This post is written by my daughter Alli.
For those who wondered about my safety after my other blog: yes, after many hours of lessons, I can now drive the manual transmission, and believe it or not, I really like it. Which just goes to show that in this life, anything is possible. And driving that point home is the fact that I, my mother’s daughter, have something in common with both Sarah Palin and John McCain. I even–GASP–sympathize with them. Because we are members of the same family–the United States military family.
Throughout the Iraq war, much has been made in the media (think Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11) of how few members of Congress (and indeed our whole government) have spouses or children in the military. (Can anyone picture the Bush twins on dismounted patrol in Mosul in 120 degree heat, wearing 75+ pounds of body armor?) But this year, 3 out of 4 candidates for high office have children serving in Iraq. (Barack Obama and his pre-teen daughters get a pass on this one.) And I think this is a good thing. I think if you’re going to be making war policy–namely sending someone else’s husband, someone else’s children–to fight and possibly die, you had better be willing to stand behind that sacrifice you are asking those families to make, and the best way to test that willingness is to offer up your own to the cause you champion. In other words: if you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. But once you have become a member of the military family–whether by enlistment, commission, marriage or parenthood–you see the war, and the world, for that matter, through a pair of military standard issue Oakley lenses, even if, like Sarah Palin, you wear Kawasaki 704’s.
I am often asked “What do you think about the war?” by civilians who sit with their opinions (both for and against) at a comfortable distance. When people find out that my husband is in the military, this question is almost a given, and last year when he was serving in Iraq, it was inevitable. I am used to these kinds of discussions: I have a very politically passionate family, on all sides. My mother is liberal (as if it needed telling), my father is moderate, my in-laws are conservative. I’m no stranger to opposing points of view, and most of the time, I have an opinion of my own and I’m glad to jump into the conversation. As a political science major, I’m aware of all the issues. I have voted in every election since I turned 18–nationwide, state and municipal. I read the full text of every proposition on the ballot, every election year.
However, I have never been asked “What do you think about the war?” by either a service member or a military spouse or parent, and after being married to a soldier for four years, including a 15 month combat deployment to Iraq, I know why. When you’re talking to someone who hasn’t been in your shoes, it’s almost impossible to explain. This is true for me. And I suspect, in private, away from the teleprompters, when they look into their hearts, I think this is the same for Sarah Palin, John McCain and Joe Biden–the issues are too murky to have a clear cut opinion. How can you say “I support the war” when it means you will spend the next year waiting desperately by your phone for a call from your child overseas and lay awake nights praying that they will stay safe? How can you say, “I oppose the war” when your husband calls, full of pride, with stories about building schools for children and seeing women cast off the chains of oppression, stories that he has seen with eyes you know and trust?
For those of us in the military family, neither answer seems to work. If you oppose the war, you feel like you’re betraying your loved ones and all that they fought for and sacrificed. If you support the war, you feel guilty for supporting a mission that could mean injury or death for someone you love (and there are people who won’t hesitate to point that fact out to you.) We feel a responsibility to both defend the mission and honor of our troops and also to protect our loved ones from any type of harm (whether or not they signed up for it.) And the issue always seems to get confused with the political, when for us, it is political a distant second and personal first. No matter what we think about President Bush, who we voted for in the previous two elections, or whether we were right or wrong to invade Iraq in the first place, the fact remains: we cannot change the past. We’re in Iraq now, and that means our loved ones are there, on the ground, in the newly up armored Humvees. For Sarah Palin, John McCain, Joe Biden and myself, the war is not something we glimpse on TV before we yawn and change the channel to Dancing with the Stars. It’s personal. We have lived it. We have read the Pentagon casualty reports searching for names we know, and the same as anyone else, we ask ourselves: what were they fighting for? Was their death in vain? Only we have a vested interest in seeing that it was worth the ultimate sacrifice–so we can continue on and remain strong for our service members, our families, ourselves. But supporting the war doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile those deaths, the same way that it doesn’t make it any easier to open your arms at the air terminal and let your husband or child get on that plane. Our opinions about timetables and troops levels don’t make a difference as to whether our children will be home for Christmas or our husbands will be near a phone on our wedding anniversary. Opposing the war doesn’t make your reunions any sweeter, your sacrifices any greater, or your loved ones come home any sooner. We say what we have to say to get through these conversations, ducking the questions and nodding with gritted teeth. Only in the quiet recesses of our own minds, and perhaps in an occasional discussion with a fellow military family member, do we allow ourselves to think and say: why can’t they understand how I feel?
No matter what Sarah, John or Joe say in public, when the crowds are gone and the cameras are off, I suspect that their feelings about Iraq are more complicated than they appear. After all, they are part of the military family. We all love our country, but first and foremost Sarah, John, Joe and I love our families. No matter what difference of opinion we may have, the four of us are in this together.