Friday, May 20, 2011

Being the Traitor and the Betrayed

After years of clinging to the notion of sexual abstinence my resolve began to crumble when I became a soldier.  Socially speaking, the military was similar to my college and work experience; however, it was a culture drastically unique from any I had previously been exposed to.  I found myself in a sexually charged atmosphere, and all too quickly one young lady in particular became the focus of my attention.  After a lifetime of abusive situations, she seemed drawn to me; and I, in turn, felt obligated to rescue her from a vicious cycle of poor relationships.  I became obsessed and my judgment deteriorated as I continually compromised in order to counter her resistance.  Eventually, I caved completely and, consequently, lost her respect.  As a result, our relationship fell apart overnight.

Sometime later, I sought her out, hoping desperately to woo her back.  Put off by my advances, she spitefully confessed to having been with multiple other men during and since our relationship.  Never before and never since have I been so emotionally sucker-punched.  My knees buckled, and I fell face down on the ground, sobbing bitterly.  I was humiliated and crushed by her betrayal. 

My grief would take a while to dissipate, but that night bore a startling revelation.  Through the blinding agony of heartbreak, I was reminded of when Peter denied his association with Jesus on the night before the crucifixion.  In a horrifically insightful moment, I began to comprehend how both Peter AND Jesus must have felt. 

The Bible doesn’t reveal if Jesus had any immediate reaction to Peter’s actions, but we do know that Peter ran off and “wept bitterly.”  Peter hadn’t meant to hurt Jesus, but I imagine the look in his eyes pierced Peter’s heart.  Jesus had predicted Peter’s failure, and it must have been devastating to learn that his Master’s expectations were accurate.  Just like Peter boasted of his loyalty to Jesus, I proudly proclaimed my sexual convictions; and like Peter, I too let pride precede my fall.  I took my eyes off of Christ for a split-second and got burned by my selfish pursuit.  The knowledge that my sin didn’t catch Christ by surprise only added to my humiliation.  I felt utterly foolish for walking into a snare with my eyes wide shut.

In this scenario, however, I was also the person wronged, and I remember vividly wondering if how I felt was anything like how God feels when we wrong Him.  This woman acted selfishly, pursuing satisfaction from others without regard for how her actions would affect me.  We can analyze this all day long, but what she thought and why she made her choices are not important.  The thought to consider is how much we treat God the same way.  How often do we grieve God by our choices?  As I cried that night, I was given a glimpse of how my defiance and unfaithfulness breaks the heart of God.

I am struggling to know how to conclude these thoughts.  I do not claim to fully understand the thoughts and character of God.  I do know, though, the pain of being mistreated; and I know the guilt of having mistreated others.  And I don’t imagine that I am assuming too much if I suggest that we all have felt the same.  I suppose all I am hoping to convey here is that maybe it’s time we remembered the Golden Rule and relearned how to treat EVERYONE as we ourselves would hope to be treated.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sunsets at Camp Taji

Approximately twenty miles north of Baghdad lays the town of Taji.  Formerly an outpost for the Iraqi Republican Guard, it was taken over by US forces following the invasion.  In late summer 2006, my brigade was reassigned to Baghdad, and my battalion moved into the “village” on the backside of Camp Taji. 

There were many factors that contributed to the overall anguish of that period.  Whereas in northern Iraq I shared a CHU (containerized housing unit) with only one soldier, I now had a hundred plus roommates in a cavernous warehouse.  With our arrival in the Sunni Triangle, came the extra weight of added armor (side plates), raising the total to thirty-three pounds.  The temperature consistently topped out around 120 degrees.  I was attending memorial services at awfully close intervals.  And nobody could tell us when we would be going home.

I remember my chest physically hurting as I cursed God for relegating me to such a torturous existence.  The truth was I found it impossible to abandon my belief in God, and this infuriated me.  I was so far removed from my last shred of hope that I welcomed death.  I was stuck in hell with nowhere to turn.

As my insanity worsened, I sought reprieve.  At sunset, as often as my schedule allowed, I would stroll beyond the borders of our “village” and claim a spot among the piles of rusty debris and tall grass that lined the road.  With overwhelming numbness and a clear view of the horizon, I would stare into the oncoming sunlight until I became blinded to everything around me.  My eyelids preserved the image burned into my corneas, and for a few seconds I could be anywhere I wanted to be, free of the war and its suffocating constraints.

