The Costs of War
Almost a year ago, Tom Engelhardt, the editor of tomdispatch.com, began a correspondence with Teri Wills Allison, a mother from Texas whose son is in the military in Iraq. Out of that grew an invitation to Allison to write about how the situation personally affected her as a parent. The resulting essay, published in mid-October at tomdispatch.com, brought a flood of e-mail, selections from which Engelhardt also published at the site. "One thing struck me," Engelhardt said in introducing the letters. "Amid all the pundits opining and journalists reporting on the state of the nation, we almost never hear the voices of Americans who, like Teri Allison, have to deal with the fallout from the mess this Administration has created." Engelhardt said he was also struck by the offers of help directed to Allison and some of the people she wrote about. In their generosity of spirit, he wrote, the responses "offer a kind of hope and renewal all their own." With the permission of all those involved, and with thanks to tomdispatch.com, a project of The Nation Institute, we offer Allison's letter and a sampling of the responses. --The Editors
TERI WILLS ALLISON
Teri Wills Allison, a massage therapist and a member of Military Families Speak Out, lives near Austin, Texas.
I am not a pacifist. I am a mother. By nature, the two are incompatible, for even a cottontail rabbit will fight to protect her young. Violent action may well be necessary in defense of one's family or home (and that definition of home can easily be extended to community and beyond); but violence, no matter how warranted, always takes a heavy toll. And violence taken to the extreme--war--exacts the most extreme costs. A just war there may be, but there is no such thing as a good war. And the burdens of an unjust war are insufferable.
I know something about the costs of an unjust war, for my son, Nick--an infantryman in the US Army--is fighting one in Iraq. I don't speak for my son. I couldn't even if I wanted to, for all I hear through the Mom Filter is: "I'm fine, Mom, don't worry, I'm fine, everything is fine, fine, fine, we're fine, just fine." But I can tell you what some of the costs are as I live and breathe them.
First, the minor stuff: my constant feelings of dread and despair; the sweeping rage that alternates with petrifying fear; the torrents of tears that accompany a maddening sense of helplessness and vulnerability. My son is involved in a deadly situation that should never have been. I feel like a mother lion in a cage, my grown cub in danger, and all I can do is throw myself furiously against the bars...impotent to protect him. My tolerance for bullshit is zero, and I've snapped off more heads in the last several months than in all my forty-eight years combined.
For the first time in my life, and with great amazement and sorrow, I feel what can only be described as hatred. It took me a long time to admit it, but there it is. I loathe the hubris, the callousness and the lies of those in the Bush Administration who led us into this war. Truth be told, I even loathe the fallible and very human purveyors of those lies. I feel no satisfaction in this admission, only sadness and recognition. And hope that--given time--I can do better. I never wanted to hate anyone.
Xanax helps a bit. At least it holds the debilitating panic attacks somewhat at bay, so I can fake it through one more day. A friend in the same situation relies on a six-pack of beer every night; another has drifted into a la-la land of denial. Nice.
Then there is the wedge that's been driven between part of my extended family and me. They don't see this war as one based on lies. They've become evangelical believers in a false faith, swallowing Bush's fear-mongering, his chickenhawk posturing and strutting, and cheering his "bring 'em on" attitude as a sign of strength and resoluteness. Perhaps life is just easier that way. These are the same people who have known my son since he was a baby, who have held him and loved him and played with him, who have bought him birthday presents and taken him fishing. I don't know them anymore.
But enough of my whining. My son is alive and in one piece, unlike the 1,102 dead and 7,782 severely wounded American soldiers; which equals 8,884 blood-soaked uniforms, and doesn't even count the estimated 20,000 troops--not publicly reported by the Defense Department--medevacked out of Iraq for "non-combat related injuries." Every death, every injury, burns like a knife in my gut, for these are all America's sons and daughters. And I know I'm not immune to that knock on my door either.
And what of the Iraqi people? How many casualties have they suffered? How many tens of thousands of dead and wounded? How many Iraqi mothers have wept, weep now, for their lost children? I fear we will never know, for though the Pentagon has begun--almost gleefully--counting Iraqi insurgent deaths, there is little chance of getting an accurate verification of civilian casualties. You know, "collateral damage."