Jul 192010

What I’m writing isn’t exactly a support of the current Gulf War in Iraq, but more an unburdening of despair that I have felt for about 20 years. It’s about the inevitability of this war. How it had to happen. How it was fated to happen. And why George W Bush had to be the President to lead us back there.

First, I need to explain a bit about Nemesis. Some would call her a Goddess of vengeance, but that isn’t correct. She is is the one who brings the scales back into balance, who restores the natural order, and deals out retribution for evil deeds and undeserved good fortune. There’s a powerful curse that says, “May you get what you deserve.” Nemesis gives you what you deserve. That’s a much scarier concept than vengeance.  I feel our current economic troubles are Nemesis trying to bring us back into balance for all the undeserved good fortune we have experienced.  Likewise – as I  watched video footage in real time in February of 1991, I knew that we would be getting what we deserved for the evil we had just committed.

My job in the military was normally a very sluff one. I was a military broadcaster. I wrote, shot, and edited the news, was the point of Contact for the Spanish media, and did an afternoon radio show. During Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm military broadcasters, like me, went into the gulf region to cover the war and to provide the major news outlets with pool footage. One of our other tasks, which at first I loved, was to take a satellite truck out to the front lines and show troops recorded messages from their loved ones and to record a message back. If Private Smith’s wife had a baby, the local TV station in their hometown would record some footage of baby and mother and satellite it to us. We would find Private Smith and play the message and allow him a first glimpse of his baby. We would then record a message from Private Smith and satellite it back to his hometown TV station and they would play it for mother and baby.

What I didn’t count on, when I started doing this, would be the reaction from the troops. I was a female on the front and these young men thought they might die any day. Plus there were fewer senior (and experienced) NCO’s than there should have been. I started sleeping in the back of the truck with the doors bolted, despite the health problems this brought on due to heat, and the two other broadcasters with me took turns guarding me. The ugly rumors of female medical personnel being raped didn’t seem like such “isolated incidences” anymore. These men are supposed to be my brothers and the thought of harming your own medical personnel violates one of the strongest taboos in the military. You are supposed to fear the enemy, but women in the military sometimes fear their comrades in arms more.

After I served my short tour in Desert Storm, I went back to Spain.   Back to a base that was receiving and processing women returning from the Gulf.  Women who were injured, pregnant, or ill from being sexually assaulted. They were being sent to Germany.  For Psych evals.  I learned later many of these women were convinced to not rock the boat during a war by pressing charges and then they were discharged from the military – a practice which continues today.    Is Nemesis taking action on this, too?  Or, since the incidents of rape are still escalating, is that something more to look for in our future?

I was back at my regular job which included  receiving video from the front and relaying it to Germany. This was raw footage and almost none of it was pretty. I watched our troops push into Iraq. I watched as we encouraged Iraqis to rise up and over throw Saddam. We made a promise of support, if they rebelled. After all, everyone knows America helps those who yearn for freedom. So some of the Iraqi people believed us and they did rise up against Saddam. President George H W Bush, at the strong urging of his UN Allies, decided that we really couldn’t help them after all. Our mission was done and we needed to leave. And so we stood by and allowed Saddam to massacre those people, mostly Kurds in the North, who were stupid enough to trust and believe that we would help them.

When I say we stood by, I say this literally. We still had units and aircraft in the area. They were begging us for help. I watched the footage and knew it was happening right as I watched and I will never forget it. I will never forget it.  Just like I’ll never forget huddling in the back of a truck, pissing in a bottle so I wouldn’t have to leave the safety of the locked truck to go to the latrine.  The latrines, at night, had to be avoided by women.  Or forget the looks on the faces of traumatized women who would be further victimized by the chain of command.   Betrayal all around.

Because of all of this, I knew we would be going back to Iraq. While everyone else was celebrating the successful end to the war with so few casualties, I was already wondering how long until American blood was spilled so that we could receive  what we so richly earned in those moments of betrayal. We were going to get what we deserved and the longer it took the worse it would be.

I believe we were fated to go back to Iraq to balance the scales – our betrayals on one side of the scales and our blood on the other side. That it was inevitable that George H W Bush’s son would be the one to lead us back there. I think it is no coincidence that many of the young people fighting in this war are the children of those who fought in the first gulf war.  People like me, who stood by and watched it all happen.

