Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Jab Is The Spice

They worked diligently on cleaning their new weapons. Three AK-47s and an RPD with a broken bipod. Slumped in the shade, taking their time. Their words were carefully chosen, and delivered with a surly seriousness. They chanted and sang songs of revolution. Of revenge. Of chaos.

The sun had set and they had assembled their arsenal. They stood, and faced eachother. Chins up, shoulders straight. In unison, they raised their right arm and closed a fist. With a firm extension, their fists collided. It fueled them. It empowered them. Their time was up.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

War Is Real

You turn your TV on.
The heads announce,

"3 US soldiers killed in roadside bomb attack outside Ramadi yesterday,"

They smile, and continue,

"Heath Ledger, a real American hero and champion, overdoses on drugs,"

Crocodile Tears. Sad Music. Video Montage. And they continue,

"Lindsay Lohan arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence. May her poor soul find some real help, Tom."

Flawless. Perfect. Surreal. Remorseless. They spew slop to the public.

"Does your child have ADD? Chances are your little one does. Doctors urge you to cram amphetamines down their throat. More about this scary story next!"

We have become blind to the verities that matter. The oil men dismantling our country. The young men and women dying so they can justify it. The public turning a blind eye. The families left with nothing but pain, and regret. The families which no longer have anything to give. The families we have left to rot.

I've compiled a small collection of stories and photos surrounding the lives affected forever by this pointless conflict. War is about death, killing, destruction. War is not about glory. What you read and see is in no way meant to be romantic.


Carlos Arredondo - Father

"Next thing I know, I see soldiers rolling into Baghdad, people at the side of the road saying hello, welcome, and I was very happy. And I say, "Thank God." The statue go down, they catch Saddam, and I see the President of the US landing on the air carrier with big signs saying, "Mission Accomplished." And I say, "Oh my God, it's over. The war is over.

The 25th of August in 2004 was the day of my birthday, and I was expecting a phone call from Alex, which he never miss, to say, "Happy Birthday, Dad." My mother start baking a cake, and I was working outside with my cell phone in my pocket when I saw the Marines get off the van. Thought it was a surprise, and my happiness was overwhelming. Next thing, the Marines ask me if I was Carlos Arredondo. I don't understand why they asking me that, and I don't see my son anywhere. I even ask them, "Are you guys here to recruit some kids?" because I have a second son, a 16-year-old, Brian. And he said, "I'm sorry, I'm coming to notify you that Alexander Arredondo got killed in combat." At that moment, not expecting those words, my world tumbled and I felt my heart go down to the ground and rush up through my throat. I run from my house to the backyard, looking for my mother to tell her what these men were saying. And she run to try to talk to them, while I was trying to call Maine to reach Alex's mother. Brian answer the phone and because I was in tears, all I could say was, "Sorry, I'm sorry. They're telling me your brother got killed." And Brian said, "I know that, I know." "How do you know that?" "'Cause the Marines, they're here right now, and when I saw them coming, I know.

I got so angry I go to my garage and get a five-gallon can of gasoline that I keep for my lawn mower, also a torch like they use for welding. And with one in each hand, I once again ask the Marines to leave my house. And they... I don't really remember what was the answer, but they didn't move. So I approach the van, pick up the hammer, bang at that window so hard I cut my arms. When my mother pull the gasoline can away I chase her, got it back, open the van door, begin banging everything inside the van--the computer, the dashboard, the seats, the roof. I couldn't find my son. I was screaming for my son when I threw everything, everything from the van. When I have nothing else to throw, I found the five gallons of gasoline and began pouring it everywhere, everywhere. I was splashing my body, my legs, my clothing. And there was my mother, screaming, the Marines outside the van, talking the whole time on the phone, the fumes that were so strong I couldn't breathe, though the windows were broken.

I am with one leg out of the van, holding the acetylene torch, with my mother pulling at me, when I lose my balance. But what happens was I press the button, which ignite the torch. Next thing was an explosion that threw me out with a lot of fire, and I was falling head down on the ground in flames. And not knowing yet what happen to my mom, I run across the street, until one of the Marines jump on top of me, on my back. And I was screaming, "Momma, Momma, Momma," because my socks, my feet, my shirt were burning. As they dragged me away from the van something blew up. A big bang. And I continue screaming, yelling for my son Alex. "Are you sure that was Alex? Are you sure?"

Tomas Young - US Army

"Struggling to sit upright, Tomas began forcing his thin, angular body as far forward and backward as he could. "Here I am wanting a conversation," he said, "and it's not working for me. I'm feeling kind of dizzy and thinking it must be the meds." Tomas recalled that the night before he'd taken a prescribed dose of Valium, along with his regimen of pain pills, antianxiety pills, antispasmodic pills and laxatives, only to awaken earlier than usual. At that time he took his morning dosages of morphine and Wellbutrin, and a half-dozen other drugs, before falling back to sleep. When Brie woke to remind him to take his morning pills, he forgot, in the confusion from a troubled sleep, that he already had. He'd "doubled up." Then again, maybe he hadn't.

