doesn't believe in the war. He is going out of obligation. He is afraid, but he doesn't want to abandon the image of being "a man." His ability to follow through impresses me, even though no one in my family believes in this war or in his going to serve in it. I admire his desire to do what he is obligated to do.

He doesn't want to go. I offered to take him to Canada, or hide him in my basement. I told him that I wanted to kidnap him. I told him that I have good friends in low places, and that I would take him to Canada myself. I told him that whatever he wants - I will move heaven and earth to keep him here. Unfortunately, he didn't take me up on any of my offers. Then I made one final offer: If he needs armor or ANYTHING while over there, I will get it for him.

I made him promise to e-mail me and take pictures to send to us. I want to know that he is safe every day; but I know he won't have the time to contact us that often. I think that my family is going to have many long nights ahead of us, and lots of worry. Missing him for six months to a year is just not acceptable to me.

During our visit, he made us all laugh with tales of family and friends. I hugged him as much as I could without being annoying. I asked him if he could call home, and he joked that he would find Osama bin Laden and ask him to borrow his cellular phone because he has to call home. We laughed, but in my heart I thought, "Oh my god! He is going off to the 'world without regard for life,' and I may not see him for, well, you know. I gave him money for Christmas, and cried in silence.

He watched CNN with us, and we heard the reports of 15 more marines being killed. His cousin is a marine, and is there - in Falluja - now, and my nephew said he hoped that his cousin is not one of the latest casualties. I am proud of them both. I only wish I had been able to sway my nephew into allowing me to change the course of his life by trying to keep him safe and alive.

I'm sure my nephew is to us like every other soldier is to his or her family. The way we went into this war was wrong, unprepared, unplanned. The way we continue to fight the war is wrong, with no plan for success. How can you win the war against terrorism if the real, true enemy and chief terrorist is a country away? You end up losing too many young men who have not even started to live.

My nephew better NOT become one of the over 1,500 and counting.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. Her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. E-mail mary@maryshawonline.com.

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