Ongoing letters from the wife of Marine Staff Sergeant H. Thanks Josh.
June 28, 2005
June 27, 2005
I’ve been spending a few hours each day editing down interview footage I shot while in Colorado early this month. It’s a matter of cutting out my voice and questions and just leaving the comments of the person on camera. This way I can go back and revisit the interviews without the grating obstruction of my own voice interrupting the answers.
In the process of doing this rough editing, I’m re-listening to all of our conversations and remembering what a moving experience the week was. Talking to soldiers and (more moving still), the wives and families of men still in Iraq (no women in the case of our week), was a perspective changing experience for me. I was going to come back and do a big blog entry about the week we spent there, but I realized that I couldn’t possibly communicate what went on. I still need some time to absorb everything. Still, going back over the rough footage and seeing the faces of these people brings it back to me again.
I love interviewing people. It’s wonderful to hear their stories and be a conversational sponge. In listening to my rambling questions (much like my writing here), I realize that interviewing is a delicate art and I have a very long way to go, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I also appreciate the gracious acceptance and trust these military families showed to a stranger with a camera. Uncommon trust, especially among military people.
In our culture, unless you’re very famous or very infamous, there is no socially-acceptible place where you can talk about yourself and tell your story in detail. I’m including blogs here, because my “conversation” with you is largely unidirectional. I write, and if the internet is kind, someone reads. There isn’t the same kind of give-and-take that goes on in a normal conversation. But even in a normal conversation, we’re often too caught up in what we’re going to say, or the point we want to make, or the error we want to correct in the other guy’s thinking, to just listen to what the other party has to say. Honestly, when was the last time we got into a deep conversation and asked the other person questions, not so that we could make our own position stronger, not so that we could “win” some meaningless point, and not so that we could turn the conversation to a subject that we’re more knowledgeable about, but so that we could more clearly understand the point of view- the story- behind what the other person is saying? We all have stories to tell, but if two people in a conversation insist on telling their own, often neither one gets heard.
That’s why I liked being in the interviewer’s chair. My job was to get these soldiers to talk about themselves and their families, to earn the right to listen (not “to be heard”). Unfortunately, this did mean a bit of conversational direction on my part: I only had so much tape after all. But during the interviews, I discovered that sometimes the interviewee would taper off, thinking that he or she had said everything. At these moments I’d stay still for a few seconds and pretend to write on my notepad. Often after a few moments of silent thought, the interviewee would say something, some honest, or quiet, or revealing, or risky, or sad, or tragic thought that took my breath away- and sometimes theirs as well.
These underpaid, under-appreciated people have to be some of the finest I’ve ever met. They’d put the character of the most lauded silver screen starlet to shame.
There’s the man- a father of three- who returned a few months ago with a fused spine and enough stories for three lifetimes. He showed us slides of his deployment in Iraq, on patrols, living on cots for months in the desert (“a cool day is any day under 100 degrees and a shower is two canteens of water once a week”). His good friend was killed in Iraq the Monday camp started, and he wanted the whole camp staff to see his pictures and hear what a great guy he was, to appreciate the sacrifice that he’d made. To bring back the message that his friend had been like any other soldier over there: giving his life, not gladly, but at least willingly. Seeing his pictures was amazing, and hearing his stories, well…
I have a heart-rending and tearful 30 minute interview with the wife of a green beret husband who is currently in Iraq. She’s the young mother of three and just went through a year of breast cancer treatment. She talks about her love for her kids, her husband (“an English major, a poet, and a great love-letter writer”), and the fact that their family has chosen to live like this because they believe in what he’s doing. That they are willing to risk separation, danger, loss of limb or even widowhood left me moved and grateful beyond my experience.
I spent time walking the jeep roads of Colorado talking with an MP who served for a year teaching Iraqi men to be policemen. Remember hearing about the police stations that were being blown up by the terrorists a year or so ago? The 37-year-old MP I got to know was over there training those guys. We went on a long walk so his young son could play with his new slingshot in the forest. During that time I don’t think I said more than 20 words. Instead (and out of earshot of his 7-year-old), he told me his stories. Stories of what it was like to be in a firefight, stories of how it felt to train Iraqi’s who want their country to be free. To go to work one day to fifty hopeful young Iraqi trainees and show up the next day to a bombed out building, fifty bodybags and one hundred new volunteers. Stories of wondering if this morning, or this sunrise, or this patrol is going to be the last one. Stories of being at a Pizza Hut, hearing a car backfire, and being “back over there” for several seconds. And stories of his nightmares, which I won’t share here.
