Let me return to the 10th grade. At the end of 9th grade, the Second Iraq War started. By 10th grade, in late 2003, the bombs had pretty much been falling on Baghdad for over 6 months (although they had actually been falling for more than 10 years). I anxiously awaited for the U.S. to uncover WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction). The ground war raged on, and each day, they seemed to get closer. Time passed. No nuclear bombs, no biochemical weapons, and no link to Al-Qaeda were found. Saddam Hussein went missing, and eventually, the whole scope of the war shifted. The shift was palpable. Nobody talked about WMDs anymore. They talked about Iraqi people and their freedom. They talked about what an evil dictator Saddam Hussein was. They said “freedom”, “democracy”, and “security” so often it made me stop to think, “What do those words really mean?” I believed I was “free”. Men in uniform bought and paid for my freedom with blood (both their own and others’). I knew the U.S. had democratic aspects, but actually, the U.S. Government is a republic. People do not vote directly for laws; they vote directly for people. My first hint that the government and the media was lying to me was this word, “democracy”. Clearly, I thought, they misunderstand. This is a republic not a democracy. The blatant hypocrisy of this phraseology disturbed me more and more. It insinuated that someone speaking on my behalf, someone I did not know, was the same as me speaking. I saw the veil being pulled over our eyes. A democracy allows everyone an equal say. By maintaining that the U.S. is a democracy, the U.S. Government made people believe everyone received an equal share in the power while simultaneously the elected officials made all the big decisions that affected our lives. They told a bold lie that any 4th grade civics student could see through, yet it kept the people at bay. I would never trust the government ever again.
Months passed. I played a lot of sports, and I started dating a really cool girl. When I entered the 11th grade, I had no idea what that year held in store for me. As an aside, I find it funny that the two most important years of my life came when I was 17 and 19. Those years testify to the counter-cultural fact that the artificially created ages of importance, 18 and 21, do not mean anything more than a time when the state sanctions vices. That Junior year of high school transformed me in profound ways. My transformation orbited around several events.
First, I took A.P. U.S. History with a man named Jim Litchfield. As intellectually challenging as the class was, it proved immensely illustrative of the truth of U.S. History. It revealed several dirty secrets of the U.S. that had been previously triumphed in U.S. History classes. For example: the Revolutionary War was not unanimously supported by the colonists and the wealthy elite instigated it; the Civil War was not fought primarily over the issue of slavery; the Spanish-American War was fought as a way for the blooming American military-industrial complex to flex its muscles; the causes of World War I were entirely arbitrary; the U.S. chose which side to fight on in an equally arbitrary way; much of what happened in World War II could be blamed on the result of WWI; WWII was not fought to liberate Jewish people from death camps; and the following wars occurred primarily because of the results of the previous wars. Essentially, the class showed me how the U.S., since before its inception, existed in a constant state of war. No one told me this important piece of information. Up until this point, the reason given for the U.S. and its prosperity was this logic: the U.S. promotes and stands for freedom; G-d loves freedom; and therefore, G-d loves the U.S. more than anyone. The true script looked entirely different. The actual history looked like this: the colonists won a war against their imperial lords; they pressed westward to claim sovereignty over a massive empire during which time the indigenous people were completely decimated; after attaining all rights to all the resources from the Atlantic to the Pacific by using military might, they fought a series of wars overseas that left the rest of the world in shambles; and they spread their economic prominence into every corner of the destroyed world. Obviously, many patriotic, pro-war Christians (which keep in mind, I was at the time) would look at this script as the blessing of G-d, but several experiences convinced me otherwise.
Simultaneously alongside my A.P. U.S. History class, I took an American Literature class with Jim Litchfield’s best friend Dan Borresen. They structured their classes so that while we studied one part of U.S. history we would read literature from that time. Eventually, we read a book right at the end of the year titled The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The book was about the Vietnam War. As powerful as the book was, it paled in comparison to the veterans we spoke with when we finished the book. Mr. Borresen and Mr. Litchfield believed strongly in connecting literature and history with real people. As a result, we met a man named Don Malarkey who lived in Salem, OR and was in the squad portrayed in the mini-series Band of Brothers, and in our literature class, we met two Vietnam vets. The meeting with the Vietnam vets would make me different forever.
