Open Letter to the Military (March 2003)

My  Dear Friends:  I know you.  You are my nephew or niece; you are the  son or daughter of my sisters, friends, allies and brothers.  You are  tender and strong, and full of belief.  You have a great love in you, a  protective love, a good love.  It is the love of the warrior.  It  seeks to defend; it seeks to protect.  It seeks to make sure the mother  and the baby can live, that the infant can be nursed and grow on into the  world to become strong young bodies and souls, like you.  It seeks to  defend the innocent; to stop violence where it is unleashed by bullies,  strongmen, dictators, and tyrants. The role of the warrior is time-honored and  venerable.  The warrior stands up to that in us which has lost sight of  the good.  The warrior is willing to do battle, will not shrink when  called to stand true in the face of fear and personal doubt.

You, you young, you  beautiful–you are the good in us.  On the radio last week, from your  places in the deserts and tents of Kuwait, you ask the question that is in  your minds.  The thing you want to know, the thing nagging in your soul:   are the people of America with you?  Do they support you? I want  you to know, down to the fibers of my cells: I support you.  I support  you with every last thought, every tiny force of breath.  I pray for you  as I move through my days, and I offer you my heart, my hope for your  survival, in every spirit of intention I am able to offer into the air. I  support you.  And I  weep.

For I feel, in the  deep nights when I awake with a start and stare into the dark, knowing you are  half a world away, the son of my friend, the young boy who was just here a few  months ago, taking classes at school, or pursuing your work, or raising a new  baby, or perhaps just drifting, looking to find your way – that you are there  in danger of harm to body, psyche and soul.  In the depth of the night, I  know it is bright where you are, stark morning, dust and sand all around you,  and the sun beginning its pitiless streaming into the day. We have sent you  there, we who are your elders. We, the generation ahead of you, we have sent  you there – and I am included in this. I am complicit though I have not power  to move armies or command battles.  I am complicit because I am a citizen  of a country who knew her government was planning an immoral war, a war to be  fought with your bodies and lives.  And now I am acting, I am acting  constantly, I am marching in great crowds and writing letters and holding  candlelight vigils… and it might be too late.

For this I weep.   Because you are the young in us; you are the good.  And you deserve  that we live up to the good in you; that we turn to you, to your strong  hearts, and ask that you use your warrior spirit in service of the good.   In service of justice, in service of a great cause that merits the  dangers in which you now lie.  You deserve this and we have not given  this to you.  We have sent you into the desert away from your home and  family.  You are lonely, you said on the radio this morning.  Your  commanders say that homesickness is all over your bunks, tents and mess halls.   It’s that plane ride home, your commander said; that’s the main thing  that’s on your minds.  So they say to you:  Yes John or Tyrone or  Jose or Bridget or Wei or Camilla… Yes you can go home; but you have this job  to do first.  And your commanders struggle to tell you that you are there  for the right, for the good.  For that is what your hearts want to know:   that you are there for the good.  That your wife, mother, husband,  father or aunt is sick with worry for a cause that is honorable  For you  know they live with a terrible, unspoken but always-present dread that you  will not return; or that you will return maimed; that you will live out your  life without a limb; or that you will return sick with chemical illnesses;  that you will return sick in the heart, full of dark dreams that will trouble  your life. And all you want is to come home. You want to live.  You want  your life.

And in  your heart you want to return knowing that we will open our arms to your  bravery and your calling.  And we will.  We will open our arms to  you, we will weep for whatever you have seen that we cannot imagine; we will  offer our healing arts and our good arms.  We will welcome you; we know  it is us who sent you to a war that is not just, that is not good.  A war  that that does not act in honor, that does not heal the mother but terrifies  her; that does not help the infant grow up healthy in the world but leads to  chaos, unsafe water, bombed out schools, infant diseases and early death.   You deserve better and we did not give you this; though we are trying in  every way to change the danger in which you stand, the danger that you will  have to awake on some future day and realize with horror that you have killed  human beings or destroyed neighborhoods of families, schools and homes, in the  name of a doomed, needless, war, a geo-political thrust for power that  disgusts the rest of the world.  We are trying to save you from that  horror, to save ourselves from the horror of knowing what we have sent you to.

Please know this:   each time we march in the streets, each time we light a candle in a  vigil, we do it holding you as the good in us that we wish to protect.   The message we send to you when we walk, when we protest, is that  perhaps we have done it too late, we are sorry, so sorry, but we will not give  up, we will not abandon you.  When we march, we march because your lives  are too precious, the lives of your born and unborn children too precious, to  waste on a war that is immoral.  We may not have acted in enough time.   But we march, we write letters, we speak out, because we love you.   We miss you.  We, like you, want nothing else but for you to take that plane ride home.

This essay appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Sunday, March  23, 2003.