Life During Wartime
By Dan Dunford
I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the Bronx, across the street from a hilly, expansive park. The park, a reservoir dried out and landscaped, was a real boon to a family of four boys - it was our backyard.
Despite the fact that we were spread out in age (Michael was born in 1975, I followed in 1977, and Ben and Nick arrived in 1980 and 1982, respectively) my brothers and I still played together. Play day was usually Wednesday, the day our elementary school, St. Brendan, let us out an hour and a half early. Wednesdays were the days on which my brothers played "war."
My brothers would ramble around the park, baseball bats or hockey sticks cocked in their arms like guns, pretending to shoot each other. I was much more likely to be found elsewhere, by myself, throwing a baseball against the side of a park building in an imaginary pitching session.
I didn't know why, but the idea of pointing even an imaginary gun at my brothers didn't appeal to me. I mean, sure, they pissed me off sometimes, but I could never imagine killing them, or killing whoever they pretended to be. I just didn't see the point. There's no reason to even pretend to kill somebody.
These days, my fear of wargames has only been heightened. My brothers and I are scattered around the United States, but we remain best friends. Which is why I'm scared for them, especially for Michael and Ben. Michael lives in Hawaii; his wife Nicole is a doctor and a captain in the Army. Ben's in Norfolk, Virginia; an ensign in the Navy, he's training to be a diver. It's hard not to be scared for them. With President George W. Bush constantly threatening war with Iraq, their lives have become dramatically more dangerous.
I'm opposed to a war on Iraq right now. Is Iraq the fairest of countries? No. The human rights situation there is questionable at best, and, as in many Arab nations, women are treated abhorrently. Iraq is a dictatorship, and Saddam Hussein's leadership is no doubt the leading cause of the shoddy state of human rights in Iraq. But Iraq is not the only country in the world with human rights issues, not the only country with possible weapons of mass destruction.
What, then is our real reason for going to war with Iraq? The real reason, for me, came from the mouth of our president himself, when he said, "Remember, this is the guy (Hussein) who tried to kill my dad (former U.S. President George H. W. Bush)."
I think it's a pretty noble thing to do, to try to avenge a wrong done to your father. I mean, if Saddam Hussein tried to kill my father, yeah, I'd probably try to have him killed too. And I consider myself a pretty non-violent dude. Call me crazy, though, but I don't consider familial vengeance a good enough reason for a war between nations. More to the point, I don't consider someone else's familial vengeance a good enough reason to sacrifice my brother and sister-in-law.
Are there a lot of bad things going on in the world? Sure. Is Saddam Hussein responsible for some of them? Sure. But is he our country's biggest problem? No. He's the Bush family's biggest problem, the Snidely Whiplash to their collective Dudley Do-Right. I'd argue that the country has bigger things at stake; our economy's in the toilet, there's a huge and growing gap between the poor and the rich, too many people are on the unemployment line, and terrorists have made their presence felt on our soil. Does chasing Saddam Hussein change any of this? No.
I wonder if I'm being selfish in wanting to avoid war. The soldiers in the family, Ben and Nicole, seem to have no problem with fighting it. Their livelihoods are tied up in the economies of our armed forces and so they have job security, which is fantastic. If it weren't for the fact that they are about to be put in harm's way in an unjust war, I'd like this even more.
Fortunately, I'm not the only person in my family who feels this way. My mother, a vehement and (in the late 1960s) somewhat notorious anti-war protester, has begun to voice her dissent as well. Mom and I are on the same page, too: we're both anti-war, but are absolutely pro-prosperity for our family. Mom likes to joke, "Do I want (either "Ben" or "Mike and Nicole" fit well into this sentence) to do well? Absolutely. Somebody has to take care of me when I'm old." At the same time, though, she does not see a need for war in this country. Ever. I love that. Even with Mom's support, though, I ultimately do not know how I feel. I do not like what is going on. I am terrified for my family. I am terrified for the world.
What I would like, right now, would be a simple conclusion: for my brothers (and sister-in-law) to put down the baseball bats and hockey sticks, stop playing "war," and come on down to the parkhouse. I'm tired of playing catch with myself against the wall.
Dan Dunford is a writer, performer, and teacher based in the Bronx, New York.
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