War, What Is It Good For?

I recently took on a reading challenge this past year, and in that time, I’ve read Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead, and now I’m currently in the middle of reading James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers.  The categories I chose these books for are “a book based on a true story” and “a book with a blue cover,” respectively.

The weird thing is, I’ve never been interested in books, movies, or TV shows about war.  So, why these books and why now?  Well, the simple answer is, Jarhead was on my bookshelf because I’d bought it after meeting the author at the Florida Writers’ Conference, and Bradley’s book had been sitting on my shelf after I’d picked it up on a whim at a secondhand bookstore.

What had interested me in Swofford’s book in the first place was that I remembered watching the movie when I was a kid, and I knew it was one of my dad’s favorites.  So, naturally, I had to get a copy and have him sign it and give it to my dad.  Bradley’s book had sounded vaguely familiar as one of those books I should probably read.

I’ve never quite cared about war stories.  Not for lack of compassion, but as a kid, I didn’t understand why people would fight brutally with one another, and now as an adult, well, I still don’t understand it.

My dad, though, he understands that life.  See, my dad was an army guy.  Not here in the U.S., but in Ecuador, and from the stories I’ve heard him tell and the way he nods his head and says, “Yep,” every time he watches Jarhead, it seems the culture’s pretty similar.  My dad seems to have an endless repertoire of army stories, and some of his stories I’ve heard several times over.

I thought at first my picking up two war books for my reading challenge was coincidence based off what’s on my bookshelf, but I think subconsciously what drew me to them is the kid who heard my dad’s stories about intense training, Draconian drill sergeants and cruel punishments for what civilians would consider minor infractions, and the grownup in me wanted to better understand that.

It’s so weird for me to read these books, knowing they’re based off real life, and seeing pieces of my dad in them.  I’ve heard these stories before, in Spanish, but they’re the same stories.  I feel my heart strings tugged seeing how harsh the life of a warrior is, and all the time in the back of my mind I’m screaming, Oh my god that’s my dad!

Or rather, that was my dad.  He’s a civilian now, an American citizen, working for the FDOT and continuously making a life for my brother and me.  But that same guy, the one that taught me how to do math in my head was once doing the math in his head of what his chances of surviving war were.  The same hands that playfully squeeze my shoulders as he greets me when he comes home from work are the same that once squeezed a trigger on a rifle as he learned how to take an enemy out.

So, why these books, and why now?  Maybe because now that I’m older, even if I still don’t get war, I can understand my father a little bit better.

(Note: This was originally published on my personal Tumblr blog here.)

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