It was on April 4, 2004, his fourth day in Iraq, that his Army unit was ambushed. The place was the insurgent stronghold of Sadr City. The truck he was riding in, Tomas recalled ruefully, was unarmored and so crammed full of soldiers--twenty-five men in a space meant for eighteen--that he couldn't even point his weapon outside. Bullets began flying everywhere, splintering metal, striking almost everyone, when all of a sudden his whole body went numb and he saw himself dropping his M-16 and being unable to pick it up. There was no pain. It took only a few seconds more for him to realize that the thing that had just happened to him was something he would have to deal with for the rest of his life. He tried screaming for someone to kill him, but all that came out was this tiny whisper. "

José Pequeño, US Army

"José was the youngest police chief in the state of New Hampshire, forever. But then he was in the National Guard, and they asked for volunteers. It was on March 1, 2006. They were guarding an Iraqi police station and got a tip it was going to be hit. One of the bombers' cars hit the police station, blew it up, and my son was calling in to base when they threw a grenade through the open part of the Humvee. The driver died instantly. When they found José, the lower part of his body was still inside the Humvee but the explosion had gone under his helmet and the left part of his brain was out in the sand.

"I used to work nights. I got home at 7 am, couldn't sleep, when there was a phone call. "We need to notify you that your son had an accident and is in surgery." But they couldn't give me any news how bad he was. I hung up, called my daughter and his dad, then kept calling Casualty Affairs every fifteen minutes. "As soon as we know, ma'am." Then, "They're flying him into Germany." Finally, when he got to Germany, they told me it was an injury on the head. "How bad is it?" "He's getting cleaned up, but we don't know the extent of the injury." I finally got to a nurse. "You tell me." "I'll have a neurosurgeon call." Two o'clock in the morning, I got a call from the neurosurgeon. "I'm still evaluating your son. I'll call you when I'm done." "How long?" "I've got like twenty minutes to go." And I said, "You've got twenty-two minutes. I'm his mom, for God's sake."

Twenty-five minutes later I got a call. A voice said, "Is this your son?" "Yes." "Such a beautiful son," he said. "What a terrible waste, a young man with such a life ahead of him, and he's going to die." Right there, a piece of me just left. "You're such a liar!" I yelled. "Of course my son is going to make it." After that, I asked, "Are you finished with your evaluation? Tell me exactly what's wrong with my son. Please." And he said, "He has a severe brain injury, severe bleeding; he's lost the bottom two lobes of his brain." And at that time, my daughter's boyfriend heard me scream and fall off the bed. I started throwing things. My next-door neighbor came running, and I sat down and cried and said, "I can't do this."

Katherine Cathey, Spouse

"Katherine Cathey, 23, embraces the coffin of her husband James C. Cathey, 24, a Marine Second Lieutenant, after it was placed in a hearse at Reno Airport. He was killed by a booby-trap explosion in Al Karmah, Iraq. Before getting out of the car at the airport, she said "I wish it was daytime for the rest of my life. The night is just too hard."

At first, these pictures seem almost an affront, almost too personal, then become stunningly direct. At many newspapers, the mantra of "too sad, too strong" keeps images like this out of the running. Editors bemoan the loss of readers without realizing perhaps that pictures like this are precisely what connects viewers to all the disparate forms of life around us. We and everyone we know and love, and hate, are all going to die someday, and we ought to be used to that by now.

And finally, the night before her husband's funeral, Katherine Cathey lies on an air mattress in front of the flag-draped coffin. Before he went to Iraq, they were married in a civil ceremony, and planned a church wedding when he returned. They hadn't planned on a return like this, and now she listens to music they had picked for the wedding. She insisted on spending that final night next to his body. "

Ty Ziegel, US Marines

"During his second tour in Iraq in 2004, his group was attacked by a suicide bomber. Ziegel had been trapped in a burning truck, the heat melted the flesh from his face. He sustained massive injuries, but survived.

His injuries led to the loss of his left forearm and of three fingers of his right hand, and he was rendered blind in his right eye. He also sustained widespread severe burns that led to the loss of his ears and much of the tissue on his face. His shattered skull was replaced by a plastic dome, and a face was constructed more or less from scratch with salvaged tissue, holes left where his ears and nose had been. Despite the range and severity of his injuries, and after over 50 operations, Ziegel had recovered enough to leave the hospital.

Ziegel married his girlfriend Renee Kline in 2006. They lived together in Illinois up until their separation."