He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

It had to happen. We’ve been having problems with the car – the dashboard kept telling us to check our tyre pressure so we reckoned we had a slow puncture. Then, during an emergency stop when the car in front braked hard, the wheels wobbled, so I made a claim on our roadside assistance insurance. I just wanted them to fix the tyre and to check the wheel alignment and brakes, but the rental firm replaces cars rather than fixes them. Unfortunately the local rental branch didn’t have a spare car so after a lot of ‘discussion’ I was directed to the local Firestone garage, which happened to be on the Fort Leonard Wood Military Base.

As we drove through the checkpoint security gates and into the massive complex I was aware of not only the size of the place and all the facilities they have – bank, supermarket, Burger King, dentist, medical centre etc – but of all the on- and off-duty service personnel and their families who live there. So many men and women who have been trained to kill in defensive or offensive strategies and so many families who face the prospect of seeing their loved ones come home in a coffin. Whether you agree with the wars America is engaged in or not, the harsh reality for these people is that the job they do has much, much higher risks for disability and death than other occupations at the moment.

I’ve always been anti-war, anti-death penalty, although contradictorily espouse the need to stand up for yourself and to fight for people less able to defend themselves. I was involved in the 60s and 70s in the peace movement and at school my tie was covered in CND badges. I’m a member of Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Freedom from Torture for the last 40 years or so and this has brought me into verbal/written conflict with military action and regimes in lots of places throughout the world. As an armchair warrior I can empathize and feel the pain and heartbreak of people whose lives are ripped apart, and for those individual men and women who believe in laying down their lives for their country, this is something I cannot disrespect, no matter how much I disagree with decisions their government makes.

The freedoms I have as a western woman have been won by all the soldiers, freedom fighters and suffragettes who have gone before. It took many lives and much violence to enable me to sit in my armchair and condemn actions taken by repressive regimes, or to criticize the actions of my own government without being imprisoned or tortured. In the Military Museum in Pontiac there is a huge collection of military uniforms, complete with medals. What is unsettling is that each one has a photo and details of the servicemen and women who wore them and have ‘fallen’ during all the conflicts from WW1 to modern day. Seeing those young American faces, so full of life and energy, most of them younger than my children, was an extremely emotional experience for me and really brings it home what these people on the front line face every day.

Prince Harry has been in the news a lot over here, much of it libelous, but I gather he is now doing another tour of Afghanistan. He is joining all the other men and women who leave their homes and their loved ones for a cause they probably don’t understand or believe in, yet they do it anyway because they believe in their country. I don’t share their beliefs, but I do admire their dedication and bravery and hope and pray that the conflict they are involved in will soon cease and they, along with all the others, can come home again.

The guys at Firestone identified the problems with the car – a nail in the nearside back tyre and a mis-shape on the offside front one – which they quickly replaced and we were off on our way again, to Springfield Missouri. As we drove out of the base I couldn’t help feeling that something inside me had changed, like a brittleness softening, and my thoughts went up for  everyone involved in conflict, that it could be resolved as quickly as a tyre replacement.

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