Addendum 7/3/19: The author contacted us today to request that we remove this article. As a compromise we have deleted all mention of his identity.
Addendum 4/23/20: See also Andrew Klager’s review of Documentary: J.E.S.U.S.A., a trenchant indictment of American militarism.
War is hell. War is often unnecessary, but through the evil in our hearts we let it be and we encourage it, we engage it in fantasy primarily through Hollywood and gamer culture while imposing its deathly reality on people far weaker than us. We in these United States rarely see the suffering, the death, the disease, the famine that we impose on other nations. That we imposed on those peoples who are original to this continent. In the eyes of popular culture the soldier is not a harbinger of death, but a youthful soul seeking adventure who toughens up through the grim reality of combat.
Nothing could be further from the truth. War is death. War is hell on earth. In war we all die. Some of us physically, some of us mentally, some of us spiritually. In war, death is the only guarantee.
Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego June 2001
We are running in formation. A drill instructor (DI) leads the cadence (chant). The platoon responds in unison with KILL. We chant KILL every time our left foot strikes the pavement.
DI: I went to the church house where all the people pray
DI: I pulled out my rifle and blew them all away
DI: I went to the schoolhouse where all the kiddies learn
DI: I tossed in a grenade and watched those f*ckers burn
DI: I went to the market where all the people shop
DI: I pulled out my Ka-Bar and then began to chop
Dehumanization is a crucial element to building a fighting force that is primarily offensive and not defensive. A defensive fighting force does not sing about murdering civilians in houses of worship, schools, or markets where daily life is conducted.
Before we could become effective killers we had to die to ourselves. We had to to be formed into murderers who could be controlled through discipline and instant obedience to orders. Oftentimes I will hear people say that boot camp tears you down and builds you back up. To which I respond, “Builds you into what, exactly?” The answer I learned through experience is that one is built back up into someone who can take a life on command without question. In order to take a life on command you must be dead to yourself, your emotions, your spirit. The role of boot camp is to tear you down into nothing and to rebuild you into someone capable of blind obedience for the purpose of taking others’ lives.
Training for desert warfare 2002 somewhere out on a remote training range in 29 Palms CA
“I’m gonna get me a f*cking dune coon!” our sergeant bellows. “I can’t wait to put those ragheads in the dirt!” “Those filthy f*ckers want a war? We’re going to bring it to them!”
Racial epithets are common now. Everywhere I go marines are talking about killing hajis, dune coons, sand n*ggers, ragheads. The war is imminent, and I can tell by the way everyone is talking that we are about to get deployed to somewhere other than Afghanistan. Afghanistan, that so-called righteous war. The good war. As if there was ever such a thing.
Aboard the USS Peleliu 2003 headed straight for Iraq
The invasion has already kicked off and the 1,200 marines in our unit are excited to get involved. Machine gun ranges are held on the flight deck of the ships. Our unit Expeditionary Strike Group One is led by an admiral who addresses us with the words, “The winds of war have swept across our nation.”
Those words echo in my head for years. Post 9/11 our nation seethes with bloodlust disguised as patriotism. The soldier, sailor, airman, and marine are placed on a national altar of war. Mars smiles grimly as our nation is swept away in the spirit of revenge and mass murder. We all support the troops. Yellow ribbons and Twin Towers stickers are placed on car windows, cafes, diners, truck stops. Everywhere I go before I deploy people thank me for my service. I don’t like the attention. I just hope I don’t die, or worse, suffer a lifelong injury. I hope to kill before I am killed.
Al Anbar Province of Iraq 2006
We are on a routine patrol out in the desert on a government road. A white vehicle is speeding towards us. Our first vehicle calls it in as a possible Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device. The machine gunner shoots up the hood of the vehicle. We approach with our weapons drawn.
An old man in his 80s steps out, visibly shaken. He’s got cataracts the size of quarters in his eyes. The interpreter tells us that he’s almost blind but knows his way through the desert and so avoids the roads. We give him a piece of paper that says in Arabic that the US government owes him money for a car. All he has to do is approach a coalition base and turn in it and he’ll get money. Even though he’s blind he rolls his eyes. He knows he’s just as likely to get shot as a suspected suicide bomber if he even comes within a kilometer of a coalition base. We leave him in the desert with a shot up car.
