I’ve never seen such indignation in my son, Joe, the day he returned home from Afghanistan in a wheel chair.
He said he could accept the loss of his right leg from an IED (improvised explosive device) but what he couldn’t accept was the way he was treated. Yes, he had excellent physicians at the hospital and the government supplied him with a powered wheelchair, but what got stuck in his craw was the fact he was treated like any other soldier, while his buddy, Jack, who was killed with that same IED, was declared a ‘hero’
. Joe was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and his best friend, Jack, moved there from Pond Inlet when he was five. They went to the same school and played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ together. Jack would come to our house for sleepovers on special occasions and even if there were no special occasion. I remember when Joe was in grade seven; I had a call from the principal. He told me Joe was caught bullying a younger student. That didn’t make sense to me, as Joe never displayed that kind of behavior at home. I went to the school for a meeting and discovered my son wasn’t the angel I thought he was. Apparently Joe would feed off of Jack and vice versa. My husband and I punished him with suspension of privileges, but in the long run it didn’t help.
During High School he got involved with some ‘wrong’ friends and was arrested one night for joy riding in a stolen car. He spent one night in jail and was given a suspended sentence. We gave him all of the love and support that we knew how, but he grew angrier towards the world. Jack remained his friend and followed in his footprints.
My husband, Frank, is an electrician and tried to get Joe interested in his line of work. He wouldn’t have anything to do with it. All he kept talking about was hoping he would be eighteen soon so he could join the army. Six weeks after Joe celebrated his eighteenth birthday, Jack celebrated his, and they both went to the recruiting office to sign up. They were excited about the possibility of seeing real live action in Afghanistan.
We didn’t hear from Joe for six months or so. Then one day he actually wrote us a long letter telling us about how severe his training was. How his Sergeants constantly yelled at all trainees. How he didn’t have any freedom. He had to learn to follow orders without question. He complained about having to get up at 6:00 in the morning and be ready for inspection by 6:30. He ended his letter by saying that it was ‘nicer at home’.
The letter made me feel good. He was getting a taste of the real world and was starting to realize how good he had it at home. I could sense a little bit of maturity. I wrote back telling him what was happening at home and offering support for his difficulties during training and telling him to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. He kept writing almost every month about his experiences in the military.
On his first leave he came home. We welcomed him with a hug and he hugged back. He actually apologized for the turmoil he put us through when he was growing up. I was certainly proud of him.
After he completed his training he was called to serve in Afghanistan. He was full of excitement as he boarded the plane for his first assignment. Joe felt he was well trained and was looking forward to some action.
Nine months later we received the call that he was injured while on patrol, and that he was coming home.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking laying in the hospital bed,” he said. “I’m lucky that I’m still alive. Jack wasn’t so lucky. I had expected to experience the excitement of active battle, like I saw in the movies, but all we did was go on patrol showing our presence to the Afghan people. Most of the Canadians who died were killed by IED’s, not active battle.”
“But you were defending our country. The boys who died made the supreme sacrifice for freedom,” I replied.
“Sure, that is what they want you to think. I didn’t feel like I defended our country. It was never really in trouble.”
“If we didn’t enter the war wouldn’t the Terrorist take over Canada?” I asked.
“I don’t believe it! We joined the stupid ‘war on terror’ because we wanted to be just like those crazy Americans! They caused the twin towers disaster, themselves, because of the ‘holier than thou’ attitudes that make other cultures mad. Then those big bully Americans had a perfect opportunity to get even and show their big bully muscles. And our government, of course, wants to be just like his macho hero in the playground. There was no real reason for that war.”
“Well, I really do think wars are useless. By this time in history, you’d think we would figure stuff out with common sense discussions.” I conceded, thoughtfully.
“You’re right, Mom, wars are useless. However we get caught up in them and made to feel we are doing something important. I’m beginning to see it as a cancer that won’t die. The military pretends the dead soldiers are heroes and give them a hero military funeral. I think it is done mostly out of guilt. They offer false pride to young people. I think they try to placate the governments’ conscience by pretending the dead soldiers are heroes.”
“You can’t insinuate that? Those boys died for our country and are heroes. I wear a poppy every year in remembrance of all of the soldiers who died for our freedom.”
“How about me, Mom. The army doesn’t call me a hero. I lost my leg because I was walking close to Jack, who stepped on the IED. It was a fluke accident. Jack is no more a hero than I am.” I didn’t join the army for any noble reason to defend our country. I joined it because I wanted adventure and the thrill of aggression.”
“Do you think most men join for that reason?”
“The ones I met certainly did. We secretly wanted the girls we saw soldiers get in movies. That didn’t happen though. Being a soldier is just another job, like being a truck driver. Probably as many truck drivers die in truck accidents as are killed in our job. The world is full of platitude gossip. In reality we are just pawns in the hands of the Generals.”
“How did you get so bitter, son? Our military is a great organization, keeping our country safe.”
“We have been conditioned to believe that, throughout history. Our whole history is one war after another fought to get power, and land. Others are foolishly fought over religious belief. When you get right down to it, the only purpose they serve is to keep the population down and to make the manufactories of weapons rich.”
“You need to keep a positive attitude, Joe. You’ll get yourself in trouble if you keep thinking that the propaganda of war is a cancer on society.”
“If we keep thinking about war we will manifest it. We need to start thinking about peace and bring that into existence.”
“You have a point there, Joe. When did you begin to be so wise?”
“Maybe that is one good thing about joining the military. A person sees the reality of war and begins to realize the futility of it. If you think about it, making heroes out of soldiers is like cheering the gladiators in the ‘sport’ of killing, or congratulating the matador for slaughtering the bull. Are we any different than the terrorist extremists who ‘sacrifice’ their young men with the reward of virgin sex in heaven, and martyr-hood? We give our dead soldiers a military funeral – a casket draped in a flag, and their name on the hero-board in a park, along with the propaganda of pride.”
“And we think we have evolved beyond the brutality of the past. You have certainly shaped war into a different perspective for me.”
“One other thing that irritates me. What do we call all of the innocent public, the women and children, who die because of our bullets? Are they heroes too? How about the ‘enemy’ soldiers we have killed; are they heroes as well? If we want to be a hero we need to fight against the machine of war. We are definitely being brainwashed to justify wars. Now we have to find a way to justify peace.”
“The way you put it, it will be more and more difficult to want to wear that poppy on Remembrance Day. It seems as if the military treats soldiers as the sediment, the dregs, of society.”
“Yes, but they pretend there are the cream of the crop.”
Joe turned his wheelchair and headed out to the back yard. I could see his eyes water as he starred at the old apple tree.