One of the vets was Mr. Borresen’s father-in-law and the other was the father of one of Mr. Borresen’s former students. Mr. Borresen’s father-in-law was white, European-American and an officer; the other man was dark-skinned Mexican-American and an enlisted man. Their discourse exposed the inherently racist U.S. history of warfare. Mr. Borresen’s father-in-law had been afforded many benefits and opportunities not available to the Mexican-American man due to a difference in socio-economic standing. Their stories were grim. The story that shook me out of my sleep however, came from the Mexican-American man. He told us how in Vietnam, children ran up to soldiers and dropped hand grenades. As a result, they never trusted children. When this man returned from Vietnam, his large Mexican family held many family gatherings. The wounds from children dropping grenades cut him so deeply that he became unable to hug the children of his brothers and sisters without fear and anger. He removed himself from the room whenever the kids entered. War killed this man’s ability to be around the innocent. War took this man’s family away from him. I left the classroom that day changed.
Before the meeting with the vets, another incident occurred. My parents prevented me from viewing rated R films until I was about 16 or 17. Furthermore, my father banned me from watching the film Saving Private Ryan as long as I was living under their roof. He told me it was the most brutally violent film he ever watched, and it left him in a deep state of pain. Of course, I wondered what I would feel if I watched the film. One night, my girlfriend and her cousin decided to watch the movie. I called my parents, told them I was going to watch “a movie”, and reveled in my rebellion. If you are not aware, Saving Private Ryan is about the D-Day invasion of Normandy on the Northern shore of France. The Battle of Normandy was one of the most brutal, deadly battles in the history of humanity. It was hell on earth. The very re-creation of it left my father wounded. When I watched it, I felt surprised by my reaction. As I drove home, in the dark of a Spring Oregon night, I felt nothing. I knew how numb I had become at that moment. I wondered how my father, a man who had seen every war movie, who had seen egregious wounds as a doctor, who was an officer in the Public Health Service, felt pain when I felt nothing. On that car ride home, I confronted myself and determined something was wrong. Something was seriously wrong. I finished watching thousands of young men not much older than myself die. Not only that, they actually died on that beach on June 6, 1944, and still, I felt no remorse, no sadness, and no despair. I wanted to feel. I wanted to feel so badly and could not. That night, I decided G-d did not intend us to hurt each other in they way we did that day. I knew this because in my numbness, there was only me, and somehow, intuitively, I knew G-d was with my father in his pain.
Some time later, my church youth group put on a 4-week long class about conscientious objection. This proved invaluable to me. As I began to contemplate pacifism, my church showed how many people choose to not fight. They demonstrated to me a rejection of war. At my hour of questions, I was provided a choice. I began to piece the whole puzzle together. The U.S. was a consequence of war. War alienated men from children, it killed millions upon millions in the name of its own consequences, war begot war, and since I no longer cared about the deaths of those millions, I felt nothing. In a sense, war killed me already. G-d hated our wars; of that much, I became sure.
Well, the title of this section is “How George W. Bush Turned Me Into a Liberal”, and this is where you get your answer. After my Junior year of high school, I officially became a pacifist. No longer could I embrace the deaths experienced by combating armies. At the same time, Bush had just been elected for the first time (sic) as President, and his pro-war rhetoric flowed freely from his mouth. I understood the Republicans to be pro-war. In my either/or thinking, I believed the Democrats must be the anti-war party since they are the opposite of the Republicans. At this time, I still considered myself a patriot. I became a vehement liberal. I registered Democrat, and I began thumping the Democrat line wherever I could. I thought I had found something bigger than myself to be a part of. I thought G-d led me to the true way of believing. Little did I know…