My only child is entering the military this winter. I’m very proud of him and I support his decision, pleased that he wishes to serve his country. He will be an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician – he’ll disarm or blow up bombs set to harm his comrades. They told him to expect to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and I’m sure he will be. I’ve prayed to Nemesis and begged Hekate for purification, yet I wonder, will he get what I deserve? Will it all come back to that damn video of blood and betrayal and lies that I can’t forget?

  29 Responses to “Iraq, Nemesis, and Balance”

  1. Powerful story and wonderfully written. Thank you.

  2. I know what you mean by the feeling that this was in some way inevitable. I will add your son to my prayers for those overseas.

  3. I was already wondering how long until American blood was spilled so that we could receive what we so richly earned in those moments of betrayal.

    What is it you think the US earned?

    I too felt this war was inevitable but for different reasons than you. A cursory glance at the history of the Middle East shows the area was carved up post Great War to accommodate the West and it’s growing need for oil. Of course the indigenous peoples would rise up against the West. Of course there would be power struggles between the various indigenous peoples and their leaders.

    I’m sorry your son is going to be part of the problem and not the solution by enlisting in an army hellbent on imperializing the world to meet US greed. I’ll pray he has a change of heart and realizes his mistake.

    • I’m sorry your son is going to be part of the problem and not the solution by enlisting in an army hellbent on imperializing the world to meet US greed. I’ll pray he has a change of heart and realizes his mistake.

      I understand that you are anti-military and I respect that, but that was an unnecessarily personal (and negative) comment to make about my son regarding his morals and ethics. Please do not do that again.

      • You didn’t answer the question I asked: What do you think the US earned?

        I only wish you had said the same thing to others when I was being attacked.

        • When someone says things about me, I let it stand as I chose to participate. I feel it is different when people say things about others’ family members. I believe you can understand the difference and I hope you also note that what you are referring to did not happen within my blog area. I’m much more loathe to moderate in another person’s blog.

  4. I guess my biggest question here (and there are many) is where the lives of ordinary Iraqis fit into your view.

    In the 1980′s, the US supports Saddam in his war against Iran (instead of working to diplomatically end the war), and ordinary Iraqis are killed and their homes and livelihoods destroyed. In the early 90′s, the US goes to war against Saddam (instead of working diplomatically to end the occupation of Kuwait), and ordinary Iraqis are killed and their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Then, as you say, the US stands by as Saddam attacks the population, and ordinary Iraqis are killed and their homes and livelihoods destroyed. Then the US enacts sanctions for ten years, sanctions which do not harm Saddam, but kill ordinary Iraqis and destroy their homes and livelihoods. And then we invade Iraq, killing over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and 50,000 soldiers, and doing more damage to their homes and livelihoods than a dozen Saddams could have.

    It seems like you’re suggesting that the US fortunes of war in Iraq, which have been less stellar than we hoped, is somehow retribution for some of the betrayals we’ve committed in the region. But the US has, in fact, been largely victorious, and in 7 years of war and occupation we’ve lost less than 5,000 soldiers. Whatever pain the US is facing, or is likely to face, is nothing in comparison to what the Iraqis have suffered.

    The Iraqis have lost something like 1/20th of their population in the last 30 years of American interference. For us, it would be like losing the entire population of the state of New York. They have literally suffered a million 9/11′s, and our hands drip with that blood.

    I guess I’m saying that if you’re right about Nemesis, then her work is far from over.

    • I think my answer might leave you uneasy.

      I don’t think Nemesis has much of a problem with deaths through battle – especially if you allow the other side to reclaim their dead for proper rites. I also don’t think (and historically this appears true, as well) that She minds when you support allies in war or go to war in support of your allies – such as your example of the Iraq/Iran war and going to the defense of Kuwait. In fact – supporting your allies and friends against their enemies is on of the Delphic Maxims and is a virtue. Or when there are population deaths during occupations or as a result of sieges – again – as long as you do not violate burial rites or violate the temples of the Gods (which may or may not include foreign Gods) or become out of control. So in that there is nothing out of balance in the natural order. Not that those things are desirable (you should look for war or strife – seek harmony) – but they are not unnatural. War itself is not a “crime” against the Gods and having hands that drip with blood because of war can even be a positive. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been or aren’t Hellenes who are pacifists – just that our religion and Gods don’t look at pacifism as a more or less desirable philosophy for us to pursue.

