As I've written many times in the past, I believe the war in Iraq is unjust and illegal. However, my main concern about the war - the emotional impetus for my continued protest - is not necessarily the lives of the Iraqi civilians, whose deaths I oppose more on an intellectual level than an emotional one, but rather the lives of the many thousands of young U.S. and British soldiers who are at risk right now in Iraq.

I did not come from a privileged background - far from it. My father was a printing press operator, my mother a teaching assistant. I grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland one block from the Washington County Hospital on (ironically enough) Hager Street. I lived in a crumbling 19th Century duplex, which had seen better days (most likely in the 19th Century). My family didn't have a lot, but we got by. Our neighborhood was working class, mostly white and wasn't exactly what comes to mind when you think of "middle class" America.

Unlike kids from more moneyed backgrounds, my future was in question. There were no grand plans for me to go to college, no lofty career ambitions. My father thought for many years that I might follow in his and my grandfather's footsteps and work in the printing plant that employed them, and my academic performance reinforced that belief. Through most of middle school and high school, I was a C-student at best. But then I discovered that I was able to write - something I'd done for years for fun, but never really thought about. My freshman high school English teacher encouraged me, and for the first time in my life I began to get A's in English. That eventually spread to other subjects, such as Social Studies and History, which boosted my GPA enough to make college a possibility.

But it was just that - a possibility. My parents had little money, and I knew I didn't want to go to community college, which I saw as an extension of high school. Naturally, I began entertaining thoughts about the military. Not because I wanted to defend my country or fight in a war (and the Gulf War was still fresh on my mind), but because of the college money they promised after I got out.

However, my entering the military did not come to pass. I received my acceptance letter to the University of Maryland on the day of my high school graduation (I barely squeaked in, having languished on a waiting list for months), and my father was so proud of me that he took out a loan to pay for my first year. He was caught up in the emotion of the moment - I had just graduated from high school, received the school scholarship for best performance in English, how could he not try to find a way for me to go? But had that letter not arrived on that day, my dad might have reacted differently. I might not have gone to the University of Maryland right out of high school, nor would I be living in an "exclusive" Washington, D.C. neighborhood right now. Instead, I might have gone into the Army.

So when I see these soldiers on television - kids who look not unlike the kids I grew up with - I know that if circumstances in my life were different, I might have been them. They didn't enter the military because they wanted to wage a war against another country; they enlisted because they wanted a better life for themselves. I know what it feels like to not have a future, to see the middle class world on television and to desperately want to be a part of that. I know the lengths people will go to achieve that kind of life for themselves. This is not to say that everyone joins the military just to advance their lives -- many do enlist because they genuinely want to serve their country. But most of the people I know who serve or have served -- including both my parents -- joined for for the opportunities military service offers.

The military used to be a profession that all parts of society participated in. The families of American aristocracy - the ultra rich - had a long tradition of sending their children to military academies. Few American men stayed out of many of our most celebrated wars - the American Revolution, the American Civil War, the first two World Wars. Hemmingway and his "lost generation" wrote excessively about what the First World War did to them. Could anyone imagine our most celebrated writers serving in the military today? It's almost unthinkable.

At some point in the late 20th Century, the upper middle class and the rich decided that the military and service to this country was not for them. That they were too good to serve - that it was a job for other people's children. Vietnam is a prime example, with the vast majority of conscripts coming from the working and lower classes. The sons of the rich - such as Dan Quayle and George W. Bush - evaded service by pulling duty in the reserves. Even Al Gore, who claims to have served in Vietnam, was in the relatively safe role of a reporter. Few of today's political elites have any notion of military service. And out of all our Senators and Congressmen, only one representative has a child in the military.

And yet, my cousin Mark is serving, as is my mom's godson. Both young men came from low-income, working class backgrounds. Both entered the service to escape the futility of their lives. My cousin is in the 101st Airborne, his unit having deployed to Iraq. My mom's godson is in the Air Force, serving at the Prince Sultan Air Force base in Saudi Arabia. I don't want them to die, while many others -- including myself -- have never served. It seems wrong, unjust.

