A Lesson from the Corps

How did we come to this point? I am a U.S. Army veteran, and I accept the practice of self-defense when attacked. I understand, also, that sometimes reality trumps ideals. But this preemptive strike on Iraq is a simplistic substitute for better solutions to complex issues involving the Mideast. None of us can know every aspect of geopolitical events, but all of us can and should assert such American ideals as democratic rule, civil rights, tolerance, and worldwide diplomacy. And, oh yes, freedom of speech. I fear, of course, that no protest of any magnitude can now cancel this imminent invasion. It is hard not to view Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld as the premature reincarnations of Rusk, Bundy, and McNamara, the boys who, equally sure of their cause, brought us the Vietnam war and now say they are sorry. We must hope against hope that world protest, of which ours is a small part, will yet force a diplomatic solution. Failing that, we will be forced to hope that our cries of conscience, like those that arose from the Vietnam War and perhaps had a hand in shortening it, can help to limit the carnage.

When you find the body, it has cauliflower ears.
It stinks of dead worms, the blood crumbles between your fingers.
When you find the body, the sleeves of the combat fatigues are in shreds.
Its face is puce, its torso black and blue, its guts purple, but the teeth still
              gleam, and the bones will shine up when cleaned.
Your saliva congeals, you taste dried paste.
Later, you may feel shame for noticing the colors or hating the smell.
You were schooled to do this.
To yank the dog tag off with a snap.
You were trained not to answer back to the silence.
There is a hiss as you compel the metal tag between the teeth.
This day may become a whiteout, a glare, a deficit in memory.
A place too barren even for a shriek.
A picture that didn’t develop, just a clear negative.
For nothing recorded the thump of the bullet as it hit, nor the webbing wet
             inside his helmet liner, nor the echoing within the helmet itself.
But you may think you remember the shudder you didn’t see when he died.
You may imagine the last word, the mouth before the lingering stare.
The machinery of his broken chest may appear in dreams.
You may see the eyes, and hear the last expulsion of air.
He is the vault now for your questions to God.
Only the dead can tell you the distance from here to there.