      But She has (historically) evened the scales when oaths are broken that result in harm as that is a crime of hubris (it is against the Natural Order of the Cosmos). Which is why I knew – particularly when we broke our oath – we would be brought back to this same war.

      (For a fuller look at what hubris means and how Nemesis keeps the balance of the cosmos – see this document – http://www.ysee.gr/download/TELOSTFH.pdf)

      Other Hellenes are sure to have varying views on this topic, but very few would argue that Nemesis would see “regular” deaths caused by war as something that would rouse Nemesis into action. But they would have a very good case to say that if our actions harmed and humiliated others and we engaged in those actions because it helped us feel more superior – then that is also hubris. Which some of our actions in regards to Iraq could be seen as.

  5. I think it was rather bold of you to write this, Cara, especially considering that you knew that some of your audience were squarely opposed to the military in their thinking. I have found, as a Reconstructionist, that discussing the perspectives that come from an ancient worldview can be perilous and fraught with misunderstanding from those whose worldview is more typical of modernity.

    From an anthropological and historical perspective, war would seem to be an indelible fact of human nature; I think it is also recognized as such it all of the ancient “pagan” religions that I have knowledge of. Given this, I think that it is all the more important for cultures to promote ethical structures (and expect people to stick to them) that define the boundaries of what is acceptable in war, and which prevent war from overspilling its proper boundaries. From a pagan perspective, this would seem to mean also giving due attention to the gods who guard those boundaries.

    The topic of the ethics of war is one that interests me, and I appreciate your explanation of the role of Nemesis in that area. I was wondering if you might have any further thoughts on the ethics of war from a Hellenic perspective, particularly concerning ethical vs. unethical reasons for going to war, and what prohibitions there might be on harming civilians. Also, I’d be interested to know how well or poorly you feel that a Hellenic ethos of war fits with modern, mechanized, computerized warfare, which is often fought at a distance or through guerilla tactics.

    This last topic, the incompatibility of ancient ethics with modern technique, is something I’ve read about from the author Ernst Jünger, who, as a veteran of the first World War, witnessed the beginning of the era in which technology outweighed valor in determining victory or defeat. In his novel “On the Marble Cliffs” he wrote the following:

    “When Ares is no longer in charge of wars, the shacks of flayers multiply, and the sword becomes the slaughterer’s knife.”

    • Let me think about this one. The answer is complex and could be long – and you are right…talking about this subject in “mixed company” is something that should be done with some thought because it is so easy for it to be misunderstood or for me to put a foot wrong.

    • OK. I’m going to narrow this down, if you don’t mind. I keep expanding it out and going into detail and areas that I just don’t need to.

      What you are asking about is what are the ethics of war, right? How do modern warfare tactics and weapons interact or change that.

      Yes, how we fight wars now creates complications to how we could fight an ethical war. But it isn’t the weapons, so much. It how and who we send to fight.

      Up until very recently, when you went to war you went with your friends, neighbors, and family. You stood side by side with them. They knew you and you knew them. There would be “high unit cohesion.” You also knew that what you did would be seen and witnessed and those tales would be brought home after the war and would affect your standing in the community. Unless your friends and neighbors and family were all outlaws, that meant there would be enormous pressure on all of you to conform to the highest ideals of behavior. Not a guarantee that you would, but you would be trying to aim high.

      We don’t do that anymore. People go in, they are put in with a unit from people from all over the country, you bond quickly, and there is pressure to protect your buddy. But this isn’t even close to what it would be if you were going to war with your son next to you. Or your mother. Or your first grade teacher.

      Now we get to who fights. In some societies all persons of an age and gender are warriors. If there is a battle, they all go. Rich, poor, those in power and those without power – all fight and all have a stake in war and peace. Looking at a democracy that had universal military service (for males) – Athens. All of the great poets, statesmen, and citizens all serve in the military. When their statesmen and citizens voted for war, they knew first hand what that meant. This didn’t eliminate war, and I don’t think it even lessened it, but the decisions were made by everyone (I think the citizens in this country should have to vote yes or no for a war declaration) and everyone knew what they were getting into. I think all US citizens should have to serve in the military and be subject to recall to duty in a time of need. If war comes, then you shouldn’t be able to get out of military service just because you are wealthy or your parent is in the government.

