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A Homeless Soldier This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By , East Amherst, NY
Today I saw a soldier. He wore no fatigues and held no gun – instead he pushed a cart filled with all of his worldly possessions, as cars with yellow “Support the Troops” ribbons drove by. How can we claim to support our soldiers with pretty little ribbons and then give nothing but dirty looks at the outstretched hand of a soldier who has returned to a home that will never be home again.

I watched him for a quite a while as he talked to himself; he knew he was only one who would listen – listen to what happened in Vietnam all those years ago, the same things that are happening now in Iraq and Afghanistan. I watched pedestrians pass him, civilians fortunate never to have seen the things that haunt him to this day. Their eyes never met his, as if homelessness was a disease that could be caught, as if compassion was a sin to be avoided.

The people who claim that modern times are too violent don't realize that violence hasn't increased – it's just more televised. And killing isn't about who we kill but how efficiently we do it.

I am fortunate. I have never seen a bomb drop or experienced hunger that made me feel like my stomach was stapled to my spine. I am not a child who grew up wishing on falling bombs. And yet for months I watched myself bleed, as I pulled a blade over my own veins like a violin bow, experiencing pain I could not name or explain. I was bleeding from the outside in. How can we honestly claim that our need for Prozac has nothing to do with Baghdad or Kabul?

I watched the man as he picked through litter by the side of the road. Every piece of garbage was a discovery. And still, no one looked him in the eye. Instead they passed judgment as their bodies passed his.

He didn't seem to notice, and I wondered how many wars it would take for us to realize that only the dead ­return. Their names fill the mailboxes of the working class – Michael 23, John 19, Kevin 21 – sounding like Bible verses.

I wondered what his name was. Before he disappeared from view I wondered how he felt leaving the world of shrapnel and death for this world where his sanity crumbled like mortar because he was trapped in the no man's land of his mind.

After every disaster, we pray for what has been lost and vow that it will never happen again, that we will never forget. But how can we forget something that we never knew? We still don't understand that soldiers don't need to come home in body bags for their lives to be ended, and that grace isn't something you can buy with Mohammed's pulse.

Why do we think the barrels of blood we roll to Heaven's gates won't be rejected if they are spilled in the name of God, in the name of Allah, in the name of greed and hate? And tell me how the wasted life of a man digging for treasure in a pile of trash is not a disaster, is not a disgrace. After the fanfare, what is left but PTSD and the ghost of a kid who jetted off to war not realizing until he arrived that he had landed in hell? What land of the free sends its citizens to a battle that can never be won?

The soldier has gone on his way, but the gnawing feeling in my gut remains. The feeling that stars are nothing but scars, bullet holes in the sky from humanity's drive for superiority and power. But what is achieved by the victory of a war? A guaranteed place in the next one? One thing I know for certain is that life is too valuable to be spent kneeling on the cinder of American-made missiles in an interchangeable foreign country while someone gets rich off hell on Earth and at the same time someone else dies.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 13 comments. Post your own now!

PoeticBliss228 said...
Oct. 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm
Love and Peace
 
cantbreathintodeep said...
Feb. 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm
great read love it
 
aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 23, 2011 at 1:11 pm
Thank you! I appreciate it.
 
tdavis1145 said...
Jan. 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm
what you have written is more than true and very informative to those who do not understand what goes on today. Great read. i could read this article over and over.
 
aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm
Thank you!
 
Trolltrotter said...
Jan. 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm
This really opens up your eyes to not only the war acros seas, but the ones here, in our own country, the war for survial on our garbage! This makes me want to make a difference. Makes me want to- not only give money or food to a person in need, but sit down with them, talk, give them someone who cares enough for a copmplete stranger and open up, what many times seems like a heart thats too full, to them. Make them feel that the himan race isnt only for money and homes, but a kindness that can g... (more »)
 
aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm
Thanks! I'm glad this inspired you :)
 
scarecrow58 said...
Jan. 4, 2011 at 3:13 pm
This taste of reality makes me very sad.  I'm uncomfortable when someone shows me how things are in this world.  Please allow me to go back to watching miindless TV with my vodka glass.  Thanks
 
aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 23, 2011 at 1:13 pm
Haha, thanks I think?
 
amybug said...
Jan. 2, 2011 at 1:04 am
So I really enjoyed your writing. I rated it 5 out of 5. I disagree with some of your points, but either way they were backed up and wonderfully written. So, I'm glad I got this insight. Great Job!
 
aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 23, 2011 at 1:15 pm
Thank you!
 
buzzlikebea This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 29, 2010 at 3:18 pm
I am really impressed. Like seriously.  You have quite a liberal point of view, but still, you argued your case fantastically. nice job
 
aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 23, 2011 at 1:15 pm
Thanks so much!
 
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