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.