      As to actual ethics….those were pretty straight forward.
      Don’t desert your comrades.
      Honor your oaths
      Fight bravely and fiercely, your comrade depends on your best effort.
      Accept when the enemy surrenders.
      Do not act in ways that humiliate the enemy (this can mean that you continue fighting and kill an individual even when you can tell the fight should be over) or your friends.
      Look for omens and follow them.
      Allow the enemy time to bury their dead, if they can’t, you must do it for them.
      Don’t plunder, burn, or destroy Temples
      Do not kill people who have sought sanctuary in Temples (this was usually a set place within a city or area and was marked by a hearth fire sacred to Hestia – Modern Hellenics take this to also mean that you don’t kill civilians who are in their homes, which is where their hearth fire sacred to Hestia is located)
      Remember to make offerings to the Gods

      Other than that…everything was fair game.

      This is somewhat outside this, but while I think it is good in theory to go to extreme lengths to avoid killing civilians, it doesn’t work so well in practice. What it does is draw out wars to last even longer, makes them impossible to win, and actually creates worse suffering across the population for a much longer time. It’s also, in my mind, unethical to ask your military to fight in a war with ROEs like what we have in Afghanistan.

  6. War is an artificial human construction brought forth by greed and lust for power. As modern warfare is such an alien thing to the human condition, it is no wonder that humans behave humanely while under such pressures. Please note that I use “humanely” in it’s PROPER application, which has nothing to do with kindness or charity or ethical behavior. To be human has proven to be anything BUT admirable, for when we ARE human, we are cruel, we are destructive, and we are all bad things far in excess of whatever was necessary by ANY measure imagined by intelligence. That an American soldier would even contemplate raping a female comrade-in-arms and that this behavior would even enter the realm of acceptability by the institution is contemptable by any measure of honor. If you personally knew of ANY member of the armed services being violated by her OWN people, that knowledge should have become PERSONAL and attended to with vigor, for if this is allowed to stand, then this nation does not deserve to stand, all patriotism aside. Would you accept your own SON allowing this to pass by HIS sight and do nothing?

    • If you are asking if I witnessed a rape while I was in the military the answer is no.

      I will add this – if I knew or suspected that a woman had been raped I would try to support and strongly encourage her to make a formal report on it, but I would not file a report myself if it was against her wishes. Once you make that accusation, in the civilian world or in the military, you are in for one hell of a ride.

      You will be in a room with a psychologist hired by the defense and you will be forced into an eval. They will ask you questions like “Did you orgasm when you were having sex with Mr. X?” “Have you fantasized about having sex with Mr. X since your sexual encounter?” “Do you remember what you were thinking when he inserted his fingers into your vagina?” And they will ask you questions like that for several hours.

      Then you get to the deposition. They can ask you anything in a deposition and you have to answer, even if none of it can be used. (Your attorney will object, but then you will need to answer) So you’ll get to answer questions like, “Can you tell me a list of every sexual partner you have ever had and how to contact them” Because guess what? They are going to contact them and depose them. “Have you ever allowed anyone to tie you up and have sex with you?” For a bonus round they may even depose your mother and ask her questions about you and your sex life.

      You’ll go though months of that. While people are calling you a whore and people say things about you when you go out in public – either right to your face or you can see them whispering to each other.

      So you see, I would never force anyone to do that unless it was their choice. I would support them and assist them no matter what they decided to do – press charges or not. I strongly suggest that others think on this before they decide they know what’s in the woman’s best interest and report the crime to the police without her consent.

      As for my son – he’s got a good heart. I love him, I trust him, and I have faith in him.

      • Violence thrives on silence and fear and it will continue to thrive until we take a stand and say “no more!” Regardless of whether one is pro-war or anti-war, pro-military or anti-military, staying silent about rape is completely unacceptable.

        When it comes to the most serious and detrimental type of violence one human can “visit” on another, there is no room for silence. We, as humans, must take a stand. Rape and sexual assault will not go away in a climate of silence.

    • “War is an artificial human construction brought forth by greed and lust for power.”

      I’m not entirely certain what you mean by “artificial human construction”. Is it: 1) artificial because it is human; or is it 2) an artificial (i.e. unnatural) behavior for humans to partake in, something against human nature?

