The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Caring about the issues means caring about the issues

By Brian Martucci

The quick one-two punch of a Democratic takeover of Congress and the resignation of Don Rumsfeld has made this week a pretty giddy one for the majority of Mac students. It’s been a while since there’s been much optimism to suffuse political discussions on campus, and it’s nice to see that change. People here are hopeful, not unreasonably, that with the opposition party finally controlling Congress and the long-overdue ousting of the face of the quagmire in Iraq there might be a palpable shift in strategy ahead. I am too—it’s about time. But as with many of the causes some of us throw or have thrown ourselves behind in the past, we should be careful about the way we frame the debate about what we’re currently doing in Iraq, what we’ve done there, and what we’re going to do there in the future. We pride ourselves on being a consistent voice for justice and change, as we should be, but we shouldn’t let that pride detach us morally from the ins and outs of the issues we advocate.

We’re not as homogenous a bunch as many of the student bodies of other elite colleges and universities, but among domestic students at least the white-dominated upper quartile of the income scale is still overrepresented here. Some of us do hail from diverse backgrounds, whether we’re the children of expatriates, inner-city dwellers, rural prodigies or native-born Americans who grew up speaking a foreign language at home. But many of us hail from the sort of cloistered, well-to-do suburban environments we so often see as the lion’s den of conservative resistance to the sorts of changes we’d like to see in the country and the world.
The majority of us went to a public high school, but I’d venture to guess that a good number of those schools are well-funded, reasonably small, and consistently ranked among the nation’s best.

I’m no exception. I grew up in one of the wealthiest towns in one of the wealthiest states (Connecticut) in the country and attended a nationally-acclaimed public high school from which students were expected to go on to well-known colleges and universities. We’re talking Stepford Wives (filmed about fifteen minutes from my house) country here. Out of my graduating class of roughly 300 I believe just six did not go on to college immediately after their senior year of high school. Two of those six stayed in town and took jobs at local businesses. The remaining four went into the armed forces—three of these into officer training schools.

The sole basic training (Army Corps) enlistee was a guy named Nick. He had been planning to enlist as soon as he was done with school for a long time—I remember the guy just sort of chilling out in stats class during the weeks before college application deadlines as the kids around him let their stress and neuroses spin them out of control. And he had to know he was going to be shipped to Iraq, or at least overseas, once he was done with training. I never really talked to him about it, but I think he wanted to get a heavy dose of the “real world,” of which my town—home of Christopher Walken and, yes, that Patty Hearst—is decidedly not a part, before he pursued a career in nursing. People around town seemed to respect his decision, but you certainly didn’t see the fanfare you’d expect out of a stable upper middle-class community sending off its only contribution to a violent guerilla war when the day came for him to depart for the Middle East.

I didn’t really keep track of how long Nick was over there, although I did see him from afar once in the supermarket on leave and remember consciously debating whether or not I should approach him and say something (I balked). I can’t say I was friends with the kid—he was a nice guy, and while I refereed some soccer games with him earlier in high school we never got really close—so to be honest I didn’t give him much thought beyond the awkward almost-encounter in Stop & Shop.

So I wasn’t quite sure how to react when my mom called me up early in September and said he’d been killed a few days before in one of those roadside bombings we hear about in the news a couple times a week. I don’t know exactly what happened, but apparently he was walking alongside a patrol in the city of Baqubah when he was caught in the explosion. I doubt he saw it coming.

I don’t want to eulogize Nick. There are people who can and did do that far better than I could, and in any event I didn’t know him well enough to speak on his behalf. But the fact remains that he’s dead: some guy, who couldn’t have been much older than Nick, felt passionately enough about something to risk his life to build, rig and trip a bomb for the express purpose of taking human life in the hopes of making the slightest dent in the morale of his enemy. Nick won’t be able to do any of the things most of us feel entitled to do: he won’t ever attend college, he won’t ever search for a job, he won’t ever marry or raise a family. He stepped out of line and made the brave choice to go to war, but he certainly didn’t choose to die.

It’s difficult for me to consider the death of the one military man I was acquainted with without trying to comprehend the deaths of the thousands I wasn’t. Nick was terribly unlucky—he died way too young and left behind devastated parents, siblings, and friends. Some of his fellow casualties leave children of their own, and the spectre of losing a parent to a morally ambiguous war will hang over the heads of these kids for the rest of their lives.
I know I’m not the only Mac student who’s known someone on active duty overseas—I’m probably not even the only one who’s personally known someone who’s died violently over there. But I also know I’m not in the majority either. We’re all smart enough to understand that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a real toll on families and individuals young and old here. It would just be nice if we could get past our position of relative privilege and try to be genuine enough to feel it.

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