David B.




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March 22, 2006

Measure in Years, Measure in Misery


Three years.


It hardly seems like that long, does it. Three years since America learned that yes, just as it had expected, it was at war with Iraq.


A lot can happen in three years. But for many of us, cloistered comfortably within the United States, the weeks and months since that fateful day in March of 2003 have flown by, filled with the mundane events we're accustomed to: Days in the office or at the shop or in school; evenings at the mall or propped in front of the TV. Weekends of barbecues and freshly mowed lawns. Perhaps the daily regularities have been punctuated by a few demarcating events: Births or deaths, marriages and divorces, new jobs or friends or cars. By and large, though, chances are that the majority of the past three years have drifted past as just more of the unremarked time that is typical of a comparatively static, comfortable existence.


Time can pass differently, though, depending upon who you are, where you are, and what surrounds you. Three years, thirty-six months, 156 weeks - for some the twinkling of an eye, for others an eternity. The same span of time, experienced from within a different skin, can seem like a limitless, endless, unendurable hell, an intolerable eternal present where each second is drenched in pain, fear or sorrow.


Somewhere within the U.S. Army's prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, there is a person who has felt each hour, minute and second pass, someone for whom each moment stretches ahead into the distance like a road to an empty horizon. Someone who has had no choice but to count each minute since the last time they saw their home or family, since they last spoke with a friend, since they last were in the presence of someone who loved them. Counting the minutes spent futilely looking for some variation in the familiar landscape of chainlink, barbed wire, orange uniforms and parched earth. Someone who still doesn't understand why they were plucked from the midst of their family and fellows, spirited across the ocean, dumped into a hellhole and left to wait without purpose.


Somewhere in Baghdad a parent has marked every passing moment of the three years since a falling bomb or machinegun burst or artillery round snatched away a daughter or son. Someone else marks the absence of a father or mother, brother or sister, wife or husband, incinerated within white phosphorous flame or buried beneath tons of rubble. Someone else still measures time in terms of missing friends or neighbors, abducted by gunmen at intersections or in their bedrooms or in the market, to be consigned to the ranks of the disappeared or to be found later with a single bullet wound at the base of the skull, and wonders how many nights remain until they - whoever they are - come for him.


And for others, three years have been measured out in roadside bombs and RPGs. Three years of hours, minutes and seconds spent in suspended terror, knowing that the enemy is always nearby, that there is always another bullet or another bomb waiting to find its mark. Torn from home and hearth, from parents and spouses and children, these men and women dream of a return to the comfortable blandness of daily American life - cubicle jobs, frozen foods, sitcom reruns all seeming like aspects of a lost paradise when considered from within the context of scorching desert heat, endless anxiety and omnipresent menace.


Three years: A period of time in which everything can change, even as each second remains frozen in unchanging, inescapable dread. Three years spent at the random mercy of forces beyond one's control, waiting for the next bomb, the next questioning, the next order, the next bullet, knowing that whether or when each comes will be determined by either shadowy figures lurking around the corner or by men in offices thousands of miles away. If there is one thing that the last three years have shown, it is that it is possible for incomprehensible suffering to be visited upon towns, countries, families, and soldiers, but it is as impossible to build a functional, stable nation from the ashes of a senseless war as it is for the men in Washington and London who set these events in motion to develop a functioning conscience.


Three years, and still we stay the course.


2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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