By Martin J. Kidston
In 1990-91, as a Marine attached to the First Marine Expeditionary Force in the Persian Gulf, I, perhaps for the first time in my life, gained a right that as a shy and timid teen, I didnt know existed.
We landed in Saudi Arabia four days before Christmas, and by New Years Eve we were moving north as a small-arms unit in a convoy of five-tons and HMMVs, the lead vehicle mounted with a single crew-served weapon. Two hours later, the convoy dropped us off in the flat of the desert, then turned around to head back south.
Our unit set up camp seven miles south of a border town called Ras Al Mishab. There, as the days passed, we settled in, wondering where events would eventually take us. As it were, it wouldnt take long to find out.
Within a week, my squad was awakened late one night. We were told to gear up and rendezvous in a small tent set up as a makeshift chapel. There, with a Navy chaplain present, we were given a brief called a five-paragraph order. The order: To entrench along a high stretch of beach one mile north of the main camp, where we were to establish an outer defense perimeter.
By the way, the briefing captain told us, as of tonight, were officially at war.
The 12 of us stepped off in the dark, laden in full combat gear with the promise of war bearing down as a solemn burden upon our shoulders. It was a word, but it carried meaning. It was ineffable, but it stood as a threat in itself.
Single file through the night, we moved across the open until the sand turned to rock and the sounds of the gulf churned deep in the distance. We reached a high point and established communication with the rear, ready to ride out the night. Overhead, a highway of bombers streamed across the sky, the ground rumbled and the horizon glowed with an eerie orange the city of Kuwait was already ablaze.
Watching the bombers parade north across the sky we fell silent, filled with wonder, exhilaration, awe and fear. Then, as the monotony of the stars grew heavy and our thoughts raced, quite unexpectedly, our sky, our vicinity flashed with light. Again and again, it looked like the grand finale of a Fourth of July fireworks display, but this display, it collapsed the air, threw it back out, knocked out your hearing and made spots appear in your vision. Rocks and dust were blown out, metal zipped through the air. It was hard to see, hard to breath and fear made it nearly impossible to move.
Incoming artillery none of us had ever seen it before and, almost stupefied, it took several rounds to realize what was happening. Don and clear, the squad leader yelled, as we instinctually scurried into a position of defense, rifles outward, eyes wide trying to see through the dark. But no matter how well trained, or how strong our preconceived notions of how we might react were, confusion ultimately prevailed. There was nowhere to cover, nowhere to turn, our only choice was to hunker down and hope it would land somewhere else.
Outgunned, unable to return fire and scared, strange thoughts came to bear.
Whats there to wish for? Wish for the best.
What do you have? You have your thoughts.
What are your thoughts? This is senseless, this is ridiculous, what need is there in this!?
Thoughts. They are yours and yours alone. They are your opinions. They are my opinions. They are mine to question, and they are yours to question. We all, through one event or another, have encountered situations that changed us. Changed, we discovered the right to express our likes and dislikes, and to spawn public dialogue with our opinions in hopes of bettering our society. There is no place to hide and normality, no matter how much its wished for, it never seems to apply. But there is plenty to express nonetheless, whether it be fear, creativity, distaste or pleasure it is expression and it keeps us going. It prevents us from becoming a censored, homogeneous society perhaps the worst fate of all.
I like the freedom of choosing, and I like having it so you can do the same. You may not like what I chose, but it is my right and I often see the golden rule as being, simply and nothing more: Do what you will, as long as its done with respect and never infringes upon the rights of another. Whatever else that can be done, imagined or dreamed, I celebrate the right to do so, and I raise a toast in my freedom of choice.
The glory of it all, we have the right to disagree and perhaps, then, in the end, we as a society need to become better at doing so. Chaos and confusion dont achieve anything, but unity, I think, can be found through difference and a common fear.