Chris Christensen / San Francisco Chronicle / TomDispatch.com – 2005-08-15 00:46:50
(August 14, 2005 ) — In our small town of Columbus, Texas (pop. 3,900), we buried one of our local sons on his 19th birthday. He was killed in action in Iraq on June 20. He was a friend of my two oldest sons, and his father was a friend of mine.
There is not a lot for a young man to do in our town, and most leave for college or a job. Christopher came to see me at his father’s request prior to enlisting last summer. I am an Air Force vet who served in Southeast Asia. I talked blue in the face to try to get Christopher to go with me to an Air Force or Navy recruiter. In fact, I told him in no uncertain terms that the Army would put a gun in his hands and send him out to be a target. He wouldn’t listen.
His head was already filled with a lot of crud from the recruiter about being a scout, riding a four-wheeler ATV around — big fun! (Christopher was an Eagle Scout.) He had an acquaintance who had been doing that (not in Iraq), and I got the sense that this acquaintance was giving him the hard sell, too. I wonder if the Army has a referral bonus system.
Christopher also had this inexplicable desire to “go shoot some ‘Raqis.” Maybe some latent desire from too much video gaming. I heard that in the weeks before his death, he was involved in a brief firefight and froze in terror. No doubt reality caught up to him at the speed of a 7.62-caliber bullet. Too bad his recruiter or buddy had not told him about the fear he would experience when he realized someone wanted to really hurt him or kill him.
When I learned of Christopher’s death, I was sitting, using a computer in a hotel lounge in Manhattan. (I’m an airline pilot and was on a layover in New York.) I broke down and cried. There were lots of others around and I’m sure they were wondering … but none asked. I found I was crying not so much for the senseless loss of a young life, or even the grief our friends would bear. As I thought about it, I was crying for our country. What have we come to?
This is my sadness. Our children are being weaned on hatred and violence in this country. It starts with television, gets reinforced and is refined with violent video games (one is produced and distributed by the U.S. Army), and finally the infection spreads through violent team sports in high school. Football in the South is the battlefield training ground for the next generation of cannon fodder. Kids are told to go out there and “hurt ’em, tear ’em up, kill ’em.” It is ingrained.
(Careful now, don’t get me confused with the liberal left. I own guns and support conservatives. There is a huge difference between defense of home and property and exporting violence to other countries.)
Christopher didn’t know it, but as a small-town Southerner he was being trained for his death since early childhood.
Our little town votes mostly Democrat in local elections, but typically votes Republican in presidential races. Discussion or debate about policy in public is seldom heard and somewhat discouraged. What a shame. Most people around here take a passing interest in national or foreign policy for a week or two prior to an election, then just turn back to football, or whatever is covered on the sports page that day.
The notion of death or dismemberment at the hands of an enemy is so foreign as to be incomprehensible to most American youth. Our media does such a precise job of keeping images and details of such things out of the public eye. Not so for many foreign presses. Our schools would never consider teaching children about anything so morbid or unpleasant.
The thought that a boy like Christopher would so lightheartedly desire to kill some people he knew nothing about is very distressing to me. On the one hand, Christopher was a pretty gentle and easygoing kid. If someone said to him, “Hey let’s go shoot some kids from Sealy,” a rival school, he would obviously have said, “You’re crazy — get lost!” But ‘Raqis, why it’s open season.
He only saw the differences. He had somehow developed enough hatred to override his sense of right and wrong, and all teaching of love of fellow man. He went to the Southern Baptist Church, and I know it was taught to him. On the other hand, the president of the Southern Baptist convention declared this a “just war.” A little hypocrisy there and probably confusing for Christopher. We left that church, by the way.
A few men and women who knew Christopher had been supporting the occupation but are beginning to change their minds. His death is the second our rural county has experienced in the past few months. It is beginning to change some attitudes here — but too late, I’m afraid.
I hope that we learn sooner than we did in Vietnam that we can’t successfully force our ideals on another society unwilling to adopt them or defend them for themselves.
There just aren’t enough Christophers to go around.
Chris Christensen is an Air Force veteran who lives in Columbus, Texas. This piece first appeared at www.tomdispatch.com as a letter in response to Nick Turse’s article, which is included here. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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