One of the Park Lunch’s
many redeeming qualities is the scratch ticket machine
placed conveniently between the bar and the entrance
to the building. Somehow, Leah and I found ourselves
buying into a scratch ticket lottery, in which we
were the only females in a large and rowdy group of
thirty- and forty-somethings. We were there two and
a half hours, getting drunk, scratching tickets, and
praying for $10,000 or a corvette. Amidst the detritus
of the day—beer bottles, empty breakfast plates,
and folded tickets—emerged an interesting story.
We had nominated a captain to command the ticket-scratching
frenzy. His name was Steve Wood, and I would later
learn that he had recently returned from a stint in
Iraq, where he was a member of SFC1’s third
platoon. On Thanksgiving morning, he was wearing a
USMA sweatshirt and Adidas running pants. Nothing
about his demeanor would have indicated that he had
spent time holed up in the Iraqi heat.
But this is what alcohol does—it brings these
sorts of things to the surface. Around screwdriver
number two, Steve Wood was asking me how I felt about
the war in Iraq.
“You don’t want to know,” my friend
Woody told him. Woody is conservative in his politics
and disagrees with me routinely. He likes to point
out that my car has been targeted not because of my
decorative flair with bumper stickers, but, rather,
because I am a horrible driver.
“I do want to know,” Steve Wood said.
I told him I disagreed with the war. I told him I
felt I’d been misled. I told him I believed
that Americans were being sent to die for no real
“Oil,” Steve said. “That’s
why they’re being sent.”
I nodded, surprised that we agreed. “Something
happened when I was out there,” he said. “I
got a letter. It said, ‘Congratulations. You
have this many certified kills.’ That’s
not something I want to be congratulated for.”
He wasn’t proud of the lives he had taken,
and he didn’t give me the number, either. This
wasn’t a video game, where success is counted
through facts and figures, through the finite numbers
of virtual death. This was real life, a real country
where real people were being bombed by people who
preferred not to know they were doing the bombing.
And we were congratulating them for their success.
I wondered what that meant. I wondered what that
said about our country, that we could send men out
to do our dirty work and send them letters of appreciation
once they had amassed enough kills to impress us.
I wondered how fostering in American soldiers the
desire to keep killing could do anything good for
Project Iraqi Freedom.
It was Thanksgiving, and at my house my mother was
preparing for 27 of our nearest and dearest. I was
surrounded by friends, and, later, I would be surrounded
by family. I was—and am—lucky enough to
be able to say that when I go home, I have everything
to go back to.
But my circumstances are increasingly uncommon. So
many American families spent this holiday without
a family member because our government will not pull
out of Iraq. Steve Wood was lucky, because he made
it home alive. He is lucky the way my friend Manny
is lucky, who, when asked, says only that Iraq was
hot. Manny won’t talk about the war, and I won’t
push him. They are both alive and both have received,
no doubt, proof of the lives they have taken.
Is that enough to be thankful for? Life? A congratulatory
message from Donald Rumsfeld, applauding military
efforts abroad? Should we not grieve for the lives
we have taken, for the destruction we have caused?
If we are truly of the national belief that life is
important, then our approach is completely wrong,
and we should be embarrassed, as Americans, at the
reduction of Iraqi casualties to notches on the Department
of Defense’s belt.
JHannah Selinger is a weekly contributor to Raw