- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Peter Lucier
Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted
Do you have to resent war to tell a good war story?
I ask because the stories I tell almost all have at least some resentments or regret. I resent the mission not being what I thought it would be, or what I thought it should be. I regret decisions I made, actions I took, or failed to take. The title of the book I’ll never write could be Mistakes: A Memoir.
Could there be a different central theme: celebration? The veterans I know don’t congregate at VFW halls or the American Legion. They are on Facebook and social media, where there are groups with hundreds of thousands of followers. The leaders of these groups don’t talk about regret. They talk about long hair, beards, boyish abandon, blowing shit up. They are the heart breakers and life takers, the men’s men. They are the merchants of cool. They are the merchants of death. They are military chic, rolled sleeves, tattoos peaking from underneath layers of nylon and Velcro. They are what I so wanted and still want to be.
Wasn’t it in some ways a party? Fifty of my best friends and I, golden, young, fit, perfect, “jolly green giants, travelling the world, with guns.” Twisted steel and sex appeal, hot grease and engines and barrels, tracer rounds in the night, the surreal green glow of NVG’s, the heart pumping pure adrenaline, fast shallow breaths, ignoring the sweet pain of acid flowing through your legs, planes flying low and fast and the ground exploding a few hundred meters in front of us?
I got the war I wanted. You could call me lucky; because of my age, I was too young to go to Iraq, “the bad war,” and graduated high school just as the US shifted its focus to Afghanistan. My life, certainly improved for having joined the Marines. I go to college for free, I bought a home, I am financially stable, my resume is improved. I met and befriended incredible men. I had adventures. I traveled the world.
I don’t want to be a spoilsport, a wet rag. The world didn’t put me in Afghanistan. The place I volunteered to go to was the place I went. I’ve tried to explain the regrets and resentments I have; why I am sore about the military, sore about politics, sore about civilians. Am I wrong? Are my stories selective half-truths, leaving out the joy of it all? Am I failing to see the beauty?
I’ve talked myself to death about strategic mistakes, but what do I really know about strategy? All I really know is my own story, which for all my over-writing and hand-wringing comes down to this: although I went to the right place, I wasn’t doing what I thought I was going to be doing.
Didn’t the Marine Corps teach me how foolish that kind of thinking is? Wasn’t that the point of all that “this recruit” nonsense at boot came; to break me of this stupid, petty, selfish notion of me, me, me? Poor Corporal Lucier, didn’t get to do things his way. It is such a small thing, silly, egocentric, and trivial compared to all the advantages I gained.
How can I complain? I asked to be there.
Peter Lucier is a former Marine infantry rifleman (2008-2013) who deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. Currently a student at St. Louis University, he holds the Marine co-chair on the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted.
Photo credit: U.S. National Archives