Visiting home for the holidays is always an interesting experience. Going back to the cold weather and the family takes a little getting used to when you’re accustomed to living by yourself, but more than anything, it’s always a bizarre experience to see people from high school.
I don’t look fondly upon many aspects of my high school years, and was mostly glad to put them behind me and move to the sunnier pastures of California. The people I met in college are amazing, I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends. But going back home for break means that you see the people who have known you the longest. The people who you don’t know because you met them through some shared interests, or a study group, or anything like that, but because you grew up in the same place and shared a lot of the same experiences.
One such friend of mine is a veteran who did two tours in Iraq and is now on Injured Ready Reserve (a concept I had never heard of until he mentioned it). He’s now working at a grocery store while he uses his GI Bill money to complete a degree at Madison Area Technical College (he already has a degree from the University of Wisconsin, but was unable to find jobs and returned to school with his remaining GI Bill money). I met up with him to get a beer over break, and the subject of his time in Iraq came up. In his typical fashion, he was very casual about his war experience when I asked him about his feelings when he went back for the second tour.
I’m paraphrasing, but the gist was: “When you’re not being shot at, it’s pretty much standard work.”
We talked a little bit more about his current status (he no longer gets pay or has to drill, but he can be called up whenever the President needs him), but his casual treatment of his tours in Iraq stuck with me as a highlight of how removed I am from this war. This war is nearing its eighth year, while our engagement in Afghanistan just began its ninth. And yet, I only know one veteran from either of these wars.
Partially, I’m sure that says something about the insulated nature of my life since high school. College was a bubble, one that excluded even ROTC (though that may be changing). And San Francisco isn’t exactly a hotbed of military activity.
But to think that this one friend (who I only see when I go home to Madison, if I see him then) is the only real connection that I have to arguably the most important event (for better or worse) of the last decade makes me stop and think. Is it really possible to make sane foreign policy when the large majority of the cost (yes, we all pay taxes for the war, but all taxes I’ll ever have to pay wouldn’t approach the cost of actually going to war) is borne by such a small proportion of the country?