My Brother's War Story
My little brother wrote this about a year ago. He writes really well, way better than me.
Thinking Of Saul - A Friend
The pain of remembering burdens my heart today. I am not remembering the experience of standing in New York City alongside hundreds of thousands; instead, I am sad because I remember that today I sit in front of a computer as a college graduate because so many of my childhood friends do not.
My brother Carlos sent me a forwarded message from an old friend of ours.
The three of us - Carlos, our friend whom we'll call Saul and I - were drummers at Nikki Rowe High School in our hometown of McAllen, Texas.
Carlos was the oldest, followed two years later by Saul and a year later by me.
In the time since we graduated, my brother and I have gone to college and received bachelors' degrees. We are now both considering graduate school.
Saul took a path like so many of our other friends, relatives, and neighbors in South Texas - a community where over 90 percent of the population is Mexican, the unemployment rate seldom falls below double digits and the median income hovers near $12,000. Soon after graduation, Saul entered a Marine Corps recruiting office and has not turned back since.
The e-mail my brother sent was signed "Saul Rodriguez, Sergeant, United States Marine Corps." This is a man who has always taken pride in his work and continues to do so.
This is also a man who wrote, "To me, suffocating a war protestor (with recyclable bags, of course) is in line with my free speech... Protestors are like cockroaches, kill one and fifteen take their place."
In equally vivid prose, he added his contempt for protestors who purportedly knocked a mounted officer from his horse and beat him.
He expressed his dismay with people who disagree with "expert military advisors, who have YEARS of experience. I mean what was I thinking? The average civilian knows how to run the country, why haven't I paid attention to them before?"
And he ended by inviting protestors to drop destructive opposition and support the war or "do what they did back in Vietnam, and spit in my face, or spit on this Uniform when I return, and call me a baby killer. In which case, I will be more than happy to re-adjust your way of thinking by shoving my fist so far up your tie-dyed butt that I'll grab the Peace sign from around your neck and pull it out your draft dodging ass."
I can understand how you might think of Saul as a burly man with few wits, large muscles and a penchant for violence. After all, you did not grow up with him. I did. Still, I have to admit that his words ripped through my heart - not in spite of having grown up with him, but because of it.
As I read Saul's letter, I couldn't stop thinking of the skinny, goofy teenager who carried his drumsticks in his rear pocket, laughed like he was everyone's friend, and always looked like the drum was carrying him rather than him carrying the drum.
I don't know how much of that letter was actually written by Saul. I want to think that much of it wasn't. Still, that Saul--a poorly educated young Latino male--sent it out reflects what happens to our friends, neighbors, cousins, classmates and siblings once they don the uniform of their profession. They become the arms and legs of the repressive organization they serve.
Thinking of Saul's criticisms, I can't begin to argue that all protestors were respectful of the police. Neither can I argue that each individual in that sea of hundreds of thousands embraced nonviolence the way I did.
But I can remember that the man standing near me who had all kinds of ideas about where the police officers should go and what they should do with themselves stood apart from the rest of us. I can remember the beautiful sounds from the crowd when dozens of police in full riot gear grabbed their billy clubs and pushed steel barricades into the throngs that were already standing shoulder to shoulder between Manhattan's mammoth skyscrapers. "The police are not our enemy," we chanted as the officers pressed into us. "The police are not our enemy."
And how can I forget the pleas for help, the screaming, coming from deep within my body and thousands of bodies around me when 20 mounted officers drove their horses straight into the crowd? How can I forget the beautiful horses, muscles gleaning through their coats, which charged within a foot of my friends and me? How can I forget being surrounded by hundreds of police, as helpless as the chickens fenced in at my grandparents' house? How can I forget trying in vain to make a 180-degree turn for at least 30 minutes? I just wanted to know if my friends were OK.
I cannot forget what I saw. I cannot forget what I heard. I cannot forget what I experienced.
Neither can I forget what I know: Saul did not always think of me as a cockroach. He did not always dream of murdering me with a plastic bag.
When we were younger, he did not think of ramming a peace sign through my body.
I also know that we are not so far removed from those times. Saul finished high school in 1997 and I graduated in 1998. In that time he has learned to hate, learned to despise, and learned to dream of death.
Yet he is still Saul. He is a man who was once a boy, a soldier who was once a friend.
I cannot read his words and think solely of his uniform. I must remember that beneath his medals he is more than a sergeant; he is a person.
Saul doesn't sleep in his uniform and he doesn't laugh in his uniform.
Nor is he a lost part of society, a colleague of those who rejoice in streams of blood and tears wasted in the name of liberty and justice.
No. Saul, like I could have been and like so many of my childhood friends have become, is a strong and brave young man trained to obey and destroy.
Yes, he is dangerous. But because he is dangerous it is my duty to reach out to him - the part of him beneath the uniform.
It is not enough to wait until Saul is lined up on a battlefield - be that Iraq or Manhattan - in a Marine Corps uniform or NYPD riot gear. By then it is too late. By then he has adopted the role he has so diligently been trained to perform.
If I truly desire peace, justice, humanity - all those ideals for which I am often ridiculed - then I cannot search behind the barricades for Sergeant Rodriguez. I must go to McAllen, to Los Angeles, Queens, and Detroit and reconnect with Saul.
He must see that I am not a cockroach, an infestation, or vermin to be suffocated. And I must see that he is just a man; a man with as many dreams and hopes as me.