One of the joys of the internet (and of life itself – the net just speeds up the rate at which it happens) is stumbling across people whose life experiences are completely different to your own. I like it especially when they challenge your preconceptions about who you might imagine them to be. And I like it all the more when they are intelligent and open-minded enough to want to learn from other’s experiences as well as sharing their own. (So that rules out most of the political blogging community, then, who are so in love with their own opinions that you often wonder whether they are actually interested in anyone else’s at all.)
One such internet 'acquaintance' whose writings I stumbled across recently is Andrew Olmsted, whose blog posts go back to 2001. The year is significant because Andrew’s blog is primarily about his experiences as a US soldier. In his most recent post he explains why, as a soldier, he not only served in Iraq but volunteered to go back there.
‘Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract,’ he argues. ‘The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society.’
Reading through his posts, it’s obvious that here is no gung-ho, gun-toting, Muslim-hating, Bush-loving, mindless moron of a killer. He’s sensitive, thoughtful, critical of the military and of those on the left who don’t understand soliders alike – and, as I realised as I read that most recent post, dead.
He wrote his final post for publication in the event of his death, and there it sits now, forever at the top of his blog, dated 4 January 2008 and headed simply ‘Final Post’. I defy anyone, from whatever part of the political-religious-national spectrum, who believes in our essential shared humanity or has any shred of empathy for the life-paths others have trodden, to come away from reading it unmoved.
This is Andrew Olmsted’s one express request, so I’ll add no further comments of my own:
‘I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the US should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the US ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support.’