After Reading Sam Hamill’s “The Necessity to Speak”

As poets, as writers, as humans, we cannot afford to ignore the terrifying injustices that proceed around us every day. It may be complacency which drives the majority of our human peers to continue living as though these terrors were simply nightmares – shadows driven by overactive imagination. Or it may be fear of falling through the cultural systems we have developed to a space in which they cannot ignore these crimes we perpetrate against one another – the systems do not kindly treat outliers. A life constantly confronted and challenged by these things is hard, it’s difficult; and difficulty is one thing we in America have forever striven to delay/decrease/divorce. It is clear that a person constantly confronting this madness may go mad – there are plenty of examples. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of intentional ignorance which also descend into madness.

About the time Hamill was writing this essay, during the first Iraq war, I was in middle school. The bombing started while I was at church, attending youth group or choir practice or some sort of benign middle-class unoffensive activity. I celebrated. For some reason, the thought of going to war, of men and women dying, of bombs tearing apart a city, held a romantic and gallant value to me. I was asleep. To my dreamstate, it was GI Joe – nobody ever really died. Baghdad was Cobra’s lair. The violent unleashing of secret billion-dollar technology thrilled me as if it were gloriously vindicated. If I was asleep, I was also blind to the motivations. The United States has no “weak cousins,” only interests. Oil, wealth, primacy to the exclusion of all else.

In 2001 I was in the Marines. I watched CNN broadcast the World Trade Center attacks. I watched as we wreaked holy vengeance upon Afghanistan, and how the invasion of Iraq was staged, planned, and executed years before it actually took place. The Master Sergeant I reported to told me of 1991. There was a convoy of artillery driving to a new position, a flight of A-10s flew over and they were happy to see them. Then they attacked, and the Sergeant saw trucks and bodies fly past the window of his Humvee. It was all a mistake – friendly fire. Some of the tanks had fired on each other too. The manipulation of the grandeur of war, of the presentation of righteousness, of the facts, all occurred before my eyes. The manipulation of language tried to wrap its fingers around my throat. I had not been asleep for a long time now, and now I was raging. Now I had found the necessity to speak.