People have to be held accountable for their actions. You put me on a post to protect American lives, and I’ll be the first to put a bullet in the head of a suicide bomber, regardless of whether it’s an apparently pregnant woman or a twelve year old child. And that’s not something that I just say – I’ve spent a thousand restless nights living out the scenario.
But that’s not the end of the story. If you haven’t unfriended me yet, or assumed that I’ve converted to radical Islam, maybe there’s a small chance that you can hear me out. If I’m not on a government watch-list as someone with anti-American tendencies, then just maybe we can use the perspective I gained during a complete cultural immersion to try and understand the root of the problem rather than simply perpetuating it. If not, that’s okay too. I’ve still gotta say my piece.
The problem is this: I’m so pissed off by the things I’ve seen in the world. I’m pissed off that people try so hard to fight problems without ever seeking to first understand the problem.
It’s 2012, and I’m a 19 year old “Force Protection Liaison Officer,” charged with making sure that I do what I can to ensure no American lives are lost in a shitty corner of the world. I’ve been through nearly two years of the most intense training that I personally have the capacity for. I’ve watched videos of terrorist atrocities and beheadings of American soldiers and journalists. I’ve been filled with hate by other people who began their indoctrination when they were younger than I was, but who never escaped it.
“Indoctrination: The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”
Pretty much sums it up.
“Muslims are terrorists.”
“The Middle East should be blown off of the face of the map.”
“Islam caused 9/11.”
“You’re a patriot if you kill towel-heads.”
Before my first deployment, I was convinced that I was going to meet the enemy. Something far worse happened to me though – I befriended them. I arrived set on disrupting some of the most evil actions I could imagine: in the Horn of Africa, I was to learn about human trafficking and tribal atrocities. I’d studied the area before hand, and learned about all the evil violence committed against Americans there. It’s a well accepted fact that human trafficking networks are often used to ship weapons into the hands that fire them at our nation’s heroes. I never learned anything to the contrary. Indeed, I only validated that fact in my own mind. But I learned so much more than that.
I learned that human traffickers are really just desperate men who are absolutely committed to ensuring their children can eat enough to survive until adulthood. I learned that a week of food turns into a month of food if instead of trafficking people you add a bundle of rifles to the mix. And what risks those men took for their children – at times, trucks packed full of people desiring escape would crash while traveling at too high a speed. Roadways would be littered with bodies and pieces of bodies whose owners just wanted their wives and mothers not to be hungry anymore. I learned that America’s enemies are indoctrinated from an even younger age than we are, but that they are indoctrinated in places where having clean water to drink means that you’re among the most blessed in your society. Desperation makes you look for a way out – it’s human nature. People are naturally inclined to rise up against their own fears, and events experienced by long-dead men grow with each telling of the tale. I also learned that, by and large, an overwhelming percentage of Americans validate that indoctrination in the minds of foreign youth by acting entirely without regard for the culture they’ve invaded.
I lived in an Islamic village intermittently for six months. My position demanded that I keep my prejudices hidden so that I could better understand the region, but the longer I kept them hidden the more they disappeared entirely. By showing some false respect, I gained actual respect. Among the poorest places in the world, I was consistently invited into peoples’ homes, where they shared the very best they had to offer with me. Once we’d established an initial respect despite our differences, we discussed religion, and politics, and war. We did so peacefully, with the intent of understanding one another. The most extreme Muslims were angry and full of hate for the same reasons that the American’s who had indoctrinated me were: because they’d lost loved ones at the hands of men who believed in a different God.
That’s the problem with a religious war. You can’t kill a God, you can only punish his servants. If the atrocities on both sides had been committed by a man instead of a deity, we’d simply execute the tyrant and end the violence. But Gods live as long as men worship them, and without people who are willing to boldly stand up for the fact that God desires peace and love and acceptance, the wars will never end. How can anybody seek to truly understand God when they are so preoccupied with hating each other?
It’s fear that drives it. Fear, and the need for revenge. The task of translating my experiences into a language that people can grasp is an impossible one. I can’t adequately describe how the vast majority of Christians and the vast majority of Muslims aren’t driven by violence. And I can’t do anything to make people experience it first hand.
I can’t take back the fact that thousands of Americans have been blown up by improvised explosives, or that an even greater number of more poorly equipped men have been blown up by our own larger bombs.
The world doesn’t have time for discussions anymore. I met so many young people during my time in the military who would tell you out-right, “I joined for the college benefits. I joined because my parents kicked me out. I joined because I needed to escape.”
How much more would you seek to join an organization you were told was honorable – an organization that fought to keep your culture alive against the hands of men who want to control and eradicate it – when you’re joining for food instead of college credits? How much more, when you don’t have any options for work, and your day regularly consists of following a shadow as it travels around the trunk of a tree?
And once you’ve joined, you become the one who perpetuates what our world has become. And the people who learn that lesson aren’t allowed to talk about it because to do so is to betray the world they left behind.
How does this end? How do I carry out the responsibility of making people love one another as I do? As God does.
These are the issues life should be focused on, not on mortgages and child support and car payments. When I look at the world, I see so much needless pain. Regardless of what it means for my own reputation, I have to take bold steps to become involved in progress.
Thank you for reading along. There’s so much more to come.
An American Patriot, and a human who understands that people are the way they are for reasons. Most importantly, that love reciprocates.
-Dustin Stitt, April 2019