Some Deep Thinking from a Grunt who has BTDT


“I Feel Like We Are Just Skimming the Surface of our Problems”

By Peter Lucier
Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted

We are not winning this hot wash. There is something rotten in the stories we tell. We are swimming in shallow water.

I did a radio interview recently. Before the show, the host emailed me a list of questions. I nervously worked over my answer to “Why did I join?” I have different stories I tell, depending on my audience.

To fellow veterans, I like to talk about how I was twelve years old on 9/11. How I spent my nard-drop years watching war footage on CNN. My adolescence was shaped by conflict. Brown-skinned turban clad terrorists were a new iconic enemy to shape my games, my jokes, my play, my world view. I wanted to get my piece of a war that started while I was in middle school.

To the college kids I go to school with now, I talk about how my idealistic eighteen year old self had a lot of ideas and beliefs about the world. I wanted to crash my idealism at high speed against the realities of austerity, poverty, war, and life at the sharp end of American foreign policy.

To my family I talk about our tradition of military service, my brother and uncles and grandparents. I talk about belief in the American experiment, and wanting to give something back.

I hold dearly to my simple, well-worn stories. Because the stories I tell are simple and easy to believe in. Because I’m scared to write new ones. Because it is safer to swim in the shallow water.

I have a confession. I swam in shallow water in Afghanistan. My only mission was to “conduct counter-insurgency operations.” I went to fight my war, then when I got there, I got told no mission I would conduct would be worth the life of a single Marine. I was ordered to swim, but not to reach the other side, so I swam in shallow water. I prayed for the safest, shortest patrol routes, drink chai with the locals, and waited until we could call in that we were returning to base. I turned a blind eye to the drugs, the sexual exploitation of children, the unreadiness of ANSF forces, the oppression of women, the failure to achieve even a reasonable facsimile of success. I fought hard when the bad guys shot at me, but I fought the war just hard enough to make them leave me alone.

Read the Remainder at Foreign Policy