      If you mean the latter, then that is clearly not so. People of all technological and cultural levels engage in warfare against neighboring groups, and this kind of behavior is also clearly evidenced in the higher primates to which we are most closely related. Warfare is clearly a part of (or “a result of”, if you prefer) human nature.

      If you mean the former, though, I think that this is another iteration of a rather anti-human stance that comes through in a lot of your responses that I’ve read. On that sort of thing, I don’t imagine that much discussion is possible, but I will here state my opposing view: Humans, as a species, are not “flawed,” are not “unnatural”. We are not the product of a faulty creation or “original sin”. We are what we are, and we have our own nature, our own instincts. We are, however, able to think ourselves into all sorts of trouble, often by ignoring that nature and those instincts.

      “As modern warfare is such an alien thing to the human condition…”

      Regarding “modern warfare,” I might agree with you; the problem with modern warfare, I think, isn’t that warfare is intrinsically antithetical to human nature, but that *modern* warfare is beyond the human scale. The same could be said for a number of aspects of modernity: modern politics, modern economics, modern media, modern architecture, etc. All of these exhibit a kind of Titanism, an excess of power that takes them beyond the human scale, but without the sort of higher principles or higher nature that would bring them into the realm of the divine. As a result, all of them tend to alienate that which is human, to make that which is properly human and on the human scale seem insignificant; and they do this without guiding us to anything higher.

      This is part of the thinking that lay behind the questions I posed to Cara concerning the place of an ethos of war in the realm of modern warfare. I am interested in those instances where the divine still manages to shine through in an age of Titanism. I might also wonder, if Nemesis is a goddess of balance, if then the titanic scale of modern warfare might be something that intrinsically goes against that balance, even against the well-known Hellenic ethos of moderation.

      • Nick, for what it’s worth, I think you’re absolutely spot on here. Well said. The only thing I’d disagree with is that I think these beyond-human-scale institutions are not just a modern phenomenon — I believe they can occur with anything larger than an aggregate of several thousand people.

        • Thanks, Jeff.

          “The only thing I’d disagree with is that I think these beyond-human-scale institutions are not just a modern phenomenon”

          I can certainly think of instances of things beyond the human scale from pre-modern times, particularly in terms of architecture: the pyramids, ziggurats, the Great Wall of China, etc. My question is whether things beyond the human scale are always “titanic” in the sense I meant above, as things that alienate the human condition without leading to anything higher, or as an expression of power without any purpose beyond itself. Natural things beyond the human scale seem to me to be more related to the divine than the titanic; are man-made things of that scale necessarily always of the titans rather than the gods? Perhaps scale is only one factor.

          I’m reminded of the Anglo-Saxon term for Roman ruins: “enta geweorc”, literally “the work of giants”.

          Concerning “anything larger than an aggregate of several thousand people,” I remember reading that there’s an upper limit to the number of people that an individual can identify with as “one’s own”. This is effectively an instinct that limits the natural size of a human community, and leads to the breakdown of communities larger than the upper limit. I think a case could be made that the artificial aggregation of communities larger than that (including the measures necessary to prevent splitting-off, “secession”) is a political example of “titanism.”

      • Nick – I’m still mulling things over. Primarily because it opens up such a big topic and you hit it right here- The same could be said for a number of aspects of modernity: modern politics, modern economics, modern media, modern architecture, etc. Because I do think what is said about modern war also rings true for so much else.

        A very short answer is that Yes, I really do think we are pushing the scales too far in so many aspects of our lives. It isn’t the…technology employed…it’s the loss of personal connection and accountability. A loss of humanity. I don’t mean that like we are acting like monsters…just we are losing our humanness. We are insulating ourselves from contact with other humans, cutting ourselves off. I don’t know where that will go in the future. We could use technology to reconnect or we could push ourselves even more separate. So yes, I think Nemesis will work to correct the situation if we keep swinging too far in one direction, if we keep disconnecting ourselves from each other and what is real and insist on creating our own artificial worlds that we interact with in superficial artificial ways.

