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Thanks given for the notches on Rummy's belt

By Hannah Selinger | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

On Thanksgiving morning, my best friend, Leah, and I ventured to one of our favorite establishments, Newburyport, Massachusetts’ estimable Park Lunch. For as long as I can remember, the Park Lunch has served a $6.95 breakfast on Turkey Day morning, in celebration of the holiday or, more aptly, of the hangovers locals battle the day after the biggest drinking night the city sees. I think breakfast at the Lunch involves scrambled eggs and ham, but I’ve never actually eaten it. Keeping with tradition, Leah and I kicked the day off with screwdrivers and Bud Light.


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 purpose.

“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 Story.


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