• Loss of Former Student Provokes Anger and Sadness

    • Posted on Aug 12, 2007


    Over the years I’ve grieved for the loss of loved ones, friends, colleagues, and former students whom I remembered fondly.

    Grief itself offers major challenges, and I’ve always struggled with it. Trying to cope with loss and death humbles us all, mostly because death seems so final, so permanent. On the death of a beloved kitten, an overwhelmed poet once wrote, “How could this small body hold so immense a thing as death?”  

    Even the death of someone known for only a short while provokes powerful responses.  So it was with me last week when I came upon a recent student’s final paper for a film class.  I hadn’t graded it, nor had I handed it back.  I thought this was odd until I saw the student’s name. 

    I searched my e-mails, and found that he had written me in April of 2006, reminding me that he had to leave class early “because I have military training I have to attend.  He went on, “For the final test, I will stay in contact with you through e-mail, so hopefully I will be able to take it during the summer.”

    I never heard from him again, but I did hear about him. 

    Early last February, a story appeared in the Courier that an Iowa soldier had been killed in Iraq.  He had arrived in Iraq in early fall of 2006, and was assigned to clear roadside bombs when his armored vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.  So my former student was killed in action fighting in Iraq. 

    I’ve been pondering his death all week.  My first response:  What a waste, what a loss. Brian (not his real name) was clearly a solid student, conscientious, a leader, more than willing to do his part.  But was he protected enough in that “armored” vehicle?  Should he have even been over there, nation-building, dying from getting caught in an Iraqi civil war?  I couldn’t help but feel downright angry, given what seems to be an utterly botched mission.

    Yet Brian was evidently felt he had good reason to be there.  He called home weekly to speak to his family.  From those calls, his mother was quoted as saying that her son had found his purpose and liked what he was doing. 

    So I had to remind myself that this young student chose his career in the military, and when he spoke to me briefly about it in class in early April, he certainly seemed matter-of-fact about it. No fear, no worry, no sense of being forced. 

    So if he felt justified and believed in the military mission, that’s enough, right?  After all, any of us can get killed in random ways without any seeming purpose at all. A bridge collapse, a car accident, a heart attack, cancer.  Death stalks us all.

    It’s certainly some consolation that he died feeling he had a purpose and his brave work clearing roadside bombs had evidently saved lives.   

    Yet does this justify his death?    

    I hope I’m wrong, but unless some miracle causes the Iraqis to stop killing each other over their sectarian differences and start to appreciate our sacrifice and get used to having us occupying their country, Iraq seems destined to descend into violent chaos.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop or change it.

    As so many observers have concluded, including some members of our own military, the conflict can’t be won by force, and before our soldiers can help the Iraqis establish a peaceful country, the Iraqis must settle their deep ideological/religious differences. Until then, they will kill each other and any occupiers willy-nilly.

    Just by being there, we’re creating a nation of refugees and inciting terrorists all over the Middle East, not to mention providing them with an active training ground. The Iraq war has been a huge gift to Islamic terrorists.

    So my heart goes out to all the Brians out there and their grieving families.  We appreciate their sacrifice, but at the same time wonder why our young men and women continue to get maimed and killed for what now seems a lost cause.

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