This wonderful Christian man also told me how much the simple things matter to him now. How he learned in Iraq to trust God in a way that he never could have here. How he eventually felt peace that if he was killed in a terrorist bombing, God would take care of his wife and son. The quiet faith and deep honor this man lived was humbling to be around.
These people would do it again if asked. Every one of the soldiers and families I talked to- every one– would go again if asked. Before our trip, I thought I appreciated what military soldiers and families go through. I thought I respected the military. I felt good saying “I support the troops”. But after our trip, I am left with the kind of deep appreciation that’s hard to express. At the end of the week these families departed talking about how beautiful the country was, or talking about how much they appreciated the high-school workers at the camp, or talking about how much they needed time with their families. Most of us who worked that week were just left speechless.
I’m grateful that I got to know these wonderful people. To walk the roads of their memories with them. To see pictures of fallen friends and be able to say, yes, I will remember him, what he did will be appreciated by a stranger. To earn the right to listen and then sit back and hear their stories.
A quick and dirty IQ test. Don’t know how accurate these things are, or how much I ascribe to a single number to indicate “intelligence”, but this is fun.
What about someone who shows incredible intelligence, but has never had the benefit of school? That’s why I think most of these tests are bunk.
June 24, 2005
Great short behind-the-scenes video discussion with the writers of the new Superman movie.
Incidentally: ever see The Iron Giant? “Su..per….man”. Makes me weep.
The Supremes have spoken. Yesterday the Court voted to allow government the power to take private land and repurpose it for uses that would bring in more tax revenue. Yup, if some corporate entity suddenly covets that 1/4 acre plot of earth that’s been in your family for generations- the land that you’ve sown and mown and known for decades- they can get the gummint to declare it “underutilized”, give you a check for your troubles, and call in the wrecking balls. After all, aren’t we better off with another SuperWallMart than a mere neighborhood? And hey! Now it’s Constitutional!
Jimmy-boy has a touching photo essay from a doomed town.
Welcome to Suburbia: Your home is a future White Castle.
June 23, 2005
Erin and I just got back from a smashing dinner with our friends Sean and Kathy McMains. We decided to give our palates a new experience and went to The Clay Pit, Austin’s famous Indian restaurant. They’ve been voted one of the best Indian restaurants in the country. We figured, if you’re going to try Indian food, why not start with the good stuff?
I’ve been looking for a chance to strike out in some new culinary directions, and this was just the thing. The food was great! Certainly not what I was expecting from Indian food. I had the “Mixed Grill”- basically a sampler of many different types of Indian cuisine. The dish was a combination of Boti Kebab, Tandoori Chicken, Malai Kebab & Sirloin Kebab. (steak, chicken, a different kind of chicken, and lamb). Sean had some kind of delicious chicken dish I’d probably get next time. Erin had chicken tandori, and Kathy had a spinach dish that was surprisingly good.
As good as the food was, however, the company was even better. The four of us got along famously and talked and laughed for several hours. We heard all about how Sean and Kathy met and I got to play with Sean’s new PSP. First chance to get my hands on one.
We just wish that Sean and Kathy lived closer to us than San Marcos. Ah well, at least it’s not Gainesville, huh Kathy? 🙂
So the new food experience get an 8, but the company was a 10. Thanks for a great night, McMains! (and Kathy, I mentioned your name six times in this post! Now you have to read my blog!)
As a recent veteran of Guantanamo Bay, I’ve been troubled by the willingness of some (namely this [Minneapolis Star Tribune] editorial page) to make uninformed inflammatory statements about the detention operations at GTMO. I believe that if any one of them had the opportunity to visit GTMO and witness the operation first hand, they would change their tone, if not their minds altogether.
Not only are the detainees treated humanely (top-notch medical care, hearty meals, recreational facilities, full access to religious observance, etc..) but I personally witnessed instances when detainees did not want to leave. It was not uncommon for my platoon to guard an airfield for hours in preparation for sending a detainee home, only to turn around and bring him back to the detention facility – because he refused to leave! These detainees are not stupid—they know that real torture and inhumane treatment await them at home. And while I know they’re not happy to be in GTMO, they rest assured that they will be treated well because Americans play by the rules.
