Want to Support the Troops? Then Let the Troops--Including My Brother--Do Their Jobs
The last week has been terrifying and strangely torpid, a week of devastation, a drawn-out nightmare. For the record, though, I'm for this war, even though it goes against my instincts and against my rich disdain for our president. I live on Capitol Hill--indignant, weepy, wishful Capitol Hill--home of hecklers, hippies, and tragedians; that is to say, of peace protesters. As far as I can tell, I'm the only person on my block who believes military action in Iraq is justified and necessary; the only one who believes that the unsophisticated peace rhetoric I hear whenever I turn on the TV or go downtown is cowardly, irrelevant, and retarded. I've lost about half of you now, I realize. The entire city may as well be officially against the war. Probably tomorrow I'll see my name on a protest sign, with an X through it or something.
Over the weekend, I attended many of the peace rallies in downtown Seattle. The asinine peace rhetoric I encountered ranged from uninformed (a protester with a teardrop painted on her cheek told me that an Iraqi elementary school had just been destroyed by a U.S. bomb; this happened, as near as I can tell, in her imagination) to unintentionally hilarious ("We are not here protesting today, we are here evolving into better human beings," cried out one speaker, who went on to declare, incongruously, "There's a whole generation being born right now with no heads!"). On national television, too, the stupidest shit just falls out of people's mouths, unchallenged. "I'm horrified that our country right now is killing more people than were killed in September 11, by a long shot," said one protester the other day. (Anyone who's seen our precision warfare in action can attest that this is completely untrue by a long shot.) Later a protester in Times Square told an interviewer, "We clearly don't live in a democracy anymore"--and she said it completely without irony, despite the fact that she had just participated in a massive march through the largest city in America and was now being given an opportunity to express her political opinion to the entire world, live, on CNN. Clearly, someone needs to fax this woman a definition of democracy, attached to a copy of the latest poll. (Then, to illustrate what it's like not to live in a democracy, cut out her tongue and nail it to a wall.) Maybe she's confusing democracy with consensus, or maybe she's just not used to not getting her way; whatever the case, 70 percent of Americans support the war, so she's full of shit.
I can't stand all the dreamy illogic. Too many of the peace messages are appallingly shortsighted, baseless, and absurd--do all those people carrying NO IRAQ WAR signs seriously propose pulling out now?--and none are more grating and dishonest than those signs that say SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, BRING 'EM HOME. Anyone who wants to bring the troops home doesn't support them. If you supported the troops, you'd support what they're doing, because they're doing it by choice. There is no way to get around this. No one has been drafted into this war. People who join the military, by and large, want to fight wars. It's what they train for; it's what attracted them to the military in the first place.
In the last week I've pressed this point upon a number of protesters, and all I've gotten in response is a hot load of patronizing, presumptuous bullshit. "Most of them don't want to be there," is the quick explanation, even though no one I talked to who claimed to "support" the troops actually knew anyone engaged in the conflict. By contrast, the other night on TV, Chip Bryant, a serviceman in the United States Air Force, said, "I feel good. Proud to be part of the Air Force." The interviewer asked if he was nervous, and Bryant said, "Not at all."
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My confidence on these points belies the kind of week I've had. I've spent the last few days feeling nervous, hostile, stupid, isolated, horrified, and heavy-hearted. After the Seattle Times ran an article called "Coping With War Fears"--which urged things like "Express what you are feeling," "Limit television news because of the often graphic images," and "Spend time with others"--the Seattle Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center offered cookies and coffee last Thursday and Friday to people who wanted to express themselves, avoid the news, or just "hang out." On Thursday evening I stopped by to see who was there. It was empty. A few hours later I had a drink at R Place, a gay bar a few blocks away. The place was packed, the homos surrounded by seven green tanks treading over seven sandy landscapes on seven TV screens. (So much for avoiding the news.) Evidently people don't cope with fear by sitting around in community centers talking about their feelings.
In any case, I doubt anyone at the community center would want to talk to me about my feelings. It is not lost on me that war is always, in many ways, a losing proposition. But I feel the advantages to seeing this conflict through outweigh the sacrifices. The number of casualties suffered on both sides in the last eight days is grave and sickening, but it's a smaller number than all who've died--or who stand to die--under Hussein's regime. And don't give me any SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, BRING 'EM HOME bullshit about not caring about the lives of American troops, because I happen to care deeply. I also care about Iraqi lives. And unlike protesters quick to speak out on behalf of the troops, I personally stand to lose something in this conflict: My older brother, Patrick Frizzelle, 23, is an air warfare specialist on the USS Truman--one of two aircraft carriers launching air strikes from the Mediterranean Sea.
My brother is in the Navy--so he's safe, relatively. But there are still risks. Aircraft carriers are sitting targets for enemy cruise missiles and terrorist attacks. (Al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole in October 2000, killing 17 sailors and almost sinking the ship.) Carriers are packed with aircraft and munitions, which occasionally malfunction, backfire, or explode. Non-combat deaths are routine in the military, even if they're only reported during wartime. And most of the 39 soldiers and Marines we've lost so far in the conflict--by CNN's count--have died on helicopters. My brother spends nearly every day on a helicopter.