How many civilians suffered basic indignities because of the occupation is known only to God. But millions suffered daily indignities that you cannot fathom unless you’ve seen it for yourself.
Al Anbar Province of Iraq 2006 transporting detainees from Rawa to Camp Fallujah
Twenty some men and boys are on their knees with sand bags over their heads. Their hands and feet are zip-tied. All have been detained as insurgents. Each person has a number on a property receipt. I check the numbers against our manifest. A sergeant comes out of the building and says that one’s a sniper.
No one is hated more than a sniper. I watch another sergeant take the bag off of his head. “This one?” he asks. “Yeah, him.”
The sergeant swiftly kicks the man in the stomach and he falls face first into the sand. “Whoa, don’t leave marks, buddy,” the other sergeant says. We all share a laugh. “Don’t worry, we won’t. But trust us, he’s getting his.”
The detainees are transported in the back of a 7-ton troop carrier. We pack them in tighter then canned fish but we place this guy by himself. One of the marines throws a few chemlights around him and a couple others start slapping him in the head and stomach. It’s going to be a long ride.
As a sergeant I should stop this abuse. Instead, I laugh and participate. Only later in reflection do I consider that he could just be some old guy who was rounded up and blamed for something he didn’t do. That thought haunts me to this day. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. How I wish I could throw myself at the feet of this man and beg his forgiveness.
I know what it’s like to surrender my soul to darkness and to enjoy the abuse of human beings. Even now while writing I am reduced to tears. God forgive me.
Al Anbar Province of Iraq 2006 just west the tiny town of Dulab
Our patrol is approached by an elderly couple just beyond the edge of town. They are terrified we will shoot them. We use an interpreter to tell them to stop and place their hands in the air. The old man is so scared of us but he keeps pointing to his wife. The interpreter lets us know she has some sort of medical condition.
The old man lifts the veil of his wife and we are shocked by the sight of leprosy. Her nose is rotting off, white patches of rot cover her face and she is clearly blind in at least one eye. Clearly the result of four years of warfare, unclean water, and filthy living conditions in a war zone without medicine.
Our corpsman (medic) screams at us to get away. We tell them that we cannot help them. Her husband cries, pleading with us to do something. The medic jokes that all we can do for her is shoot her and that she ain’t coming back from leprosy. We don’t shoot her. I turn them away and return to my vehicle stunned by what I have just witnessed.
Portland Oregon 2011 St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church
I am at an anarchist cafe across the street from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Portland’s inner east side. I have a cigarette but no lighter. In the park behind the church I see an older man smoking. I walk across the street and ask to borrow his lighter. His English is broken and he speaks with an accent I remember from Iraq. I ask him where he is from and he tells me Iraq. I light my cigarette and return his lighter. I tell him that I was a marine who served in Iraq and he asks me where I served. I tell him that most of my deployments were in the Al Anbar Province. He tells me he’s from Ramadi, a large city in the Al Anbar province. His eyes well up with tears as he tells me he lost his wife and two sons to the war. They were killed by American bombs. He’s a carpenter who fled when his family was murdered.
My heart sinks and my eyes begin to water. I ask for his forgiveness and begin to weep. He opens his arms and we embrace in a strong hug. Two homeless men broken by war weeping in a park. I a homeless veteran. He a homeless refugee in the land that murdered his family. We cry for minutes that seem like hours. Rain pouring over our broken bodies in the garden of Francis of Assisi. We smoke another cigarette together and then part ways. I am devastated. I can’t begin to understand how someone would have to be a refugee in the land that took his family.
I have shared with you just seven memories. Just seven among the hundreds if not thousands I have of the war.
