Five years. This week marks five years since the United States began attacks in Iraq.
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
And there’s this.
My younger sister, who I will refer to as W, is in the Navy. And today she left for a six month deployment which will take her to the Middle East. I can only infer from her statements that she’s headed to the Persian Gulf, including this assurance from her that “the safest place to be is on a carrier.” It’s a small assurance, but I’m holding on to it.
She lives with her two children in Washington state. They are 6 and 5, and she will be away from them for the next six months. There are stories like hers unfolding every day, and some parents who are deployed for even longer and to locations that are inherently less safe. Still, let me tell you a little about her circumstances. When she returns to the States, she has orders to Mississippi. So while she’s away, her dad and step-mother (who I’ll just refer to as her parents) will pack up her house (which she can’t sell because of the current market, so it has to be rented out), find a new house in Mississippi, locate a new school for her children, and carry out the move most of the way across the country. When W steps off the ship, she will go to a completely different home in a different state, to a house she has never seen.
My sister has a job and she’s doing it. But that job creates a set of circumstances for her that are not asked of the rest of us. She’s making sacrifices that the rest of us are not, and I’ve never been more aware of that than I was last night when I talked to her.
We haven’t discussed our opinions about the wars our country is fighting right now. I don’t know whether we would disagree or agree, but it seems irrelevant, in light of her job. I think that all of us, no matter what we think about this issue, are supportive of our military. (Though couldn’t we fight for better benefits for them?)
My feelings about all war are complex. Our presence in Afghanistan is the only part of what we’re doing that seemed to be grounded in reason when we began, so my thoughts about that are more muddled. However, my opinion about our presence in Iraq is much less complicated. From the beginning, I was against our invasion of Iraq, and that opinion has only grown deeper roots as these five years have passed.
And what of the 40 years since My Lai? What of our involvement in Vietnam? What have we learned? It seems we’ve learned nothing, taken responsibility for nothing. And that once again we moved ahead without caution where we were not wanted, or needed, and to what end? What did we accomplish 40 years ago, and what have we accomplished in these last five? (The politics are complicated, and I’m aware of that, I assure you. It’s a longer discussion that I would want to begin here. But.)
My husband served in Vietnam, as part of the Phoenix Program. Please take a moment to look it up, if you’re not familiar with the mandate of that program, which was devised by the CIA in the late 1960s. I’ve heard some of his stories, enough of them to know that what our government did there was, at best, complicated. And at its worst, went utterly against the Geneva Conventions and against all sense of humanity. I’ve come to believe that everything about modern warfare is murky, and it’s not always easy to identify the good guys. Maybe it never was. Maybe war has always been subjective.
I could go on, but today is not really about that. This is about my sister.
I haven’t caught you up on this part of the story yet, but W and I have only met once, when I was 20 and she was 14. Yet, in recent years especially, we’ve built a relationship that is startling in its ease, despite the fact that we haven’t spent time in the same place. Our personalities are similar, just as I suspect my sister, who you know as Ducky, shares things in common with our other sister (there are four of us in all).
If you’re asking right now why we haven’t managed to see each other, there’s no good reason to offer, just that life has gotten in the way. But we will, and soon.
But not this summer.
Before we got off the phone, I told her that I loved her, which is something we don’t often do. Last night, though, it seemed important, because of today and where she is headed. Because I wanted to be sure she knows it. Because we have that, after all that has happened in our family. I know in my heart it won’t be the last time she hears it from me. I have faith that I will see her soon after she returns. But I said it anyway. Because.
And because I meant it.