Peace Soldier

Name: Logan M. Laituri

Residence (City, State): Camden, NJ

Age: 26

Where stationed in Iraq (or other conflict region): Tuz Kharmatu, Kirkuk, Najaf, Diwaniyah, Samarrah, Mosul, Tal Afar, Hawijah

When stationed (month, year): Jan. 2004 – Feb. 2005

Question 1: Why did you join the armed forces? I joined in Feb. 2000, before the war of terrorism. After high school I needed a way to help offset the cost of college. I decided to join the Army and enroll concurrently in a college, taking night and evening classes on my time off. I also wanted to get out of Orange County, CA for awhile, after seeing how materialistic and ritzy it had become.

Question 2: How would you have described yourself the day before you went to war? Skeptical but not cautious. I left for Kuwait after one year stationed in Hawaii, so I felt a bit like I owed the Army for being able to live in such a paradise. Like others in my unit, I was eager to ‘get my feet wet’ and experience something as fraught with tradition and heritage as combat. The day I got on the plane at Hickam Air Force Base, we were given a small baggie with a miniature flag folded in it, with a Hawaiian phrase on it: “Me Ke Aloha Pau Ole, A Hui Hou” (With never ending love, until we meet again). I wrote into my will that I wanted that phrase on my headstone when I die.

Question 3: What about you has changed the most since that day? I think I see things in a broader scale. After living with our interpreter for several weeks, I gained a much greater understanding and sympathy for cultures other than my own. I became disenchanted with our current administration after watching repeated insensitive and arrogant remarks at the tragic expense of other nations and cultures. I also fell out of love with the American Dream, as I recognized the burden it placed on the third world; suffocating entire peoples by outsourcing and externalizing our wastes and costs. Finally, I realized that it was not simply exploiting other people and places, but our very own neighbors here in the US. In Camden, a post-industrial wasteland a stone’s throw from Philadelphia, I see the effects of consumerism and environmental disassociation every day. As I am subjected to racism and bigotry, I remember how members of my own race paved the way for such hatred to exist and flourish, and how perhaps I am being made a better or more complete person for being able to recognize my own prejudices and biases. Sometimes people are afraid that I live in a ghetto because I am trying to ‘save’ minorities. Nothing could be farther from the truth; I live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed because I am finding it is they who are saving me.

Question 4: Now that you have returned, what does peace mean to you? In Iraq and Palestine, you are greeted with a phrase that translates to “Peace be upon you.” In Israel, you similarly are asked “How is your peace?” I used to dismiss peace as an idealistic dream, something one waits to encounter. Now, peace has taken a much more holistic connotation. Peace is not just the absence of violence, but a state of mind you might experience with every breath or heartbeat. Sometimes we say peace is a “state of mind,” but I think also it is a state of body. Peace is wholeness, being complete, contentedness, serenity. We can share peace with others as we pacify their own frustration or anger. Now, I find myself using the phrase to say hello or goodbye, as it was used in conversations in the Middle East. To see peace as only an end that we pursue through violent means is the highest form of self-deception.

In addition to answering the questions above, if you would like to write more generally about your experiences, we would welcome your thoughts. The microphone is yours! I blog at courageouscoward.blogspot.com, and anything you find there is fair game (browse some of the earliest entries, when I was still in active duty and had plenty of time on my hands to write…). On cards I have given others with my contact info, I put my own little foundational mantra: I firmly believe that faith can overcome fear, that care and trust can pierce deeper into our enemy’s heart than any bullet can reach; that Love can, and will, overcome hate.

Follow up question: What is the one experience or event (good or bad) which represents
the most defining moment of your time at war? After a few months sharing a living quarters with our platoon interpreter, I began seeing the conflict through an Other’s eyes, in this case the eyes he offered: an educated, sympathetic Iraqi citizen who loved both his country and the new possibilities the Americans presented. He and I had some very candid conversations after and during many combat missions. It was through my prolonged exposure to his perspective and insight that really helped me to awaken from something of an ingrained American apathy. The effect of this came crushingly apparent when I was involved with a rescue effort for a vehicle rollover north of Kirkuk. In the course of a few hours, I watched an American soldier die slowly under the pressure of two tons of Humvee wreckage. Medics and others looking on idly, convinced his chance of survival was slim. Combat triage insists medics do not ‘waste’ time by treating troops who they deem unlikely to survive. I helplessly tried to find ways to free him without assistance, until Special Forces Medics arrived with a crane from Kirkuk. When they reached him, he still had a pulse. Within the hour, he had perished, before they could reach the clinic. I didn’t sleep for days, wondering if he heard those around him ignoring his plight. I wondered if he died frantically and panicked, knowing how unwilling and how close medical attention was. Through the rest of my time in Iraq, I couldn’t free myself from asking myself why it cost only a fellow American’s life to shock my to my foundations, why the countless Arabs I saw dead never phased me. I have never seen another Arab or American, but only fellow flawed, frustrated, and well-intentioned human beings.

Enemies are only dehumanized neighbors. In dehumanizing them, we succumb to the most primitive form of bigotry. When we strip our neighbor of their humanity, the only thing we expose is our own impotency to fear.

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