It’s been 7 years since my first deployment and I still have dreams almost every night of Afghanistan.
Of being a gunner, flying down “route shovel” to Khost as fast as we can, bracing ourselves for the explosion of an inevitable IED
Or the unmistakable sound of a barrage of rockets coming in from the Pakistan border towards us
Or the sound of AK and PKM fire as I scramble to get my gear and load my weapon
Or the silent contempt in the eyes of countless Afghans who gazed upon us as we passed
Or the call to prayer as the sun set solemnly over the western hills as I watched over the southern steppes
Or the soft light of the illumination rounds over the eastern mountains at night
Or especially the merchant man, covered in his own blood, his feet and ankles hanging from his legs by skin and splintered bone, his stomach and chest open with metal fragments sticking out- the victim of an IED meant for our convoy by the Taliban, who, in a moment of perhaps his final clarity, looked at me helplessly with pleading in his eyes, minutes before his death.
And definitely my friend Michael Elm, who was 25 and only 2 months from going home, when he was killed by an IED on this very day.
By comparison to the experiences of other combat veterans, the two years I spent over there were relatively easy. But it still haunts me.
No, I never killed anyone in Afghanistan. People like to ask me that question a lot. People also ask me if I regret going over- and the answer is of course I do.
I’m not asking for “love” or “support” or even attention from this post. I just need to get it off my chest. Other veterans have mostly disowned me or have outright called me a traitor for “switching sides.” But how could I not?
I gotta be honest- it was a damn waste of human life and potential. It’s something I think about every day. I don’t feel pride for my service. I don’t like telling people about it. I wish I would have gone to college instead. Learned how to help people instead of kill them. There was nothing good that came from the war.
I think about what kind of person I was back then. In my own delusional mind I thought I was genuinely doing something good for the world. I thought I was so good, that the cause was righteous, that Afghanistan really was “the good fight.” After all… why else would we have seen and experienced so much suffering? There had to be a good reason for it all. There had to be a reason why Elm died, or why that merchant man died, or why so many people had to die, become permanently crippled, or lose all of their human rights under an illegal, foreign occupation.
There was no good reason for it all. The only thing we did was protect corporate interests, and make billions for big companies.
In truth, I was not a good person. Not only for having participated in the greatest evil of the modern era- the foot soldier of US imperialism- but for thinking that it was something that *was necessary.* For thinking that it was something which made me a *good person.* For obediently and with great enthusiasm practically worshiping the same flag that has been responsible for the deaths of untold millions… and the suffering of many more.
I may not have killed anyone, but I sure as hell killed myself. All of us who went over there did- that’s why we can’t ever stop thinking about it, or dreaming about it, or seeing it every time we close our eyes. Because we never really left- the dead stay where they are killed.
And forever we’ll be haunted by those faces.
A lot of people I used to know ask “what happened” to me. How did I go from being an infantry Sergeant to someone who “hates America”? Or someone who “has betrayed the brotherhood”? Or someone who “has become too extreme”?
I ask these people: why do you think it’s ok for this country to inflict so much violence, so much hate, so much *oppression* on the rest of the world? Where were your concerns against “violence” as our country was invading Iraq and Afghanistan- and continuing to occupy both, against the wishes of their people? Where are your concerns about “extremism” as our country forces others to bend their knees to US dominance? Are bombs dropped on weddings, hospitals, schools, and roads not extreme enough for you?
Or are you perhaps like I was, preferring to turn away from the horror that our country inflicts on the rest of the world, even justifying it? Because if you saw it, acknowledged it, and attempted to understand it, you too would become horrified as you *realized your own complicity in it.* Yes, we’re complicit in it. I don’t want to be complicit in it anymore- I want it to end.
You say, “if you don’t like America, why don’t you move?” But I respond: because I have an obligation- to fight and change this world for the better. Especially as someone who once protected the interests of American corporations abroad. I have to do whatever I can to right the wrongs. Maybe that’ll never be possible- but I’m going to try. I’m going to fight like hell to undermine imperialism, fascism, and capitalism at every point I can.
How could I not? Should I just go put on an “Afghanistan veteran” hat, wear my combat infantry badge, and stand obediently for the same flag that not only represents my suffering, but the even greater combined suffering of the world’s people?
No! I will do one good thing with my life and that will be to help end this war machine, end the suffering, the exploitation, the centuries of oppression. And in its place, help build a new world where we can live to our fullest potential, work together for the common good, and explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy.
You might call that unrealistic- even stupid. But I call that my life’s purpose.
Mason is an organizer with For The People and activist for social justice.
Listen to more thoughts from Mason here
Listen to another conversation about Imperialism here