        I don’t think that has anything to do with Titanism, which would be a return to more…elemental, passionate, and intemperate ways of living. The Olympian age is one of trying to create and maintain order, one of self control (as an ideal). But the Olympian age is also fated to end. Zagreus Dionysos will take the throne and usher in a new age. Is that happening yet? Perhaps we are seeing the birth pangs of it. When Dionysos enters the picture, He burns it all down. Rips it all apart. And it starts with what seems like violent madness. But it’s worth it, because what He brings in return is joy and freedom. He is the Raging One, the Liberator. Once the age of Zagreus Dionysos actually starts, who knows what will happen. Will it be something almost utopian like Star Trek? Will Nemesis still have power or will She be chained like so many other Titans? I don’t know. But I do feel like we are headed into another age, which is why the Gods are again being worshiped.

        I really need to order my thoughts on this more and do a post that makes some amount of sense.

    • Alex Pendragon wrote:
      War is an artificial human construction brought forth by greed and lust for power.

      Then please explain why warfare between rival pods of dolphins and troops of apes has been observed.

      Really, when you get down to, it is about control of limited resources (land, food, power, energy, etc).

      Alex wrote:
      To be human has proven to be anything BUT admirable, for when we ARE human, we are cruel, we are destructive, and we are all bad things far in excess of whatever was necessary by ANY measure imagined by intelligence.

      Been reading too much of Hobbes lately, eh? And while I could compose a list of incredible things, courageous behaviour, selfless works, etc. that humans have done, I think it will largely fall on deaf ears, and so I will pass.

      • Some kinds of chimpanzee will engage in “warfare” when the tribe is under extreme stress, but it’s actually quite rare. Other sorts of apes, just as closely related to humans (such as bonobos or gorillas) have never been observed to engage in war. Individuals fighting, yes, but not war. The reports of warfare in primates are invariably blown out of proportion by the press (probably at least in part because supposedly helps excuse own behavior — though shouldn’t we know better than to act like apes?… (-: ) Here’s a reference: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-dawn/201006/truth-the-first-casualty-chimp-war

        • My wife is a primatologist, and she tells me that chimpanzee warlike-behavior is more common than we used to think. Characteristically, groups of young males will “go out on patrol” outside their territory, and if they find an isolated male from another troop, they will kill it — not for food, but for the pleasure of killing, and sometimes of torturing before they kill. This seems not to be motivated by anything other than a love of violence.

          • So… if this is done only or primarily by young males, then violence is an immature activity, even among chimpanzees. :-)

            I stand by my main point, which is that violence in other primates is a flimsy excuse for our own indulgence in it.

            • I never said it was an excuse, I was refuting Alex’s claim of war being “an artificial human construction brought forth by greed and lust for power.”

              And I stand by that assertion.

            • Oh, piffle, Jeff! This is verbal tennis, followed by dogmatic assertion. This sort of thing is an inherently contemptible game, and no one who plays it can ever win any truth by playing it.

              More substantively, I didn’t mean to excuse violence, but to offer a new fact for consideration in our discussion of the human condition, which is an interesting thing in itself, completely apart from any moral or ethical arguments one may build on the facts of the case. Hard facts, after all, exist wholly apart from any moral or ethical considerations.

  7. Hi Cara,

    Thank you for posting such a powerful article; it must have been a hard thing to bring to light. I can’t imagine ever feeling so vulnerable as to lock myself up at night like that, especially when I’m supposedly surrounded by service members (stressing on the /service/ part).

    My son graduates from Infantry OSUT in early December (his ship date is next month), and all the Army moms whose sons are training at the same base are posting they are heading to Afghanistan. Therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that’s where Ryan would be heading; I am mentally preparing for that the best I can. With that in mind, I am going to stress to him when/if he heads out there to keep an extra eye out for the women who serve beside him. I’m proud to say he’s a very honorable man, albeit a young one, and I know in my heart he would never tolerate that sort of behavior – directly or otherwise.

    And give your son a hug from me! Maybe our boys will run into each other down the road :)

  8. Thank you, Cara, for your courageous posting. I, too, think this war was nigh impossible to avoid—but I am uncertain if it is because of Nemesis. I think historical choices made by the US had more to do with it, and greed of course. But then, America as a whole was hubristic in the extreme the last few years. So, the attentions of “balancers”….whether you say Nemesis, Ma’at, or karma could certainly be a good explanation.