I want to talk about my friends who took their own lives after our deployments. Or those I knew who ended up junkies, addicted to sex and whatever drugs they could get their hands on. Shells of their former selves. I could go on and on about the men I knew who became filled with anger. Who drank themselves to an early grave. Who let that anger out on their families and became workaholics, alcoholics, or escapists, addicted to pain, violence, and vice. But I will share with you only my experience of war and how it changed me.
I deployed four times to Iraq as part of the coalition occupation forces. 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2008. My last three deployments were in the Al Anbar province. I was a sergeant for those three deployments. While my initial occupation was logistics I was a part of a security element that secured logistics convoys, escorted Explosive Ordnance Disposal personnel, transported detainees, and conducted route security through routine patrols on the highways and roads of the Al Anbar province. I have walked through cities reduced to rubble. Heard the cries of families over their dead loved ones. Been hounded by dozens of starving children who begged me for water or food. I have abused people and watched people beaten without mercy.
But most of all I have experienced the lack of consideration our nation has for civilians stuck in the wars that we brought to their homes.
The first Orthodox Christians I met were in Iraq. Raised a Protestant evangelical I didn’t even know about the Orthodox Church until I came across a group of Iraqis making the sign of the cross and asking if we were Christians. I remember asking one of my fellow sergeants if there were Christians in Iraq. That should tell you something about how ignorant we were of the people we were there to “liberate.” “Nah, I think they’re all ragheads” (our favorite epithet for Muslims) was his reply.
When I came back in 2008 and was honorably discharged from the Marines I was shocked to realize that most people here in the States didn’t even act like there were wars happening. I was angry. People would thank me for my service without even knowing what my service was. I felt like a Nazi stormtrooper.
I couldn’t comprehend the disparity I saw between the existence of Iraqi civilians and our existence here in the USA. Entire cities there went without electricity or running water. People starved to death. Simple medical issues that are easily treatable here, like tuberculosis, became epidemics over there. Children lost their parents to bombs, gunfire, and disease. Parents lost their children to the same. The coalition checkpoints that divided cities and added hours to commute times for everyday life.
A child who was born during the invasion of 2003 is now 15 years old. Lord, have mercy. My friends who are still in the military are leading troops that have no memory of 9/11 because they were only a year or two old. That’s how long this has been going on. Our nation is in a cycle of war from which there is no escape.
Oh, I wish I could convey the suffering I’ve seen in Iraq. Words fail me. War is death. That’s all there is to it. And for those who claim that we in the United States live in a Christian nation, I say No! No, we do not! We should not pretend that we do, and we should most certainly not ally ourselves with those who call themselves Christians but wield the sword and murder their neighbor, or those so-called Christians who would turn away the refugees.
This is not a nation founded on the love of Jesus Christ. This is not a nation baptized into His Holy Church. This is a nation founded on genocide and theft. Our wars rage across the earth, but before they raged across the earth they tore across this continent. Ours is indeed a history of murder and theft. The wealthy Deists who founded this country were not Christian men. They were murderers and thieves, and their sins have indeed been passed onto future generations. Even to our own.
The war I experienced was just one in a long line of wars this nation has perpetrated in the name of God and Manifest Destiny. I struggle with bitterness and anger because I have seen first hand the abuses that our government commits. I have watched the widows grieve and heard the starving children mourn. I have witnessed men abused and tortured, and worst of all, I have seen the callousness of heart that grips our nation towards these people who did no wrong to us.
I returned from war a broken man. Broken because I knew I had participated gleefully for a time in Evil, and I knew it in my heart.
There are those calloused veterans and active duty soldiers who are unrepentant and look forward to killing people. I served alongside many of them. To them I have nothing to say. Their hearts are hard. They do not seek peace. They do not seek the love of Jesus Christ.
Of the people whose countries we’ve destroyed I beg forgiveness. I weep for their suffering and I long for justice, even if it only comes on that final Day of Judgement.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
N. is a former Marine sergeant, a BA student in Religious Studies at X. University, and a catechumen at Saint Y. Church (AOCA) in Z. After four tours of duty in Iraq between 2003 and 2008 he was honorably discharged in 2009.
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