Monday, May 25, 2015

Shadows of War

I grew up, like everyone else in my generation in this country, in the shadow of war. As a child, I remember my parents trying to shield me from the images of war flashing across the TV screens during the First Gulf War. As a teenager, the unforgettable events of 9/11 and the subsequent unending wars loom large. Kids, like the kids I grew up with in a small town, went off to war and not all of them came back alive. If I think through the news I’ve seen in my lifetime, most of it is dominated by war, by reports of body counts and returning bodies, reports of torture in military prisons and large scale offensives. Images of tanks and machine guns, sniper rifles and wounded bodies.

In the shadow of these wars, the world has grown more militarized. Sometimes I’ve seen this firsthand. In southern Mexico, in Oaxaca, I walked through squares full of police gripping AK-47s, all too ready to fire on unarmed civilians. I drove down deserted rural roads full of armored trucks with federal police bristling with weapons. I walked across borders with assault rifles trained at my head and witnessed the desert between the U.S. and Mexico transformed into a war zone with barbed wire and giant fences and fully militarized police.  

But, the whole time I was away from home, away from the harbor, I held it in my heart. I was never naïve; I remembered the harbor as a place with little for me to do as a teenager and a place I could not wait to leave, I remembered how easy people could be with their fists, and how rough parts of town could be. I always remembered the grind of survival and the palpable sense of despair that could descend on us. But I also remembered a place where neighbors knew each other, a place of peaceful lakes and stunning forests, a place of rough neighborliness and fierce independence.

On Friday, though, I was shocked. I know I should not have been. I knew the Aberdeen police had an armored vehicle and that SWAT teams were more militarized everywhere. But knowing is different than seeing. When I walked down by Cherry Street and I saw a MRAP parked outside a little working class house and I walked past young men carrying assault rifles, something in me froze.

This was Aberdeen. This is where I walked as a kid. And a team of military style fatigued local police were pointing military grade weapons at a house I’d passed a million times.
 Suddenly, I was aware of a terrible fact. The wars that had haunted my TV screens and loomed large over my life had come home. The shadow of war had found a home on the streets of my childhood. Kids who had grown up here, like me, were carrying assault rifles—not only in far distant lands—but at home too and those rifles were pointing at our own people.

 Its only been a few days but I can’t shake this feeling of dread. Now, I know that police were responding to what seems to have been a shooting. And I know that the woman inside that house was armed. And I am so very glad that no one else was severely hurt or injured.

Its just that I can’t shake this feeling that something has changed terribly in this place where I grew up. That my nieces and nephews are growing up in a world where military sniper rifles are increasingly directed toward civilians. Where the wars I grew up with have come home to roost.