In December of 2003, as Bush’s invasion of Iraq plunged into its eighth disastrous month, the punk band in which I played lead guitar went on a last-gasp tour. I was leaving The Rotters maybe forever and departing the U.S.… probably for the rest of my life. Fact is, it was a sad time.
The Rotters had a Saturday night gig in San Diego. Rather than sleep on someone’s floor, we splurged on motel rooms in nearby Oceanside. Oceanside is known for being the nearest community to Camp Pendleton, the west coast training base for the Marines.
Concerned that we should have a peaceful night’s rest, the thoughtful motel staff had placed us in rooms far away from the Saturday night influx of rowdy Marines on leave. Dashed decent of the management, but of course, we were punks and not too worried about "noise." Marines blowing off steam wouldn’t faze us.
On the other hand, we weren’t over eager to meet any Marines up close and personal: we didn’t relish an off-stage culture clash.
As the time arrived for the band to leave for our gig, I walked through the motel lobby with my guitar. A large hand tapped my shoulder. I turned to face a young Marine. He couldn’t have been more than 18 years old.
He looked down at my guitar. In the most unsullied of Southern accents, he asked: "Excuse me sir, is that a Les Paul?"
Me: "Uh… yes it is."
Marine: "Gee, are you in a band?"
Me: "Yeah, we have a show tonight."
Marine: "Cool. My sister plays a Les Paul in our church band back home. Would you mind my looking at it?"
Me: "No… not at all."
I set the guitar on the motel check-in counter and opened the case. My black Gibson Les Paul glistened with gold hardware. The young Marine was duly impressed.
"Wow," he said, "that sure is a nice one!"
"You wanna pick it up?"
"Oh no sir… I’d never do that!" the Marine blushed. "Well," he added, "thanks for your time and have a really good show."
I was stunned. This was not what I expected. This may have been a lean, mean fighting machine but it was as docile as a daisy. In fact this was a fair specimen from an America not found in the Southern California I grew up in. He was polite and respectful as all get out. A good kid.
Three-and-a-half years have passed. The guitar sleeps safely in its leather case in my closet. But where is that good kid now?
Everyday we read the growing death toll of U.S. service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. And you’ve got to ask yourself about the wounded, the maimed, the countless sufferers of PTSD. Do you wonder: what for? Payback for 9/11? To feed U.S. bloodlust? To entrench the Bush Dynasty? To further fatten war profiteers like Halliburton and Blackwater?
Like all the wars before it, Bush’s wars are a waste of lives to serve the selfish ambitions of evil men.
So what has been the fate of that young Marine I met in December 2003? A day never goes by when I don’t wonder. He should be back home in Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana or wherever, working on the farm or studying at college, spending Saturday night with his girl and stepping out on Sunday morning to hear his sister play guitar in church. At eighteen that young Marine had a lot of life yet to live… Did he know what he was getting into? Let’s face it, at age eighteen most us are children who believe the world is our oyster and that we will never die.
In December of 2003, that young Marine’s future might include at least one tour of duty in Iraq, probably more. If so his days would include roadside IEDs, snipers, a confusingly hostile culture, possible disfiguration or death. On a tour of duty in Iraq, that young Marine’s days would be striated by barbarity and terror. He’d see his comrades wounded and killed, he’d witness innocent civilians caught in the conflict as "collateral damage." He’d be afraid to sleep at night. Survival would become paramount as victory would become indefinable. And when it was all over and time to go home, he would never be the same again.
As of April 2007, how many tours of duty has that young Marine served? Is he alive? Is he whole? Is he haunted by the horrors has he experienced? Is he one of the one of the brain-damaged?
The Washington Post reports: u201Cabout 1,800 U.S. troops… are now suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)… But neurologists worry that hundreds of thousands more — at least 30 percent of the troops who’ve engaged in active combat for four months or longer — are at risk of potentially disabling neurological disorders from the blast waves of IEDs and mortars…u201D
The hard-hearted men who start the wars don’t care about the kids they send to fight them. These men hide their savage greed behind the patriotic skirts of such sentiments as "Support Our Troops" and "for God and country." The Bushes and Cheneys of this world don’t care that their wars are bankrupting the country and robbing those kids of a fair share of the American Dream. How many of these young soldiers will never be well enough to enjoy it let alone survive to live it?
Elizabeth Gyllensvard contributed to and edited this story.
Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.