    My son is in Afghanistan now. My eldest son is home again, medically discharged with injuries. We are a house of veterans; and yes, even 30 years ago in the military when I found myself referred to as a member of the “Whore Corps” the military response to women and male sexual misconduct was disgraceful. Pity they don’t simply allow women sidearms, such as they give to officers.

  9. What you say, Cara, about Nemesis and how they punish betrayal (including promise-breaking) rings deeply true to me. This approach always seemed to make more sense than any theory of karma or balance.

  10. I have hesitated to comment until now, because it is clear this is a deeply personal post that brings up many unresolved and painful issues.

    But I wanted to speak up as a pacifist here (despite fears of “mixed company”) to affirm once again that so much of what you wrote, Cara, is precisely the reason I am against war. Over at Warriors & Kin, Lori has written a post about her own son, and her certainty that he will act honorably and decently. I hope that he will, and that your son will do the same.

    But I will say here again what I said in response to her post: I do not see how we can continue to pretend that war does not change people, or that violence is a thing which can be contained and directed only at “the enemy.” The military itself is an institution of state-sponsored organized violence. How can we continue to be surprised that, within such a violent institution, violence and abuse is turned against our own service members as well as our “enemies,” and that the service members most likely to experience abuse are those who stand out as different (e.g. women, ethnic and religious minorities, etc.)? How can we close our eyes to the simple truth that violence perpetuates violence, that any method which relies on intimidation and brute force will necessarily escalate into ever-greater outbursts of such violence and abuse?

    I am against war precisely because I am well aware of how often the U.S. breaks its promises (and how often those promises are made with fingers crossed, for purposes far less than noble in the first place). I am against war precisely because I am well aware of the abuse that soldiers and service members go through, as well as the acts of violence they commit in the field. I am against war because it is important that veterans have a sober, compassionate and forgiving atmosphere to come home to, not the blind sentimental support that denies them their feelings of guilt and so cannot forgive them even when they seek forgiveness. I am against war not because I am “anti-soldier,” but because I am “pro-human being,” because soldiers are human beings, too, and not sacrificial lambs we send out to the slaughter on our behalf.

    And I am against war because we cannot continue to shrug our shoulders and mourn at how “inevitable” war seems to be, to hand ourselves over so easily to despair and acquiescence in the face of our own violent natures. We cannot continue to blame the gods, or the government, if we are not willing to do the work ourselves to resist war in every way we can, with every breath of our being. Only when we have done absolutely everything we can to ensure that war doesn’t happen and violence is avoided, only then can we take a moment to embrace our sorrow at how deeply suffering and death seem embedded in the world.

    I am against war because, even though suffering and death are inevitable, and even if violence and war may be inevitable, the least I can do is stand up and say, “No,” to violence, and “Yes,” to life. Because it is only through our resistance to violence and our commitment to life that we can ever hope to lessen the power of war and the consequences of violence. I do not see how we can do any less and be able to live with ourselves.

    • I understand that, Ali, I really do. Which is why I respect many of those who live a pacifist life. I respect their decisions. I know that people individually can choose to live that way. I knew Medics and medical professionals in the military who were willing to go into battle without a weapon and risk their lives to try to heal and comfort everyone they could. That kind of bravery and conviction, breath taking.

      What I have my doubts about is if groups of people can consistently live that way. Questions about what do you do when individuals and groups do not want to live that way. And what your responsibilities are to those whom you call friend and family and how do you carry them out.

      I have many responsibilities that supersede my wishes and desires, my personal philosophies, and my comfort. I have made oaths and taken on commitments. What I regret and what causes me sleepless nights is when I have failed to live up to my promises. I do not regret serving in the military – I feel it was an honor to have done so. I have no qualms about if assisting Kuwait was the right thing to do. My eyes aren’t closed to what happened there and my heart is not closed to all the suffering – but to me it was the best thing to do out of a whole host of shitty options.

      I try very hard to fulfill my oaths and responsibilities and if I have scars from doing so, I am also content and am at peace within myself for doing so. I hear people talk about peace as the absence of violence or war, but that isn’t peace to me. Peace is a state of being and doesn’t depend on other people’s actions.

      “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Buddha

      I don’t blame the Gods for us going back to Iraq. I blame our actions (and feel despair over them) for that. But I understand the role that Nemesis plays in keeping everything in balance. I do not curse Her or blame Her, I honor Her.