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PUT AWAY YOUR TOYS: Sunday brought perfect weather for hot-air ballooning over the Old Mendon Highway -- but when it's over, you still have to pack up. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

Why I hate the war in Iraq

By Kathryn Kemp

September 20, 2006 | I hate the war in Iraq. In fact, I hate any war at all. And it's for one selfish reason: A month ago I watched my little brother leave for boot camp, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. He is 18 and just graduated from high school. But instead of registering for freshman classes at the University of Utah, he signed up to become a United States Marine.

I remember when he told me. I was sitting in bed reading when I got a text message.

"What do you think mom and dad would do if I told them I joined the Marines?" My heart stopped.

"Did you?!" I asked. I thought I was going to crush my phone as I waited for his response.

"Yeah, I signed the contract last week.

I was stunned. All I could answer was, "Oh."

In an instant, the 6-foot-tall, shaggy-haired soccer player who hates wearing shoes and loves picking on people, grew up. He was no longer a teenage boy who thought he was smarter and tougher than everyone else. He was a young man, who was about to find out how tough he really is.

I didn't want to see him change. I struggled to understand and accept it, but the hardest part was watching my parents have to let their son make this choice. My mom, searching for any thread of something positive, said, "Well ... now he has to get a haircut!" Everyone laughed, but only for a second. It didn't change anything.

The day they shipped him to San Diego for training, my family and I watched him get sworn in. We spent five hours in the waiting room of the Military Entrance Processing Station in Salt Lake; sitting on church-like benches in the center of the room, with The Price is Right and soap operas playing on a big screen TV.

We had been waiting about an hour when my brother, after completing his processing, came to wait with us. When he walked into the room and saw us sitting there he avoided eye contact at first and didn't talk much. I studied him as he sat down next to our dad. His hair was now in a buzz cut and he wore khaki pants and a brown tee shirt.

Most of all I noticed his face. He was tight-lipped and serious; his expression was determined. Looking closer, there was something else in his eyes. They were nervous and unsure, and he was fighting not to show his emotions. I stared at him curiously and thought, how is it possible that one can look like a fearless man and a frightened boy at the same time?

The ceremony was short. We stood in a windowless room with seven other recruits and their families. The back wall was lined with flags of each military division, the United States flag in the middle. We stood in front of the Marine Corps flag and watched him raise his right arm in a solemn oath to serve our country with honor. The next five minutes were a blur. We took five or six pictures, gave him hugs, whispered "I love you," and watched as he disappeared through a side door without looking back.

And then we went home.

I had never before thought seriously about the war until that day; now I think about it all the time -- and I hate it.

It has nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction," terrorism, or democracy. It has nothing to do with George W. Bush or Saddam Hussein. The question is not whether I support the war -- at the moment, I don't care. All I care about is that in a year, when his training is complete, my little brother could be risking his life, and I would do anything to keep him from that possibility.

Is that selfish? You bet it is! I want my brother home, where I can protect him. Nothing else in the world is as important as that. I don't think I am alone in my wish. If I feel this strongly when my brother is still in boot camp, I know I can't be the only selfish person.

No one wants to wonder if they will lose their husband or father, no matter how noble the cause. No one wants their son or brother to walk away from home and into danger, no matter how brave he is. No one wants to sit and wonder where he is and if he's safe. No one wants to be on their knees every night, praying that yesterday's letter wasn't the last. It is on these grounds that citizens of the United States have something in common.

No matter what anyone believes about the politics of war, whether or not it is "moral" and whether or not the U.S. presence in Iraq is doing any good, we can agree on one thing. We want our sons and brothers away from fighting, away from danger, away from harm. If we could, we would bring them back and let the people in charge do the dirty work.

Of course, our servicemen would never let us. My brother would never let me take him from his duty. He would never let what I want compromise his doing what he thinks is right. After all, it is because people like my brother have the courage to serve, that it's OK for the rest of us to selfishly wish they could just stay home.


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