Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bellum et Pax--War and Peace...

Intervention of the Sabine Women
I'm a Latin teacher at a public high school today. But ten years ago this very day, I was a government agent actively preparing for a deployment into a war zone... 



My Latin 1 class arrived today at the neuter noun. I used, as my example, a common noun well worth knowing, bellum 'war'.

And I also jotted onto the board what I call "quotes worth knowing,"  which put this important new noun in context:

Dulce bellum inexpertis   War, sweet to those who have not experienced it   Erasmus, quoting Pindar

Bella detesta matribus   Wars, detested by mothers   Horace, Carmina 1.24-25

And as I returned to the lesson, I found myself reflecting upon how I lived these quotes in course of my journey. 

Dulce bellum inexpertis
War, sweet to those who have not experienced it

That was sure me in February, 2004. My boss pulled me aside. "Keith, there's an opportunity I'd like to recommend you for. Would you be willing to serve in Iraq?"

I was, at that time, an Arabic linguist at the National Security Agency. I had gone to work there after 9/11 precisely because I wanted a piece of the action. The answer was, an immediate Yes! I was apprehensive, of course. But eager to go.

What followed was a few months of training, including certification on the Glock 9mm and M4 Assault Rifle I would be required to wear while in country.

Me, in Iraq, Summer, 2004
I would end up serving for three months at a base in Iraq, from mid-June to mid-September. Not as long as a lot of people who served there. But longer than anyone I knew at the time. In that deployment, I experienced mortar attacks and the fear of literally running for my life. I lived with the low-grade tension of knowing that the mortar shell that kills me is probably one I never hear coming.

Again, my experience of that war was not as horrific as many others. I never drew my gun in anger and I was never in active combat. I did, by the nature of my job, process intelligence that was used by the war machine. But I had already done that before I went to Iraq. And I would do a lot more of that when I returned to the States and spend the rest of my tenure at the NSA at the Counter-Terrorism Office. I'm actually not aware of any specific case in which I know with certainty that, as a result of my intelligence efforts, someone died versus was detained. And I have no moral conflicts about the job I did. 

But all that said, war was not so sweet when I stepped out of it. It had been replaced by:

Bella, horrida bella
Wars, horrid wars... (Aeneid 6.86)

I can remember calling my late father when I was settled in my hotel room in Amman, Jordan, freshly flown from Baghdad. I told him, "I'm out of there, tell everyone I'm safe." I hung up the phone and cried my eyes out, so relieved and daring to finally relax. And I drank two bottles of wine. I dreamed that night that I was back in Iraq, a thing I had never done while in Iraq. And, strangely, something I've never done since.

One of the reasons why I felt such strong emotion over being safely out of that country was that I knew this deployment, so important to me, had been quite difficult on my mother.

Bella detesta matribus
Wars, detested by mothers

I told my mother about the deployment just one week before my departure. She was in very poor health and I didn't want to give her any more stress than was necessary. I would see her and our entire family the weekend before I left--at my twin brother's wedding.

Now, I know my mother arranged for me to prayed for, by name, at her Church. Every Sunday during my entire deployment, she heard in the prayers for the people, "And for Keith, in Iraq..."

In mid-July, while in Iraq, I learned that my mother had suffered a minor stroke. The circumstances made it impossible for me to leave to come home, nor would she have wanted me to do that. But I could not escape the thought, was this because of stress over her son being in Iraq? (Probably not. It wasn't her first stroke. But having a son in a war zone didn't help her condition any.)

I would come home. In the presence of my father and my mother I would marry just three months after my return from Iraq.

Two years later, I left government service and became a Latin teacher. Three years after that, both my parents had passed away.

Bellum et Pax--War and Peace

I can go through whole days in which I never reflect on or remember the fact that I was in Iraq ten years ago. I would not have thought that possible. But those quotes took me back, with so many memories flooding back into my consciousness. That was my journey, and it's made me who I am today.

Novels of War... and Peace

In the novels I've written, the characters experience war, but I certainly can't glorify it. They hate it as much as I did. In my novels, the protagonists kill in battle only when they have to and reflect on how much it disturbs them. I depict a band of freedom fighters who pray for their enemies immediately prior to directing fire against them.
The novel A Place of Brightness tells the story of two women. Doina is a freedom fighter struggling to liberate her native Romania from the Communists. A generation later, Aurora is an intelligence officer helping Doina's sons solve a mystery that threatens the modern and free Romania once again.

The novel In Saecula Saeculorum is a Time Travel Adventure set in Ancient Rome. But it also does not glorify battle. One of the chief characters, Carmen, turns to the bottle to cope with the pain of taking human life in battle. And the success of the mission will hinge on her internal war...