While this war has alienated me from most of my friends and neighbors, it's brought my family together. "I'm not sleeping," my mother told me on Saturday. "Ever since Pat went over, I've had the news on, wondering and waiting to see if we're going to war. I sleep on the couch now. I fall asleep to the news and wake up to the news. I'm going along in my daily life and thinking, 'What would I say if something happened to my son?'"
Thankfully, the helicopters my brother flies in are meant for conducting safety rescues over the ocean, not for enemy combat. "He's not on an Apache," she said, referring to the kind of helicopter that was shot down near Baghdad earlier this week. "He's on a tiny four-man helicopter." Then she added, quietly, "In his practices out in the desert, they have lost some of [the four-person helicopters], too."
My mom lives in California and is a born-again Christian and a Republican. We've never agreed on anything and we hardly ever talk. I have a hard time imagining myself carrying signs at one of those "Support the Troops" rallies organized by right-wing radio stations for the same reasons I have a hard time being around my family on holidays--I'm nothing like them, they're nothing like me, we have nothing to say to each other. But the things my mom's been saying lately I agree with. "I have a son in the war and I'm for the war. I believe in what he's doing," she said. "Something had to be done."
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My brother Pat and I are not close. In high school he played basketball and lifted weights, and I was president of the drama club. In the sixth grade he decided his main goal in life was to join the Naval Academy--although he wound up not having the grades for it, so he enlisted after high school. (My main goal in life, on the other hand, was to be in Rent.) It would not be an overstatement to say that at certain times we hated each other. But we grew up together, a year and a half apart, and have always related in an understanding, if often uncommunicative, way.
A few days ago I got to thinking about the USS Cole and helicopter casualties and, especially, those SUPPORT OUR TROOPS, SEND 'EM HOME signs, and I worked up the nerve to tell a protester that most military men like my brother were (gasp!) pumped about putting their skills to use. "I'm not here to argue with people like you," she snapped--and then she threw in some garbage about my brother getting off on killing babies. Her judgmental imperiousness got to me. It compelled me to wonder what Pat was thinking about. I wanted to know how he was.
So I decided to send him an e-mail. In his five years in the Navy, I've never written to him. In my e-mail to him I wrote about going to a few peace protests and my heated confrontations with psycho sign-waving biddies. "It's kinda cool to be able to say that I have a brother over there," I wrote, "and that supporting you means supporting what you're doing, a concept lost on most people." I didn't expect to hear anything. He hadn't been in touch with anyone in my family in a few months--certainly not since war broke out--and we were all under the assumption that, owing to intelligence risks, his e-mail privileges had been suspended.
On Sunday, he wrote back.
"Hey Chris, thanks for writing. The war has caused our e-mail privileges to turn on and off so that Iraq won't know what's going on with the strikes. I can still receive e-mails and I just want to say thanks for writing. It's good to hear from you. I've been flying a lot but things are pretty benign for me. I'm very safe out here and I'm watching the war the same as everyone else on CNN and Fox News. [The] answer to your question about people's feelings about the war is we're just glad it finally happened. Really we were just tired of waiting, just sailing in circles."
One of his crewmates, now a friend of the family, wrote to me too. "Everyone [on the carrier] is excited about doing our part." Attached to this e-mail was a JPEG of a WWII-style poster depicting a U.S. fighter pilot climbing into his aircraft. In patriotic colors, the poster shouts: YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP. WE'LL PROTECT AMERICA. KEEP OUT OF OUR FUCKING WAY, LIBERAL PUSSIES.
If there's one message I'd like to send to all the liberal pussies (and penises) out there, that's it: Let the military do its job. Stop saying you support the troops when you don't, and retire your BRING 'EM HOME signs. Understand that the invasion of Iraq has become an ineluctable situation. It would be senseless to extricate ourselves now even if we could. Until things get better, they are going to get worse--there will be more American prisoners of war and more executions; we will lose more helicopters in sandstorms; chemical warfare seems almost a foregone conclusion--and increasingly we are in a race against time: The military will have to accomplish its objectives before the peace movement (which will gain momentum as casualties pile up) accomplishes its objective of obscuring them. Don't make this harder than it has to be.
And do me a favor and stop trying to save my brother. He believes this needs to be done, 70 percent of Americans believe this needs to be done, and most Iraqi civilians ache for this to be done.
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I don't have any information about the war's impact on the environment or women's rights or the production of oil. I don't know the first thing about the Turks versus the Kurds, or France versus us; and I am skeptical, hopeful, and in the dark about our president's commitment to nation building. I'm not the guy to see about geopolitical consequences. But I can tell you something about personal consequences.
I am out of step with my peers, and with most of the people in Seattle. The battle for Baghdad has begun; it will be grisly and horrifying, I suspect, and I suspect a lot of my friends are going to blame me for not rallying to stop it. (Peace protesters are big on shame.) All but one of my close friends are going to hate me for this article--in the process of writing it, I've already had two fights over these issues with my roommate--and if Iraq turns out to be an unconquerable quagmire, I might regret writing this, too. But nothing that has risen from the swamp of pacifist rhetoric prescribes any better method of ensuring future peace. So for the time being I'm on my own with my views and just hope things are seen through swiftly. For the record, on the whole, I am as far away from my family's (and mainstream America's) values as Belltown is from Baghdad. And having a brother in the military doesn't make me into more of a warmonger: It makes me, on the contrary, more anxious for peace.