Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Monday, March 17, 2008

5 Years, 1 year

We've been at war in Iraq for 5 long years now, with more long years to go (assuming, of course, that we don't pull out like naive teenagers). I wonder, though... who remembers (without looking!) when the war began in Afghanistan?

Jules Crittenden has your roundup of blogger opinion and editorial opinion on the anniversary.

It took5 years to research what a lot of those serving in Iraq already took prima facie, but Havard University social scientists believe there is a link between public criticism of the war and increases in violent insurgent attacks.

The Idaho Statesman began a 5-part series yesterday on the "5 Years of War". The series opened with a fairly well-balanced article on ordinary life in Baghdad and a leading question: "When you close your eyes and think of Iraq, what does your mind's eye see?".

When I close my eyes, I don't see Iraq. I hear it. Every night when I close my eyes and go to sleep, the quite night is broken by the ringing memory of bombs long blown apart. I heard Iraq once in the gunshots as a man died in a bad drug deal nearby, and I hear it still every afternoon when the grade school across the fence recesses.

I still hear the music, too. Music is a big part of a lot of soldier's lives in Iraq- it is both calming and girding, and embraced in virtually all its forms. Music often turns surreal, too- the way Highway to Hell would start up on the truck playlist as we turned down Route Mets and play on as we passed the crater in the road where once we lost three good men was eery. I sat through a virtual monsoon once while listening to Welcome to the Jungle and watching the raid whip trees sideways.

Some guys listen to death metal before missions, some listen to melodic pop during firefights- whatever it takes to get you through. I had a pretty eclectic mix that ranged from the hardcore yet not hate filled Project 86 to soft and dreamy Nickel Creek, with the drunken Irish bagpipes of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys playing the punkish counterpart to the timelessness of Guns and Roses.

The other night, I heard the music again, and the surreal undertones punched me in the gut. I was driving home at night, and the rain was coming down hard. The radio was playing Nickelback- it was one of SGT Clevenger's favorite songs, one that played at his memorial.
If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
We'd see the day when nobody died
I pulled over the top of a hill, and in front of me was the church billboard, the one that always bright lights spelling out a Bible verse and some "Jesus loves you" message. As I came over the hill, the billboard flashed big and orange letters: "DIED".

Weird. Thanks, but I knew that well, and I don't need reminding. I reached out and punched the button to turn my stereo from radio to CD player, and as a mix CD starting playing Dropkick Murphys, the billboard lights reorganized themselves: "FOR YOU". Every time I think of Clev, I remember that if a series of last minute decisions had gone differently it could be my ghost courting the visitors of some marbled estate. The CD player piped out the Dropkick cover of Green Fields of France:
Did they beat the drums slowly
Did the play the fife lowly
Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down
Did the band play the last post and chorus
Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest

And I can't help but wonder, oh Willy Mcbride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy Mcbride, it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again
I was past the billboard before it flashed back to the beginning "Jesus", but I mumbled his name to myself as I flew by, the stereo completely off now. All I wanted was to get home, text my girlfriend to let her know I was home safe, pour a stiff shot of scotch, and forget the drive.

You can't make that shit up, but what can you do about it?


  1. Well spoken Teflon Don. It's interesting what kind of places and moods music can take you in one's own stream of consciousness.

  2. Excellent post TD, nixon said it well.

  3. Anonymous18/3/08 10:19

    Music, smells, glimpses of a profile...all these things can take you back. All you can do is go with the flow and thank the Lord that there are some who are willing and able to remember.

  4. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 03/18/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  5. Anonymous18/3/08 17:16

    Every time I hear that Nickelback song I think of my sister-in-law and a buddy that I served with who are both in Iraq again. 2nd and 3rd trips respectively. Another song that brings out similar feelings is Montgomery Gentry's "Didn't I". It's from the "We were Soldiers" soundtrack but I feel it still has meaning during our current operations. I'd say it's actually increasing in meaning as time goes on and the disconnect between the average citizen and those currently serving grows wider.