I feel sheepish even having to defend this issue. While our servicemen (and innocent Iraqi citizens) are being blown-up and tortured overseas, the media obsesses over a handful of “mishandled” Korans and excessive air conditioning. (It’s also worth noting that these so-called instances of “abuse” at GTMO were all uncovered by internal Army investigations! It’s not as if the Army is torturing people and covering it up. On the contrary, the minute the Army gets wind of minor misconduct it swiftly removes and prosecutes those involved. This is an institution upholding the highest moral traditions of our country.) Would the terrorists do the same? No, I think they’d just wink at us…and then cut our heads off.
LT Peter Hegseth
Forest Lake, MN
U.S. Army National Guard, Infantry
Interested to see if we’ve made another convert to Ender’s Game. So what did you think, Katherine?
June 22, 2005
Had an interesting moment just now. I was trying to remember some details of a scene from a movie but I didn’t want to go downstairs, load the DVD, wait through the “Don’t Copy This!” FBI warning, then wait for the menu screen to load, then call up the chapter index, yadda yadda. I know, instant gratification generation. Anyway, I remembered that I’ve made it a long-term project to rip all of our DVD’s to my hard drive. With three clicks I was at the scene I wanted. Total time: less than five seconds from thought to vision. Pretty cool.
Then I started looking at all the movies I have online. I won’t bore you with the titles, but I have 40 feature-length movies and 15 TV episodes currently available with the click of a mouse. All these flicks are at good resolution and only take up a paltry 32Gb of space. It’s amazing how quickly the astonishing technologies we enjoy become commonplace in our lives.
What the establishment media covering Iraq have utterly failed to make clear today is this central reality: With the exception of periodic flare-ups in isolated corners, our struggle in Iraq as warfare is over. Egregious acts of terror will continue—in Iraq as in many other parts of the world. But there is now no chance whatever of the U.S. losing this critical guerilla war…
…Increasingly, the Iraqi people are taking direction of their own lives. And like all other self-ruling populations, they are more interested in improving the quality of their lives than in mindless warring. It will take some time, but Iraq has begun the process of becoming a normal country.
great article here.
The truth is that an editorial is just another blog post written by one person witih one viewpoint. Here’s a case where you can’t argue that it makes a difference having a journalism degree and a newsroom. Editorialists and columnists get to read the same stuff we do and they put on their pants and opinions just the way we do. So why should they have rights to the mountaintop? Who died and made them Moses? Let the people speak.
June 21, 2005
A blog from someone who’s also trying to kick the TV habit. By the way, it’s going well. Speaking for myself, I no longer have the constant urge to flip on the power just to see what I’m missing. In fact, I’ve learned that that feeling- I’m missing something– is artificial to begin with. Now that I’ve been almost three weeks without the tube, that sense of anxiety has started to fade. And I’m getting a lot more reading done, too. I’m currently working on my third book in as many weeks. Not much by some people’s standards (hi Scott), but I was off my pace for the year. Chance to get it back.
Erin and I are also blazing our way through the fourth installment of the Myst series. That’s been a fun chance for us to combine mental forces and try to solve some of these devious puzzles. I think we’re an uncommonly good team at this sort of thing. We managed to beat every previous Myst game with no help whatsoever from the online cheats or walkthroughs.
Interestingly, I’ve discovered that some people seem to view our experiment with a TV-less lifestyle as some kind of threat, or at the least as a negative comment on their own TV habits. Like one addict getting mad at a another addict who’s trying to go clean.
Here’s an interesting statistic. Did you know the average American watches 1669 hours of television per year? That’s 70 days- full 24 hour days- in front of the tube per annum. Extrapolate: by the time he reaches 75, the average American has spent over fourteen years watching television.
Here’s another way to think about it:
Monthly cable bill: $50
if you invest the money every month at 8% interest (historically accurate) for 45 years (average time until retirement after college), how much will you have? $265,485.17. Or, if you can invest all the money you’ll ever spend on cable TV up front in one lump sum ($27,000!) You’ll retire with $949,417.18 before taxes. This is independent of all other IRA’s, 401K’s, or other investment vehicles. I’m gonna write a book: “Give Up TV And Retire A Millionaire!” Only $19.95. 🙂
All this brings to my mind the following quote from this website:
If you don’t think you NEED television then try a couple of days without it and observe the impulse you have whenever around the box. There’s a deep set desire to switch it on. No reason, you just need to.
Anything that you need to do for no good reason is clearly an issue to resolve…. sounds very similar to an obsessive compulsive disorder.
The Planetary Society’s Solar Sail project, the very first solar sail ever attempted in space, will launch today at 2:46 central time. link to webcast.