Why Am I The One Explaining The War?

As we prepare for yet another upcoming deployment, I find myself increasingly stressed out about those innocent conversations I have with well-meaning friends.

Me: "Yes, he's deploying."

Friend: "Oh no! Really? For how long?"

No matter how long the deployment actually is there's only two reactions I ever get. Either "Oh, that's pretty short!" or "Gosh, that's a crazy long time."

when will weThe conversation ensues from there, usually with well-meaning banter. This banter isn’t to make me feel better. It usually exists to make my well-meaning civilian friend feel better about my bad news. They ask:

"Will you be able to Skype?"

"Does this mean he won't have to go again?"

"Where will he be?"

"My second-cousin-once-removed-I-never-see went once I think."

And so on.

Why am I so stressed out over this?

At first, I was really confused why these conversations stressed me out so much. My friends were just trying to learn more about the process of going to war, what it all means, and the nitty-gritty details.

Then, I realized something important: I'm basically explaining the war to them.

Not the deployment, but the actual war.

There's a tremendous amount of media attention paid to the military, especially to our wounded warriors, returning veterans, reservists, National Guard and active duty. Endless YouTube mashups play of tearful homecomings to thrilled children, companies paying off family home mortgages at the end of parades, the honoring of local heroes before basically any sports event. You know the drill.

It's no wonder people have a pretty specific idea of what “war” entails. They get it. War sucks, military families pay the price for all of us.

The story is always the same.

We see the weather-beaten hero in combat fatigue. The strong and silent family keeping up the homefront. The sendoff, the homecoming. It makes a very lovely narrative, one that's easy to tell again and again. What's even more unique is that folks don't usually tire of hearing it, even we military families ourselves.

The problem?

We don't actually discuss the war at all. Not one bit. Not even among the military families we know and love.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to convince ourselves after this tyrannical decade-plus slog of deployments that we're actually sending our loved ones off to "give it to the bad guys." That we're going overseas to "win." What does that even mean?.

With President Obama's recent announcement of the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, it is maddeningly difficult to explain the complex reality that yes, the war is over for some. But not for others. And not for us.

So, in essence, these pleasant conversations which stress me endlessly are really much more powerful. They are an important intersection where our national foreign policy meets the American dinner table.

National policy meets real people right here.

Heaven knows we're barely talking about the war anywhere else. We see plenty about the military, but practically zero about the actual war. Our nation's leaders can barely articulate what we've accomplished after thirteen years of war. What have we accomplished there? What do we hope to accomplish now?
Friend: "What will he be doing over there?"

Me: "It's complicated."

Not only do my little exchanges sum up what my family's going through firsthand, but our nation's increasingly indiscernible foreign policies and war doctrine. It is getting harder and harder to explain, even to ourselves.

Sarah Chen is a freelance writer and spouse of an active duty Air Force pilot. She writes on raising Jewish kids, military family life and interfaith marriage. Her idea of perfection is reading in a hammock, eating breakfast tacos and walking her dog.

Photo U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon

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