I usually read Drew Magary for his humor, but this letter from a veteran named Brett really struck a chord for me:
I’m from central Pennsylvania. My parents live just outside of Hershey, and I go home every third weekend in October when the leaves are at their most beautiful. My closest friend still lives there and when I go home, we watch the Philadelphia Eagles, we talk about the Philadelphia Eagles, and we smoke meats and cigarettes. Every time I go home, we eat out once so that I can get what I truly believe are the two delicacies of our home: Stromboli that has mustard in its innards along with marinara, and truly fantastic wings. A dry rub BBQ wing with a side dipping sauce of mango habanero is a great way to marry flavors and decide how much hell you want in each bite. It’s glorious, it’s sometimes masochistic, and it’s my home.
As a guy who served on the Afghan-Pakistani border in 2003-2004, over the last three weeks I’ve been contacted by a lot of people. People I’ve not talked to in decades. People I talk to most every day. They ask me, “How are you doing? I’m thinking of you,” and, “With everything that is going on I want to let you know that I’m here to talk if you want to.” These messages feel like unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that have been waived off. At the same time, on every social media channel I see numbers telling me to call them if I’m suicidal. I’m barely suicidal and I hope these messages reach the veterans who are actually so. But man, do they feel to me like a suggestion and not an answer. There has to be a better, more nuanced message for us. It’s not ‘ghost pepper’ or ‘mild’. It’s not suicide wings or life. We must, as a society, bring better messages to those who served that are not so stark.
This end of the war has been a singular moment in my life. I have not done well over the past few weeks. Initially I described this as a nightmare 18 years deferred. If you’ve ever done cocaine—really done a night full of cocaine—you know how it feels to defer the dawn until the dawn is literally shining through your window. For me, what has happened in Afghanistan these past weeks is Sunday Morning Coming Down. It’s a Come to Jesus moment for a kid who just trusted that his time in the military would pan out. I came from a conservative household that followed the gentle fist of Ronald Reagan. My sister served. I served. We killed, either directly or indirectly. Some of our friends died, all directly. And some of our friends lived: maimed, injured, ill, distraught.
Through these moments there’s been one central theme that has coalesced in my gut and I’d like to share it with you: You are to blame. We fucking went out there and did what we could and tried our fucking hardest every single day. When you join the military, you buy into the government. And in a glorious Democracy such as ours, YOU are the government. You never did jack shit to ensure we were being used correctly, used judiciously, and called back when we should have been long ago. If you feel horror right now, good. But you should have felt that horror long ago. Twenty years. Twenty years. You let this go for twenty years and thousands of soldiers died. And tens of thousands are fucking shells of who they were before. If you really, really, give a fuck, do better next time. We lost this one. I hope we can do better for the next generation of servicemembers.
As you think about the end of the war, please know that the only way this ever gets better is if we all realize what we’ve done as a society. And so I come back to those mango habanero wings. The entire time I served over there they were all I wanted. All I wanted was to come back and know that taste again and simply survive. But the longer I’ve been back, all I want is for more mouths to fucking burn and feel the pain. Not insane pain, but enough pain to appreciate the flavor and make a measured decision about what you want in terms of what you send your countrymen and women to do overseas. It’s not simple, but if you can handle the complexity of a dry BBQ rub with a side dipping sauce, I think you can handle some nuanced thought about who we elect and what they believe in.
These are the types of people who are the greatest threats to our system:
...the ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie. the standards of thought) no longer exist.
What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out. I want to maintain an open mind. I do want to analyze it. It’s important that we understand it. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and guardians — they come from the American people. It’s important that the leaders, now and in the future, understand it.
I wish more people had this view today.
TO STEAL ALL THE REMOTE CONTROLS AND SHOELACES FROM THEIR HOMES TO GRAB THEIR HANDS WHILE THEY’RE SLEEP AND PLACE THEM IN A BUCKET OF WARM WATER CAUSE I HEARD THAT MAKES PEOPLE PISS THE BED AND I ALWAYS WANTED TO SEE IF THAT WOULD REALLY HAPPEN I’LL REACH OUT THE WAY TOMMY REACHED OUT TO BILLY BATTS THE WAY OMAR REACHED OUT TO STRINGER BELL
There is very little we can do to bridge the gap with people who are dedicated to creating their own reality.
4 years ago, I woke up at 6am and navigated to Google. Seeing the words "Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States" made my heart jump and sent me into a stupor.
America had just repudiated me and others like me. America said that they believed lies and fear mongering over facts. That day, America became just a country; it was no longer the shining beacon that immigrants strive to go to.
Over the last 4 years, I have seen things I never thought would happen:
- A "friend" shouted "Build the Wall" at the end of the national anthem at a Royals game while sitting next to me.
- I grew to distrust everyone around me. What if they're part of the Trump brigade that would rather that I not be in this country anymore? I found myself wondering "Is he/she a Trump voter?"
- This country had a leader who didn't care about the people, even during the worst pandemic in 100 years.
It'll take a while for my faith in this country to be restored. But, a shred of it is still there. I want to see us move forward from this, the most shameful period of our modern history. I want people to get along and not be divided by fear and racism.
America is bruised and bloody from the last 4 years. We had a group of people in power who did their best to destroy the country. Now it's time to help America heal.
If Ronald Reagan was Mario, Trump is Wario.
Some Americans would feel less polarized and alienated from their fellow citizens if they recognized that some of the people fighting on “the other side” of a polarizing issue actually hold values and beliefs that are strikingly similar to their own.
Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.
At my old job, I’d talk to Tea Party idiots all the time. Since we had to take calls from people if they followed up on stuff, I was able to see the deterioration of their lives in a very concrete way.
The themes of the calls usually went as follows:
Call 1: Obama is the worst and everyone besides me is leeching off the system! Why do I have to pay so much in taxes!
Call 2: I just lost my job. Does my employer have to keep giving me health insurance?
Call 3: I’m about to lose my house. Aren’t there any government programs that can help me?
Few things brought me more joy than seeing these people stuck in a world where their situation was at direct odds with their Tea Party views.