When I joined the Navy in 1988 one of the first guys I met at the barracks at Oakland Naval Hospital was a guy named Issa. He was from a place called Baghdad and at twenty, I didn’t know that it was even in Iraq yet. He said that this guy Sadaam Hussein, their leader, was a terribly mean man and if he stayed until he was eighteen he would be forced to fight for him and he feared that he would have to fight America.
He went on to tell me that the people of Iraq secretly loved American music, jeans, cowboy hats and our culture. They longed for freedom and democracy and most hated Sadaam. He said that he got out just in time at sixteen and lived with his Grandma in New York. He spoke very good english and I could never tell he was not from America. When he turned eighteen he wanted to give back to Amercia for making him a citizen so he joined the Navy.
I never really thought much of his story at first. You know how it is at twenty, you don’t ponder about politics and think too heavily about anything but girls and beer. So we hung out. Of course I made other friends eventually, but Issa and I were always very good friends.
I remember one incident where we went to San Francisco and we lost him somehow as we were bar-hoppping. I guess we didn’t notice and then when we went back to get him he was sitting on the curb of the street very upset with tears in his eyes. A gay man had shown him his private parts and I don’t blame him for crying. It was so demeaning to him and his culture. People don’t realize that these things just do not happen in the Middle East very often and that our culture shocks them because they are very conservative. That is why they are so strict about things like that and drunk driving and stealing. Talk about old school!
So, we told Issa that San Francisco was known to be an area known for homesexuals to live, but that the guy who flashed you would be pervert to any person, no matter sexual preference. We urged him not to take is so rough, but he never stopped talking about it. He almost was obsessed and made us swear on everything holy that we would never tell. None of us would have anyway because he was a friend and friends don’t do that.
Two years after Issa and I met in 1990 we were called off to war in Iraq. His parents were still in Baghdad and he was so worried about them. He was not allowed to write or call them for security reasons so he could not tell if they were alive or dead. He was not himself for many weeks and then when we went closer to the battle and saw the intense fireworks of the smoldering Baghdad being hammered over and over by the mighty battleships of the Navy he lost it.
He woke me up one night and wanted to talk. I tried to calm him down for hours and told him that I’m sure his parents evacuated. They were probably somewhere very safe and not in the bombing zone. He didn’t believe me. He was crazy with worry and I was unequipped to deal with it. This went on for days and I wasn’t sleeping and in a war zone war sleep is precious as many of you know. You get an hour or two at the most especially when you hear those big guns going off. I had to do something. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, but at the same time I also think he was a section 8. So I talked to my Chief. He got him off the ship that day and transferred him to the nearest mental health facility.
I never saw my friend Issa again. I sure hope that he and his parents were re-united again after the war.
This is another example of why my views on war have changed from gun-ho to screw that. There is so much carnage that goes with war that it sickens my heart. Not a day goes by that a thought like the one about my friend Issa goes through my mind and I think, man, what happened over there? Why is it that i hadn’t thought about it for twenty years? I think I blocked out a lot. However, I sincerely hope that my old pal, Issa, is okay and he got to see his family again. I think the important thing is that we are trained to hate our enemies and when you are defending your country it’s hard not to hate people that are trying to kill you, but at the same time you must respect them and also think about the civilians in the cross-hairs. They are innocent, regardless of their home nation if they are non-combatant. For all of you who go into war in the future always keep that lesson in your mind and remember that the people you are fighting aren’t much different than you. They are human with families and cultures and full lives and deserve our respect and someday they will go back to being peaceful.