July 21, 2006

Commentary

Now That My Friend Is Dead, The Iraq War Hits Home

By Christine Ferrer
New America Media

SAN FRANCISCO—On June 29, Army Spc. Christopher D. Rose, 21, was out on a regular day on patrol in Baghdad when he stopped near the entrance of his base to remove some barbed wire. As he grabbed the wire, he stepped on an improvised explosive device and it killed him.

Chris Rose was a friend from high school. On the afternoon of July 4 I heard about his death. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle said Chris was the first San Franciscan to die in the Iraq War. When I read this I began to cry.

Chris and I were the only Filipino-Americans in the Voice of Pentecost Academy. He was my kumpare (buddy), someone who would never stop smiling.

Chris had no enemies. He gave respect and was given respect in return. He made you feel like every word you said was important to him.

Since he graduated in 2004 we haven’t been in contact. On graduation day he told me he was joining the military. Chris was adamant about serving his country, and since his father served in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II and Korea, he, too, wanted to make a difference.

Then, just a month ago, Chris found me and messaged me on MySpace from Iraq, asking if I remembered him. He wanted to catch up. I added him as a friend, but didn’t get a chance to write him back.

The war in Iraq up until then was something that happened on TV. When he died, however, everything changed: That day, the war in Iraq became personal.

My sadness turned into rage about the civilian death tolls, terrorist attacks, U.S. military, incursions, images of war. I decided to blog about Chris’ death on MySpace, about how stupid, ignorant and meaningless I think this “war on terror” really is, and that I, as a firm believer in Christ and His teachings on loving your neighbor, do not believe that God is a god of war. I have had many interesting arguments online since.

The day of Chris’s funeral was a cold, foggy morning. The cries of over 150 mourners could be heard echoing in the wind outside St. Augustine Church in South San Francisco. More than three dozen Patriot Guard Riders, many of them veterans, held American flags and paid their respects.

Chris’s parents placed the medals he earned in Iraq on top of his casket one by one: two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Good Conduct medal. At the burial, the National Guard fired a 21-gun salute and a musician played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

As I sat there, listening to the Rev. Ramon Mores talk about death and its inevitability, and hearing his cousin read a eulogy written by his sister, Lisa, all I could do was weep to myself silently.

The military accompanied the family and offered support. Army Staff Sgt. Linda Lluberes, who was assigned to bring Chris’s body back home, didn’t know Chris, but spoke on behalf of his unit. I was touched by the fact she took the time to speak with his unit and learn about the person he was. His comrades described Chris as someone who “gave 110 percent all time,” had an irreplaceable smile and possessed an undeniable love for his family.

Although, I appreciated the honor bestowed by the military, I couldn’t help but feel like the military was trying to sell the Iraq War to us, especially when Brig. Gen Joseph Schroedel with the Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division spoke. He told a story of how he met an Iraqi and that Iraqi told him Saddam warned that when the U.S. invades, they would take away Iraqi freedom and rights. But the Iraqi told him that “the only thing that you’ve taken is our hearts.”

I wonder if that is true. To me, it felt like propaganda, like the general was trying to glamorize the war and justify bloodshed in Iraq.

Too often we forget, that serving your country is not just joining the military. It’s also standing up against racism, fighting poverty, breaking down stereotypes, refusing to be swayed by money in a capitalist society, and wanting nothing but the truth. Whether it is American or Iraqi, how much more innocent blood needs to be shed before we realize this war is not just?

Chris’ father told the San Francisco Chronicle that near the end his son started to wonder why we were in Iraq and began to think that the Iraqi people didn’t want us there. Iraqis are facing worse conditions than under Saddam since the start of the war, according to a study conducted by the United Nations and Iraqi officials in 2004. The study showed that everyday conditions for Iraqis have deteriorated at an alarming rate, with huge numbers of people lacking adequate access to basic services and resources such as clean water, food, health care, electricity, jobs and sanitation.

The last words Chris wrote to Alejandro Galicia, a close friend in high school, in his yearbook were: “Don’t cry for me... Stay strong and positive. I’ll miss you. Your friend, Chris Rose.”

But I couldn’t help but cry. Are we truly fighting for freedom and against terror? Or have we become the very entity we’re trying to suppress? In my heart, Chris is a hero. But how do I justify his loss when the reasons we are in Iraq are muddied?

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