NOTE: the comments on this post have gone off on a completely different subject (as frequently happens). Along the way some very harsh things were said, which I was asked to delete, and I’ve done so. But because these comments also were involved in the change of subject, the transition seems to come out of nowhere.
Around half the membership in our Byzantine Catholic parish is descended
from the Carpatho-Rusin ("Ruthenian") founders of the church, and the rest have
mostly come by way of the Roman Catholic Church.
An exception to this is a middle aged man and his teenage son, who started
in the Episcopal Church, then moved for a long while into one of the small
breakaway Anglican communions. When they realized that there is a problem of
final authority in that denomination, they moved Romeward. Finding the local
liturgies in the Roman Catholic Church pretty intolerable after experiencing
graceful Anglican worship for so long they made their way to the Byzantine
I like the fellow very much, as he is witty and intelligent, but we learned
early on to avoid politics, after an initial heated exchange about the war.
Indeed, he is a pretty doctrinaire Republican. His son, let us call him N, kept
pretty quiet during our argument, but I sensed disdain for my antiwar
sentiments. Indeed, it turned out that he was planning on enlisting in the
military right after he graduated from high school, and he was an earnest and
idealistic proponent of the war.
And so, last spring N enlisted. After basic training he was sent to Iraq.
Yesterday I saw him sitting with his father as we waited for the Divine
Liturgy to begin. I saw in the bulletin that he was home on leave, and I
mentally prepared a greeting that communicated concern but steered away from
argument about the war. Arguing with a gung-ho soldier was about the last thing
I wanted. Anyway, it probably wouldn’t be an issue, as I suspected he would
avoid me in the social hall after Liturgy, where coffee and donuts are
To my surprise, though, he walked immediately up to me in the hall, hand
extended in greeting. The first words out of his mouth were "What I have seen
since enlisting has totally changed my mind about the war".
He was eager to talk.
Though his recruiter had told him that he would be trained in military
intelligence he had in fact been assigned to the medical corps, and he had been
a medic in Sadr City, the Shiite slum in Baghdad. A medic in Sadr City. Allow
for a moment the implications of such an assignment to sink in.
It was hellish indeed, and he proceeded to tell me what he had seen:
friends losing limbs and lives as they exploded in front of him. Children caught
in crossfire or injured or killed by bombs. Panicked soldiers firing on
civilians before they realized their mistake. The palpable hatred of the Iraqis
for the American presence.
The war, he thought, was wrong and unwinnable, a sentiment he said was
shared by the other members of his unit.
Nor was his disillusionment only with the cause; he was disgusted by the
military leadership’s apparent indifference to the plight of everyday enlisted
men, some of whom were on their third, even fourth, tour of duty.
He confirmed what I had heard, that the official numbers of American dead
are far too low, that if someone is wounded in Iraq but dies in a hospital in
Germany, he is only counted as wounded and not as a battlefield death.
After N had moved on to talk with other parishoners his dad told me that
the young local marine who had been in the papers last week as the latest Ohio
combat death had been N’s friend and classmate, that they had enlisted
It is sad to see such a young man disillusioned, a true believer
transformed into a cynic.
On the other hand, to be dis-illusioned is to grow in truth. I noted that
he was more fervent during the Liturgy than I had remembered him.
And he has changed his goals: he is no longer intending on the military as
a career. He has found that he loves being a medic, and he hopes to use the GI
Bill after he has served his time to go to college, and eventually on to medical
N is not sure if he will be sent back to Iraq or not.
Please pray for him, that he will be kept safe in the time he has left to
serve, and that he will come to realize his new dream, to trade the weapons of
war for the tools of healing.
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