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A Soldier Speaks: Sean Huze

This Marine was a true believer in the reasons for the Iraq war. He talks to AlterNet about his loss of moral certainty, the gift of wisdom and "regime change" at home.
 
 
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Editor's Note: This is the last in a series of profiles of some of the tens of thousands of Iraq War veterans who have come home bearing the scars of battle – emotional and physical wounds that may never heal unless the nation pays them the attention and care that they deserve. We at AlterNet believe that in an election defined by a deep and bitter partisan divide, it is the one issue that can and must bring us all together as Americans.

Sean Huze was once a true believer. The day after the Sept. 11 attacks, the actor walked into the nearest recruiter's office in Los Angeles and enlisted himself in the United States Marine Corps. Sixteen months later, he was headed for Iraq as part of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, leaving behind his wife and young son.

The same idealism and belief in President Bush's war on terror that prompted Sean to enlist sustained him through a long and dangerous tour of duty. His first taste of battle: a 12-hour fire-fight just outside Al Nassiriyah. His unit – which was involved in battles from Al Kut to Baghdad and Tikrit – was recognized over and again for its tenacity and courage. Sean's own list of combat achievements were just as long: a Certificate of Commendation citing his “courage and self sacrifice throughout sustained combat operations”; the Combat Action Ribbon; Meritorious Promotion for Corporal; the Presidential Unit Citation, the National Defense Service Medal, and on and on.

Sean Huze was one tough, committed Marine.

His first months back at home were blissful, spent reveling in the warmth of a hero's welcome. But then there was the discovery of internal nerve damage that had gone undetected in Iraq. His terrible headaches were diagnosed as a post-concussive condition caused by injuries suffered during a truck accident.

The pain of betrayal, however, would be far harder to bear. When he discovered that none of the reasons offered by his commander inchief to justify the Iraq war were true, Sean found himself falling into despair. He started pouring his heart out in a journal, which would eventually become the basis for a play, " The Sandstorm." The Los Angeles Times praised "The Sandstorm" for its "shocking force and awesome honesty" in capturing the stark, terrible reality of war.

Sean sees the play as an affirmation of other veterans questioning the the war – be it the reasons for war or the way it's being fought. He says, "Be it Operation Truth or Iraq Veterans Against the War, we're not lone voices. We're part of a gathering storm."

As for making peace with his inner pain, Sean says the wounds may never heal. But that, he says, is a good thing: "When you're part of something that's wrong, I don't know if you should feel okay about it. I don't know if it should heal. I hope it always hurts."

Sean spoke to AlterNet via phone from Los Angeles.

Is there one memory from the war that still stays with you?

There was a little Iraqi girl – probably four or five years old. I remember her giving me a peace sign. It was probably 10 or 15 miles south of Baghdad [during the invasion] when the kids would all come running out. She was just a beautiful little girl. What stays with me is her innocence.

I gave her the peace sign right back, of course. And her little face just lit up. But the difference was my lack of innocence. When I gave her the peace sign, well, it was just bad, I guess. It was not the road we were on – not the road we're on now. You could say my job as a soldier was the direct opposite of that – peace.

When you look back, how has this war changed you?

I can never be the man I was before I left for Iraq. I had a lot of faith. I was a true believer in the administration's justification for the war – about the weapons of mass destruction and Iraq being an imminent threat. I believed in what we were doing when we were over there.

That belief I had in the administration allowed me to balance what I was seeing, what I was experiencing, what I was a part of. With all that death and destruction – the deaths of soldiers and Iraqi civilians who were caught in the crossfire – it helped that I believed that it was all for a greater good.

Coming home, at first it was about being back with my family – y'know, the yellow ribbon around the tree, the flags, and the "Welcome Home" signs. For a few months, I couldn't allow myself to believe that it was all for a lie.

I know the real transition in me happened when my eyes were opened – when I realized that there were no weapons of mass destruction. I realized that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to not just the United States but to any of the countries on his borders. That there was no tie to Sept. 11. And these were what I now believe were intentional misrepresentations and manipulation.

When you realize this, then you don't have anything to balance everything you've seen and been through. You're just stuck with it. And it hurts. You have to deal with what you've already been through – the death and destruction that's haunting you. But now you're also dealing with a sense of betrayal that you'd trusted most. That's what I was left with – what I'm still left with.

So in terms of change, I now don't have any faith in the policymakers of this administration. We all collectively as a nation allowed ourselves – and I was part of that – to fall for this "You're either with us or against us" and therefore "You're either a patriot or with the terrorists" thinking. And if those are the only two choices, then of course I'm a patriot.

So one of the things that has changed for the positive is that it helped me realize that true patriotism is questioning our leaders. That's what our country is founded on. That's what men like me put our lives on the line to defend. So protesting the war does not equate with protesting those of us in uniform. It's not unpatriotic to want to get our guys home from the war zone.

What are your hopes and fears now that you look at the future?

My immediate hope is a change of leadership right here in this country. I think regime change in the United States of America is the most important and critical regime change needed in the world right now.

I think there are two clear alternatives in this election. New leadership can show the compassion and understanding that would bring our European allies – who have always supported the U.S. in the past – back to the table. It could talk to the Arab countries and [laughs] maybe even take their culture and their ideas into account in our policy on the Middle East. And that's what we need – to remove the American face from the occupation and turn it into an international effort to rebuild Iraq.

My fear is obviously the opposite – that for whatever reason, a majority of Americans haven't seen the truth yet or refuse to look at the truth. So this administration will not just be in power for four years, but that it will be four years when they are not accountable for their actions – because we don't get a chance to vote them out of office.

My fear is that the war will escalate and so will the human toll – both for our soldiers and Iraqi civilians. I fear that it will become my son's problem. That the next generation of Americans will be paying the price for the mistakes we make today. That 15-16 years from now, they will reap what we sow today.

If you had five minutes with the president – whomever it may be on Nov. 3, George Bush or John Kerry – what would you say to him?

It would probably be very different in each case. I would like the opportunity to look in the face of the person who has sent me and hundreds of thousands of other soldiers in harm's way for reasons that have now been proven false. I would like to look him in the eye and see if he would admit his mistakes. I'd ask him how he planned to rectify those mistakes. I'd like to see how he can justify his actions to the families of those soldiers who didn't come home.

Should it be a new commander in chief, I would take the opportunity to remind him how hard people have worked to put him in this position. I would beseech him to change the course in Iraq. We need to get our young men and women home. But we also need to fulfill our obligation to the people of Iraq to leave them with a country that is in better shape than when we came in.

Lakshmi Chaudhry is senior editor of AlterNet. This profile was made possible with the assistance of Patricia Foulkrod, the producer/director of The Ground Truth .