But when I stop and take a deep breath, my mind clears and I realize there is always something different around me worth thinking about; worth learning about. A new plant growing out of the desert sand and rocks. The wind in the struggling grass. Another embarrassing report about the state of American politics. A change in the way my body responds to running/swimming/lifting. A new idea on how we can improve morale and wellness among military members (I've got lots of those...). A nearly lost echo of destiny calling your name, hoping you wake up from the doldrums of deployed life and remember what reason you are alive.
Over the last month, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about politics, entitlement, leadership and violence. Funny, seems like it’d be easy to draw a lot of parallels between those four subjects.
Violence comes to mind today. I’ve got this image of bombs stacked up in the back of our plane. Here’s a photo I took a while ago of some of the thing that go “BOOM” that we delivered into the fight against ISIS. From a military standpoint, it was impressive: a plane completely full of bombs, guidance equipment and fuses. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have all been used on targets by now given the amount of deliveries we make each week.
That’s reason enough for fighting back. I’m sure of that.
But that doesn’t mean the other side of me won’t feel some level of remorse or sadness at having to deliver high-explosive death incapsulated in iron. It’s the cycle of warfare, of violence that I dislike the most. You’d think that an eye-for-an-eye would mean both parties would stop after losing their first eyeball. Self preservation, right? But it’s not about eyeballs. It’s about people. And unlike eyeballs, people can grow more people. A “son-for-a-son” is more accurate. If we fought by trading pokes to each other’s eyes, well, we’d eventually stop when everyone was blinded. The cycle would stop, at least for a while. But when you can continue to produce unlimited offspring, such tit-for-tat actions result in endless violence.
Ahh, see? It’s damn confusing and something a mind can chew on for days, years… a lifetime. It’s an interesting dichotomy we live in as military members. How to best balance non-violent vs. violent actions in achieving our goals.
I grew up believing superior firepower and violence was by far the best tool for fighting. It was the Cold War and the more nukes we had, the more likely we’d wipe out those Commies before they got us. “Duck and Cover” “Don’t look at the flash, just hide under your desk or go to the fallout shelter.”
But as I studied military history as well as philosophy at the Academy, I started to really see the endless cycle of violence that hard-power/war creates. I was drawn to the Special Forces mantra of “Hearts and Minds.” (Which hardly seems to exist any more.) As more years went by, I studied various spiritual leaders who all practiced non-violence (regardless of what their followers may have later written/said) and suggested we do the same in order to live a good life. That we let whatever God handle the judgements. It sounded nice. I’d rather solve issues over a cup of tea or a friendly game of soccer. Sounds wonderful, right?
Then Al-Qieada, and now ISIS, declare all-out war on my way of life. Swear to kill me and my family if given the chance. Again, I'm back in the conundrum: no matter how much I peacefully respected other humans, they always have the choice to use violence against me or my loved ones. Well, I for one, choose not to idly sit by as they figuratively hold a gun to my head or to those I care about. Self preservation vs. dying to make a point. But it still requires, at some point, the loss of human life.
With that being said, I always spend time on deployments being conscious about my reasons for volunteering to be here... Understanding that I’m making a conscious choice that I will have to answer to one day, whether it be through judgement from God or a karmic debt.
If I had my way, it’d be cups of tea or soccer matches, waist deep casting flies to rising trout, hiking a Turkish or Afghan peak, siting on rocking chairs out on a porch sipping a drink of choice (I'd settle for a mint julep right about now), working through our issues with mutual compassion and respect. One day perhaps. But not today. Not this year. Maybe not in this lifetime.
But by thinking about it, constantly reevaluating my reasons/options for fighting, and doing my best when not deployed to promote a better community, state, nation or global community… well, perhaps the days of solving issues over tea (or Scotch) will come a bit sooner.
Until then, I’ll keep bringing loads of BOOM wherever it needs to go and ensuring those who swear violence upon freedom and democracy fail in their sick and misguided ways. -- R. Marshall