There are things that U.S. soldiers are allowed to talk about with the press and others they are not. One of the things they are not allowed to voice is their political opinion, especially if it goes against their commander in chief. In the privacy of latrine stalls on military bases in Iraq and Kuwait, however, it is quite a different story. I did not see any pro-Bush writings in any of the hundreds of latrines I photographed.
Eight years ago I voted in my first Presidential election. At the time, I was a supporter of Alan Keyes, who now has the distinction of having lost a carpetbagging bid for a seat in the US Senate to the current Democratic candidate for President.
Six years ago I was preparing for boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, fully believing that I was going to serve my country honorably in the war against global terrorism.
Four years ago I was freshly home from a tour of duty in Al-Anbar Province, Iraq. My tour impressed upon me the incompetence and utter unaccountability of the senior civilian administrators in the Departments of Defense and State, as well as the President and Vice President of the United States. I read piles of books over that deployment, but the one that I found most compelling was Pat Buchanan’s Where the Right Went Wrong. When I returned home on leave that October, I went to the county courthouse and filled out an absentee ballot for the upcoming election. Displeased with the Democratic nominee and absolutely unwilling to support my Commander-in-Chief, I left the top two slots on my ballot blank.
Three years ago I was engaged in a field exercise and sitting outside my battalion’s Command Operations Center. I just learned that I had been passed over for very well-deserved promotion due to a contentious relationship with my ignorant boss, and I clung bitterly to my M-16 and religion. At that time, my religion was Chalmers Johnson’s The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, which the Battalion XO (Executive Officer) saw me reading and all but ordered me to throw away. I eventually got the promotion, but my odium toward the professional military lingers today.
One year ago, after years of enduring philosophical doldrums, I finally found my political voice after reading the writings of a man who lived the majority of his life under a totalitarian regime. His philosophy challenged me to think about many of my long-standing beliefs in new ways and freed me of the chains of any political ideology. I began to look forward to tomorrow.
And now one night remains between the world of the last eight years and the world of tomorrow. Tonight marks the last day of President Bush’s relevance to the greater share of American political discourse, and a new voice will be heard, calling us to unite and follow him.
I’ll see you here tomorrow as we finish one of the darkest chapters of American history and begin (hopefully) a brighter one.