by Rich Moniak
Michael stood on the edge of a rock bluff looking down on the Savage River in Denali National Park. It was the first and last real moments alone we had during a ten day visit together. No girlfriend by his side, no busyness to the rest of life to confuse what is important, it was just he and I, the wind and the sounds of a mountain stream.
The place he stood would have frightened him into paralysis when he was a child. It also reminded me of my own moments of anxiety watching him challenge new ski slopes as a freshman in high school. Like every loving parent, I sought the balance between his search for independence and my dependence on his ability to stay safe.
Now, for me, this parental conflict touches a form I had come to dislike. Michael will soon be heading to Iraq for the third time. It’s much easier to witness him on the cliff than consider the bravado or youthful sense of invincibility that could accompany him into battle. I still hope he’ll escape the emotional trauma waiting for him while at the same time I hope the war hasn't turned him cold enough to be able to ignore what it does to his soul. I know the war has changed him more than I care to imagine. But as much as I hate the war, I keep all these conflicts inside because I love him enough to let him go where he feels he is called.
People tell me that they can't imagine what it will be like for me to worry again. The same idea was spoken to me when he came home from Iraq almost two years earlier. They said then that they couldn't understand how much relief I felt. It made me wonder if by virtue of being a parent of a soldier in combat that I should somehow be more in tune with the soul of peace. It’s not a new thought, nor the first time I dismissed it as nonsense because it’s hard to imagine that any of us want it as badly as the people living in Iraq.
Senator Lisa Murkowski was in the Fort Wainwright hangar the day Michael came home from his last deployment. I’ve written her more than a dozen times. But that was a private moment and I didn’t approach her. These thoughts and that memory forged the beginnings of a letter as a place in the backdrop of my thoughts.
Several days later at a Veterans for Peace meeting a discussion began about the truth in recruiting effort. How is it recruiters can entice students to go to war but school fails to teach them what war is really like, I wondered. Shouldn’t they know what combat means? Is that why so few others become involved in the antiwar movement after they graduate?
I became detached from the discussion around me as a scene from the film Voices in Wartime flashed in my head. It was the superintendent at West Point saying “those who are in combat ... go through a whole series of emotions: joy, elation, horror, fear. What genre allows you to portray that better than poetry? I don’t know.”
How many new voices in wartime might have emerged over the past five years if our high students heard from the veterans of past wars that war is a cruel and inhuman experience? Can our youth teach their parents who are detached from the war to pay attention? Isn’t that what the kids from Skagway taught us when we learned from them the dreadful true accounts of our country’s nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands? I remembered writing to Senator Murkowski about this too. I snapped awake and I jotted down a note for the letter I wanted to write.
I like to dream. This letter is a dream that all the efforts up to now were fate's way of helping me establish a dialogue with our junior Senator so that this letter will reach her conscience in trust for the purpose offered. Yes, this is the one that will make some kind of difference. Momentarily I need to feel that even if I truly know I am entirely delusional. I believe this more than the momentary foolishness of all other illusions, because she is like all of us, a person before she's a mother and husband, before she's a faithfully practicing Catholic, before being an American, and above all, before she can claim to be a United States Senator. As a person I believe she too hates war, but not as much as those who have witnessed it.