To this day, when I see the sun setting at the far end of an open field, that old ache returns.  I have been blessed with much healing in the years since then, but some reminders never go away and some wounds always hurt.  Such is life, I suppose.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Death of Usama bin Laden: A Veteran's Response

As a military veteran, and specifically as one who has served in one of the current wars, I have been asked several times over the past few days, how I feel about the death of Usama bin Laden.  Each time I have found myself hesitant to answer; my heart baffled by mixed emotions and my mind perplexed by conflicting thoughts.  Aside from conversations with my wife, I don’t think I’ve given anyone a full, straight answer yet.  I’d like to attempt to do so now.

While many are expressing happiness, the sensation that washes over me is one of relief.  Ten years of tension has at last been eased, and I wearily exhale, “Finally.”  First, because he has been found.  The great mystery of the past decade has been the location of Usama bin Laden.  The world has not known where he was or if he was even alive, and it has been maddening and frightening that a person of such high profile could hide for so long from all the military and intelligence resources of the world.  Never were we worried about what to do if he was found; rather we were solely obsessed by the fact that he could not be found.  Therefore, it inspires a sense of accomplishment that this case has been closed.  Once again there is a feeling that the United States military can accomplish anything; and that is crucially uplifting in an age of two decade-long wars.  The most elusive fugitive in recent history has been found, and it just feels good to have our confidence restored.

Secondly, I feel relieved that the bin Laden story is over.  Many will debate the pros and cons of killing verses capture.  In my mind it is too late for that, and I do not have the stamina to participate in such a debate.  For too long this man has consumed a nation’s nightmares, and I am simply relieved that we do not have to think about him anymore.  He is dead, and although another will rise to take his place, bin Laden’s reign is over.  We are now free to move on.

Still, my reaction to bin Laden’s death is far more complex than solely a feeling of relief.  The sight of Americans rejoicing in the streets resonates strongly with me.  The news elicits a surge of excitement over a mission accomplished.  I realize that the War on Terror has not been won, but does that mean that each inch of ground gained is worthless until the whole is achieved?  Terrorism will always exist, so will we not celebrate when Al Qaeda is finally destroyed?  The finding and killing of Usama bin Laden is but one aspect of a larger war, yet it is a victory nonetheless and should be appreciated as such.  I was on active duty when military forces captured Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq), both elusive targets, and although I was not part of those missions, I shared in the excitement of a mission accomplished.  Those events inspired the perception that we were winning, and that was a critical boost to morale at a time when even I was beginning to question the worthiness of the cause.

As for his demise, I’m extremely satisfied that bin Laden was shot and not bombed.  Whoever pulled that trigger inadvertently represented the entire US military and a large percentage of the nation.  It is so gratifying to know that the man who built a terrorist network known for its suicide bombs and views on martyrdom died unarmed at the hands of a member of the United States military.  It was personal, and it afforded him a chance to be scared, to know what was coming.  I understand that perhaps his death was not as brutal as some would have liked, and I might even be inclined to agree.  However, I am content that his death was no more merciful than it was.

Usama bin Laden will be remembered in the history books (the Western ones, at least) as one of the most notorious villains of the modern era.  He was responsible for one of the most traumatic events in our nation’s history.  He successfully placed Muslim extremism center stage and forever altered the way we attend to national security.  For his crimes, I wish he could die a thousand times.  I wish he had been strung up as the nation’s piƱata – dangling in place for every grieving, angry soul to unleash his or her fury.

Call it brainwashing or call it clarity, but sixteen months at war molded that perspective.  It was agonizing fighting a faceless enemy, and more often than not, we were denied the therapy of actually engaging our foe.  Rather, we were engaged in a deadly game of tag, cautiously awaiting the next buried bomb to detonate.  As time passed, my rage increased.  The mission began to feel like a vicious cycle - we were there because of the violence, yet the violence persisted only because we were there.  Naturally, we felt violated and toyed with.  Consequently, I quit caring about intelligence value and humanitarian issues, and I subscribed wholeheartedly to the belief that the only solution was to just “kill them all!”  In the exhaustion and frustration of war this was the mentality that surfaced as the most sensible; and although I have since recovered a more civilized attitude, the ghost of war still whispers convincingly in my ear.

In a world of 24-hour news and social networks, everyone has a voice, and those voices are understandably tempered by the context of personal experience.  So I offer these thoughts as merely my point of view – not politically correct or spiritually sound – just my honest reaction.