Where are the sons and daughters of the "chicken hawks" who beat the drums of war and demanded "regime change" in Iraq? Where are Jenna and Barbara Bush? George P. Bush, Jeb Bush's son? Where are the children of Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld? Do they even know, or are related to, anyone in the service?

I ask these questions, because these people engage us in war without having to bear the emotional consequences. They don't have a vested interest in the people who are putting their lives on the line, who are dying in Iraq. It's easy to commit troops when you don't care about what happens to them. When they're just pawns on a global chessboard, cannon fodder.

But I care. And despite all the good, legal and ethical reasons not to be "liberating" Iraq, the most compelling reason for me now - the reason I still march, still dissent - is the soldiers. It's the faces of the POW's on television, chefs and mechanics that only entered the military for college money, now being interrogated and tortured by Saddam loyalists on television. They didn't sign up for this. The commercials and recruiters spun the Army as a means to an end - as a stepping stone to an education, to a better life. Aim high. Be all you can be. Army of one. They left the part out about dying.

If our administration is going to commit soldiers to war, they should commit everyone. Perhaps if their own children were at risk, they would be less quick to engage other countries in hostile actions. Maybe then they would know the ultimate consequence of war - the sacrifice of life that's made. That soldiers aren't just faceless instruments, but human beings with hopes and dreams and loves and hates and fears and everything else. The military has been dehumanized to the American public - and that needs to change. Otherwise, our government will continue to send young people to die in cynical engagements such as Iraq or Vietnam, where our National Security interests really aren't at risk. When it's all about ideology or economics, and not the safety of the American people.

Pardon me, Scoresby, and I want this to sound as benign as possible, but, speak for your damn self. I joined the Marine Corps, and specifically chose Infantry Rifleman as my Military Occupational Specialty, so that maybe one day, I could go fight in a war. I don't want to sound ungrateful, I really do appreciate the fact that you care, but, seriously, this is why I signed up. And I'd wager that the same goes for my fellow Marines, or at least my fellow infantrymen.

When we heard we might be going to war, we weren't frightened, we were excited. When we shipped out, we weren't angry at our government, we were proud to be carrying out the duty that our elected officials had charged us with. When I came back without having fired a shot, or having been shot at, I wasn't relieved, I was disappointed.

See, you mention that a few of us servicemen joined to "serve their country", but that's not it exactly. There are plenty of non-military organizations that serve the country. We joined to kill and to die for our country. To place our ordnance and our lives between our loved ones and their enemies.

Obviously, there are those that joined for the college money or whatever. But what can I say? They joined for the wrong reason. Maybe that's a little harsh. But the fact of the matter is, that all branches of our military are made up completely of volunteers. Vietnam was different because these kids were getting signed up against their will. Of course, I know more than a few Marines that joined for the wrong reasons. But none of them are infantrymen. Which means that, largely, they won't be in much danger, even in a combat zone.

But if they do find themselves in combat situations, or wounded, or even killed in combat, well, the fact remains: they volunteered. Hopefully, before they signed up, they thought long and hard about the fact that they might be sent into hostile territory, they might get shot at, they might bleed to death in excruciating pain. Hopefully they weighed these possibilities against the dream of a higher education and decided it was worth it. And if they didn't, well, that was dumb. They should have.

And another thing is, I don't buy this whole "these poor slobs have no choice but to join the military if they want a shot at going to college" line. I was poor. I went to college. My parents didn't have to pay a thing. Financial Aid, scholarships, and student loans. I can tell you from personal experience that poor people can pay for college.

It boils down to: I'm not expecting other people's children to make the sacrifice. I'm expecting the people who volunteered to make the sacrifice to make the sacrifice. People like me. Please, PLEASE don't use me as an excuse not to go to war. I am a weapon, clean and ready. Point me at your enemies. Pull the trigger so that I may fulfill my function. Right now, this is why I am here.

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