  6. Floggin' Molly! I knew I liked you. Music ties to memories for me, more than images and smells. It can jerk you back to a moment quicker than anything.

  7. Anonymous21/3/08 05:11

    Music is the soundtrack to our lives. Solo

  8. Anonymous22/3/08 20:20

    Nice posting!

    Have a great Easter!

  9. Anonymous23/3/08 17:41

    Wow ,read that paper about the link between media reports and increases in attacks. Very dry reading, but very true. Folks have got to realize what we hear, AQ hears, what we read, AQ reads, and they use it to their advantage. Solo

  10. Since you don't have trackbacks:
    When I Close My Eyes

    Why can’t I write like this? I found this reposted on The Sandbox from an article originally posted on Acute Politics. We are a whole new generation of vets.


  11. I went to read Jules Crittenden, there is some powerful words there, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, God, do not let us do it again.

  12. Anonymous29/3/08 09:52

    Well said and true. You'll live with the sound, the smell, the wounds for the rest of your days. In my war, it was the Rolling Stones and Judy Collins. Still get emotional when I hear those sounds. The wounds will scar over if you let them. The scars: You'll live with them but they will fade...

  13. Thank you for your words on your blog. I stumbled across it when googling Baquaba where my husband is posted with the DOS. You have helped me understand a lot of what he is dealing with and feeling, when he can't say and has made a huge difference in how I communicate with him. Music while sometimes painful, is healing, just like life.

    I love all of the music you listed, especially Nickel back, but among them you should also listen to George Strait's, "I saw God Today". A gentle reminder...even in the best and worst of times.

    God Speed....

  14. "It took5 years to research what a lot of those serving in Iraq already took prima facie, but Havard University social scientists believe there is a link between public criticism of the war and increases in violent insurgent attacks."

    Most people who had one-half a brain figured that one out. I appreciate that you reminded us of something so true.

  15. Anonymous2/4/08 10:29

    I'm reluctant to even post this since my service was in "peacetime". Still, after 4 years, I had a trouble adjusting to civilian life - the absence of discipline, especially. I had changed, never to go back again to the way I used to be. That's not necessarily all bad - to have one's priorities of life sorted out. But it took a few years to readjust. Multiply that x1000 for combat soldiers, I think. Hang in there, Don, and give it time.

  16. Anonymous5/4/08 15:00

    My soldier friend also speaks of the sounds. She is also acutely aware of and sensitive to noise. The noise of a childs play gun unexpectedly sent her back to the Middle East. Beleive me, to see the look on her face broke my heart and made me even more proud of our soldiers at the same time. You all are forever changed. Thank You for your service. Take one day, step, breath, song at a time. It will get better.

  17. Hi! I hope you won't mind me sharing this with you but I thought you might be interested in what we've got going on to support our troops.

    eMail Our Military's gearing up for another great support project for our troops, this time for Mother's Day. Since our troops are serving across the globe, I thought this would be a great way to help them connect with their moms back home in a really sweet, personal and fun way.

    Our troops can write a note or make a simple card for mom and then snap a pic of it with their digital camera or mobile phone. Then just upload it to where it will be turned into a crisp, clear .PDF for sharing with mom.

    What's I think is so cool about this is that it's free, and it cleans up the text so it doesn't look like a camera phone shot - Best of all it's an immediate way to send a personal note with a whole lot of love across the world.

    This would also be a great way for kids who are separated from their military moms to say Happy Mother's Day with a homemade card right to mom's email address without the need for a scanner, etc.

    I think it's a pretty neat little project and we're really excited about sharing it with our military and those who support them.

    Supporting our military, one email at a time!

  18. Here's wishing that your transition back to the world gets easier soon.

    Like the former soldier above my service was in peacetime and I still had trouble re-adjusting to civvie street.

    I'm glad you're back home.

    Take care.

  19. I found my military service to be life-altering, in the positive sense.Corporations are hungry for the type of leadership ability that military service gives an individual.

  20. Anonymous16/1/09 01:35

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