November 7, 2007
War is everywhere here. On his wall, the banner of his unit, the 101st Airborne, hangs next to a framed portrait of his good friend and fallen soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Karpowich. He wears a tight-fitting U.S. Army tee as he shows off thousands of pictures and videos from his Iraq tour. There are pictures of military vehicles spotted with gunfire, captured Iraqis cowering on the ground, and exotic weapons. There are pools of blood, mangled military equipment and even a recovered bomb-belt from a thwarted suicide mission.
He doesn’t want you to get the wrong idea, however. “Americans think war is glorious,” he says, “but war is only beautiful to those who know nothing about it–it is barbaric.”
To Forget or Regret?
Jesse Hamilton wasn’t always like this. Growing up in north Jersey, it was strip malls and dead-end jobs, frat parties and suburban ennui. War was thrilling and guns sexy. So when he dropped by an Army recruiting office, the recruiter’s sparkling offers were just the right mix of excitement and direction. “Army recruiters are fast talkers,” he says.
Hamilton enlisted as a scout, spent four years at Ft. Campbell, Ky., and then slid into the reserves and enrolled in drill sergeant school. Eventually, he began gearing up for war. “After 9-11 everybody wanted to go to Afghanistan. I was a fanatic about going in there.”
Soon however there were sparks of doubt in Hamilton’s mind. “I saw that Michael Moore film–what was it called? Fahrenheit 911. It was so radically liberal, and I didn’t believe 95 percent of it. But it kind of opened my eyes.” And then a man dressed in Iraqi Army fatigues walked into a soldiers’ mess hall in Mosul and detonated a bomb strapped to his chest, killing Karpowich and 21 other Americans.
By early 2005, he was quickly waxing anti-war. War was still thrilling, however, and it could still solve problems. “An opportunity came up to serve as an embedded advisor to the Iraqi Army. I said ‘I could help end the war by going over there and training Iraqis'” to better police the country.
By August, Staff Sergeant Jesse Hamilton found himself in the embattled city of Fallujah, little more than a year after Marines plowed through the city and ended a six-month insurrection. “They destroyed the city. They destroyed and ransacked homes, and they kicked people out from where they were living,” he says.
Tasked with training Iraqi soldiers to control the restive city, he went on mounted patrols, conducted house raids and performed coordinate searches. “There are things people did that I am ashamed of,” he admits. Iraqi soldiers would unleash “death blossoms,” gusts of gunfire aimed in no particular direction, which often hit innocent civilians. Soldiers would dehumanize Iraqis, driving them into the arms of the insurgency. There were bloodied Iraqis, gunned down by American fire and captured on his film. There was the never-ending news of friends and colleagues, torn into pieces by insurgent bombs.