Blue Mountain Center’s Costs of War Focus Session, which fostered 10 Years + Counting, included two Residents from Iraq Veterans Against the War: Organizing Team Leader Aaron Hughes, a visual artist, and Director of Development Amadee Braxton, a writer. Thanks to them, IVAW, whose mission is to mobilize the military community to withdraw its support for the war and occupation in Iraq, became a powerful founding partner in 10YAC.
IVAW’s Warrior Writers program, which brings together recent veterans and current service members to express themselves through art, has culminated in the book Warrior Writers: Move, Shoot and Communicate. .
In American Society, the U.S. military is often classified as a “brotherhood,” indicating the level of relationships soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen share with one another. Of course placing human persons in a situation as stressful and horrific as war will most certainly lead to very memorable bonds. Since I have returned home from the war, however, I have asked myself, “Does the content of the bond influence the depth of such a personal relationship?”
If one were to define the word “brotherhood” simply by its common English meaning, he or she might find it to be defined as a mere “organization of men united for a common purpose.” Though grammatically correct, reducing the concept of “brotherhood” to a simple union of convenience greatly undermines the reality and depth of human relations. As I found in Iraq, it is not simply a unity of purpose that creates a brotherhood, but rather companionship or even a “communion of persons” brought together by a fellowship of goodwill toward all human beings.
Upon reflecting on those individuals I served with in Iraq with whom I shared such a connection, I can only recognize that it was not our rifles that united us in such a strong and mysterious way. Much to the contrary, it was our love for our fellow humans and willingness to communicate to all, Iraqi and American alike, despite consequences that gave us the connection most can only hope to attain in their lifetimes. No matter how much we trained together or shared our experiences with one another, we gradually learned that we could not achieve the goal of “brotherhood” until it included all who suffered. It was the mystical connection that was only fully realized when we shared our food with hungry Iraqis, cared for Iraqi children, and tended to Iraqi wounded. it was only while sharing the love we had for each other with the poor, suffering, and destitute Iraqis that we ceased to be individuals united by war and became a communion of persons, a brotherhood in its truest sense.
Since returning home, I have experienced the true concept of brotherhood time and time again. It was always unmistakable and equally profound. I see it when gathered around a celebration of the Eucharist in my church, or when I have been in a soup kitchen with those living on our streets. I have seen it when people have comforted those mourning for lost loved ones, or when a child shares his or her snack with another child. It is something I have experienced at teach-ins and anti-war protests when I have witnessed countless thousands come forward saying, “Not in our name.”
Never again must we fall into the belief that a “band of brothers” is something only achievable while making war on others, for nothing can be further from the truth. We must see a brotherhood for what it truly is, an ultimate expression of love, and we must remember it is not something we can enforce and foster with a rifle. This war must remind us of how greatly we have perverted the term “brotherhood,” and if we fail to correct our understanding of such a beautiful concept, all the suffering this war has caused will surely have been in vain.
In January 2003, Paul’s army reserve unit was mobilized and he was sent to the Middle East to serve with the 3rd ID. He crossed into Iraq the first day of the ground war and went on to complete various missions in Baghdad, Al Anbar, and Balad until 2004. Paul joined IVAW in September 2005. This piece was written in February 2007 in Pittsburgh, PA, where he currently resides.