A Fallen Soldier

(published by Life After Hate, 3/13/12)

Yesterday a distant cousin of mine, only thirty years old, was killed in Afghanistan, or at least word of his death came yesterday around 5:00 p.m. I can find no mention of it in the newspapers or online. It may be that authorities are still contacting relatives or unwilling to release further information at this time. After all, it is a very tense time there now due to last weekend’s massacre of innocent civilians, including nine children, by an apparently disturbed American solider who left his base and went to several villages and randomly killed sixteen people.

It is not as if I knew Jesse, and yet the news of his death has affected me deeply and saddened me in ways that I could not have expected. I grew up with his mother and uncles in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin. We knew each other well. I still hang out occasionally with his uncle, someone I have also worked with in the theater. I haven’t seen her for years, but I remember his mother as a sweet young woman with a good heart. Today my heart aches for the whole family.

This death gives me pause.

All I can think is that violence begets violence. I am a man of peace in a world that has little concern for peace. Every year peace prizes are awarded, words and speeches praising the pursuit of peace are spoken, peacemakers and “the Prince of Peace” are lionized, and still the wars rage on endlessly. We should have evolved further than this. There is no room in my moral universe for war and yet the physical universe I inhabit is full of war, skirmishes, and violence of all sorts. The sword is not only mightier than the ploughshare, but far more prevalent. The death of this young man is senseless. But so were the deaths of innocent civilians asleep in their villages in the middle of night. So were all the deaths of soldiers and civilians in both Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade. Where does it end? We need to ask this question.

Simply put, we have no reason to be in Afghanistan. I have yet to hear a good explanation for why we were ever there, let alone why we remain. Before it started there were those of us who believed that our primary purpose in going there was economic, which is the reason for most wars, and it was particularly due to a large pipeline that our government may have wanted to control. American citizens were told by the Administration that we were going there to hunt down Osama bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attack has been the handy excuse for every illicit action of our government the last ten years. But it quickly became apparent that Osama bin Laden was no longer in Afghanistan. Did we move our troops to Pakistan? No. We eventually found him and killed him in Pakistan, but the troops remained in Afghanistan. Again, I have yet to hear a coherent reason why.

None of the political machinations and rationales matter much to a grieving family. It would be nice if they could believe that their boy died for a greater cause. I am not finding that belief right now. I can only hope that maybe his death will be the last one there, but I am not finding much hope in that either. May he rest. In peace. And may we continue to work for peace for all, in the ultimate hope that no more mothers will have to suffer this kind of news.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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