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A Young Man Dies in Iraq

'He didn't know it, but as a small town southerner he was being trained for his death since early childhood.'
 
 
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Editor's Note: This letter was written by Chris Christensen, an airline pilot and Vietnam War veteran living in a small Texas town.

In our small town of Columbus, Texas (pop. 3900), we buried one of our local sons on his 19th birthday. He was killed in action in Iraq. He was a friend of my two oldest sons and his father a friend of mine.

There is not a lot for a young man to do in our town, and most leave for college, jobs... etc. Christopher came to see me at his father's request prior to enlisting last summer. I am an Air Force vet from Southeast Asia. I talked blue in the face to try to get Christopher to go with me to an Air Force or Navy recruiter. In fact, I told him in no uncertain terms that the Army would put a gun in his hand and send him out to be a target. No soap.

His head was already filled with a lot of crud from the recruiter about being a scout, riding a 4-wheeler ATV around -- big fun! (Christopher was an Eagle Scout.) He had an acquaintance who had been doing that (not in Iraq), and I got the sense that this acquaintance was giving him the hard sell too. I wonder if the Army has a referral bonus system. Do you know?

Christopher also had this inexplicable desire to "go shoot some 'Raqis." Some latent desire maybe from too much video gaming. I heard that in the weeks before his death, he was involved in a brief fire-fight and froze in terror. No doubt reality caught up to him at the speed of a 7.62. Too bad his recruiter or buddy had not told him about the fear he would experience when he realized someone wanted to really hurt him or kill him.

When I learned of Christopher's death, I was sitting at a PC in a hotel lounge in Manhattan. (I'm an airline pilot and was on a layover in New York.) I broke down and cried. There were lots of others around and I'm sure they were wondering... but none asked. I found I was crying not so much for the senseless loss of a young life, or even the grief our friends would bear. As I thought about it, I was crying for our country. What have we come to?

As I mentioned, there is not much for a young man to do in small towns like ours after high school. Christopher had mentioned to me when we talked last, before his enlistment, about riding that 4-wheeler ATV around as an Army scout and having a good time. His recruiter had him hooked. He also mentioned going to shoot some "'Raqis."

This is my sadness. Our children are being weaned on hatred and violence in this country. It starts with television, gets reinforced and is refined with violent video games (one, in particular, produced and distributed by the U.S. Army), and finally the infection spreads through violent team sports in high school. Football in the South is the battlefield training ground for the next generation of cannon fodder. Kids are told to go out there and "hurt 'em, tear 'em up, kill 'em." It is ingrained.

(Careful now, don't get me confused with the liberal left. I own guns and support the right. There is a huge difference between defense of home and property and exporting violence to other countries.)

As I travel in other countries I see no parallel. There are of course team sports, but violence and undercurrents of hatred that lurk within are, as much as I can tell, not there.

Christopher didn't know it, but as a small town southerner he was being trained for his death since early childhood.

Our little town votes mostly Democrat on local elections, but typically Republican in presidential races. Discussion or debate about policy in public is seldom heard and somewhat discouraged. What a shame. Most people around here take a passing interest in national or foreign policy for a week or two prior to an election, then just turn back to football, or whatever is covered on the sports page that day.

The notion of death or dismemberment at the hands of an enemy is so foreign as to be incomprehensible to most American youth. Our media does such a precise job of keeping images and details of such things out of the public eye. Not so for many foreign presses. Our schools would never consider teaching children about anything so morbid or unpleasant.

The thought that a boy like Christopher would so lightly desire to kill some people he knew nothing about is very distressing to me. On the one hand, Christopher was a pretty gentle and easy-going kid. If someone said to him, "Hey let's go shoot some kids from Sealy," a rival school, he would obviously have said, "You're crazy -- get lost!" But Iraqis, why, it's open season.

He only saw the differences. He had somehow developed enough hatred to override his sense of right and wrong, and any teaching of love of fellow man. He went to the Southern Baptist Church here, and I know it was taught to him. On the other hand, the president of the Southern Baptist convention declared this a "just war." A little hypocrisy there and probably confusing for Christopher. We left that Church, by the way.

I know of a few men and women who knew Christopher, who have been supporting the occupation, and are beginning to change their minds. His death is the second our rural county has experienced in the last few months. It is beginning to change some attitudes here -- but too late I'm afraid.

I hope that we learn sooner than we did in Vietnam that we can't successfully force our ideals on another society unwilling to adopt them or defend them for themselves.

There just aren't enough Christophers to go around.