Driving to Denver, the eastern sky is alive with great sweeps of lightning. Soft, grassy hills are outlined by the harsh light. I drop off my son and kiss him, hold him once, then again. He smiles shyly and waves goodbye.
My son signed up between his junior and senior years in high school. Every month since then, he has spent a weekend at Fort Carson drilling with his unit. He is reluctant to leave this time -- perhaps because of what he has heard about the war in Iraq, perhaps because he would rather stay home and be a carefree 19-year-old, paintballing on the weekend, working and putting a little money in the bank during the week, going to movies, hanging out with friends.
I remember when we first attacked Iraq and someone told me I couldn't oppose the war and support the soldiers at the same time. My anger was so great I was speechless. Of course I could support the soldiers -- I'd lay my life down for at least one of them -- despite the nagging feeling that we were headed down a dark, ill-advised path, that we were attacking the wrong enemy for the wrong reasons, that we were being intentionally misled by the president, the commander-in-chief, my son's boss.
My son faced danger and didn't complain while the news of the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib were reported, when confirmation came that, in fact, there were no weapons of mass destruction, that we had been led to war under false pretenses. Now his boss, the president of the United States, desperate to keep his job, refuses to condemn the scurrilous, low-down attempts at character assassination on his opponent, John Kerry, television ads that question his military service record and paint him as unpatriotic.
Our commander, my son's boss, speaks out of both sides of his mouth, saying to Larry King that he believes Kerry served his country with honor, then implying that he doesn't really believe that, remaining silent about the deceptive attack ads that are running on behalf of his campaign.
He's good at this. He questioned the sanity of Sen. John McCain during the last election, based on his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam; he denied the patriotism of Vietnam veteran, former Sen. Max Cleland, who rides around in a wheelchair because he lost his legs in that war. He claims to be a great war president and then degrades those that served in that perilous, misguided war.
Now the veterans working of behalf of our commander's campaign are launching new ads attacking Mr. Kerry for coming back from the Vietnam War and testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the war was wrong, that atrocities were being committed in Vietnam by American soldiers because the war was not just or necessary. In that testimony, in 1971, Kerry didn't degrade or dishonor a single soldier. He declared that the war itself was dishonorable and that bad things happen in bad wars. He was eloquent and brave. He spoke for millions of Americans who opposed the war. In our commander's friends' eyes, that makes him unpatriotic. You can't love the soldier and condemn the war. Will our commander disassociate himself from these ads? Probably not.
Driving home from Denver in the middle of the night, I am numb with fear and pain. I imagine my son hauling his duffel bag onto the bus, facing the next 10 weeks with resolve. I know the depth of his focus when he is determined to see something through. It will serve him now. I can love the soldier and deplore the war. It's my patriotic and maternal duty. My son's boss can't take that away from me.
A massive, golden half-moon has emerged from beneath storm clouds in the western sky. The profile of granite mountains is outlined by its beneficent glow.