Many things have come to light for me in the last several years that were not so apparent as a young man. I love my country and what it is supposed to stand for. I, and many others like me, was lied to, trained and used as a tool to oppress others. Many of these things were not my fault, but I was there to witness. So, like the man I want to be:
To the people of Iraq,
I’m sorry for helping do to you, what I would never let happen to me or my loved ones. I am sorry for having hate in my heart; bringing my horrible skills to bear upon your brave men is a saddening thing for me in retrospect. I feel guilt for terrifying the people who I was supposedly protecting. I’m sorry for having had the drive to be better at tracking people in my scope, when I should have been opposing the occupation. I’m sorry that I was skilled and able to deal death at extreme ranges; what was once impressive is now repulsive.
Although I will never deserve or receive your forgiveness, know that I am sorry for helping give my people a bad name. We often helped, but more often hurt people. I have joked about the death of others, but cried over those we suffered; no humans should have lost lives on either side. I am sorry for allowing spite, revenge or rage to fill me up and flow over. I’m sorry for being another invader into your sovereign land and removing your civil liberties at gunpoint. I’m sorry for using superior technology and deception to take away your family members. I’m sorry that we removed innocent men from their homes, without cause, in the name of security.
I’m sorry I took away your guns. I’m sorry that your land has been ravaged by war and that men like me and my brothers were your enemy. If we had been born on the same block, we would probably been friends. I’m sorry that my friends glorified me for my successes in battle and boasted about their own. I’m sorry also that the common condition in wartime troops is to dehumanize their opponents to make them easier to mistreat; I am just as guilty of this. I’m sorry for being a part of something our Forefathers fought against.
I’m sorry that I, at one time, thought that the ability to take a life was power. I’m sorry that my country is plagued by young men and women who suffer with guilt over things they did. I’m sorry that we had to kill to ensure the safety of others. I’m sorry that war is ironic at times. I’m sorry that the man in Tal Afar who guarded the bank, who treated us with such kindness, is not able to live in peace. I’m sorry that the Christian family in Mosul, who showed us love, has to live in hiding from sectarian violence.
To the children, I am sorry that you had to witness young American men as monsters. I’m sorry that your childhood was filled with explosions, gunfire and large, armored men kicking in doors. I’m sorry that your soccer fields became a danger zone. I’m sorry that your kindness and wonder was not able to be spent in peace time. There was an old man and a young boy in the car that was hijacked by another man and all three had their hands up. I shot the hijacker when he pulled out a pistol; I am sorry that boy and old man had to fear for their lives.
I’m sorry that it took nearly a decade to leave your land. I am sorry that thousands of peaceful people per year were killed by ordinance, stray bullets or carelessness. We accidentally killed a woman and went to pay reparations to her family; I’m sorry to that husband and those children that his wife and their mother died. I’m sorry that there were so many dinner tables with families waiting for their loved ones to come home, who never did.
I’m sorry that it was “us versus them” and that you paid that price by proximity. I can say that I never targeted an unarmed person with lethal force, but some of my peers may have. I’m sorry that communications get confused, descriptions are vague, maps are not marked clearly and that our judgment is not always sound. I’m sorry that I thought my squad leader was a coward for leading us away from the fighting when he could.
All these things and more are ones I and tens of thousands of military vets get to live with. We all have the chance to make good lives and we have an obligation to work hard accordingly. I saw the error of my ways and now try to teach my friends that respecting others is the only way we will ever evolve as a species. My son asked me “what’s a war?” and it broke my heart. I am glad though, that he has no clue about the horror so many children experience daily.