Tuesday, March 7

The Price of Everything

I have a sister who is eight years older than I, and she has a son. It seems to me like he was born the day before yesterday, but today he is a Lance Corporal in the Marines.

I saw him this weekend for the first time since he went to San Diego, more than two years ago. He's been to Iraq, of course, riding convoys as a Humvee gunner and patrolling for IEDs. When his leave is up he'll be going back, and he's ready and willing to go back. He hasn't changed one single bit.

He has small respect for the Iraqi "insurgents". The Marines in his unit are unimpressed by the enemy's marksmanship: most of their AK-47 fire goes into the air. The one time he would admit to being scared was when the Army fired on his patrol by mistake: "Those guys can actually hit you. I'm still mad about that."

He has high hopes for the future of Iraq, and he spent some time trying to convince his father to invest in Iraqi currency. He was proud to have stood guard at a polling place in the last election where the turnout was 8000, up from 200 in the previous election. The voters celebrated by robbing an unmanned ration booth and setting fire to it, which the Marines found more amusing than annoying, apparently.

In the streets, rock-throwing Iraqis are an occasional problem. He says the rock-throwing punks always claim that they don't mean any real harm, they just like the sound that the rock makes when it hits kevlar. When the Marines pick up the rocks and throw them back, the rock-throwing stops.

I don't have to tell you how proud I am of him, even though he got a tattoo from some drunken son of a bitch in Hong Kong who couldn't even spell.

Having him there makes Iraq something more than an academic exercise to me. I want it over and I want him back home so he can go to school. His mother (and my mother) pay a price every day that he's there. But they're glad and proud that he went, and so is he, and so am I.

The other side wouldn't understand that. They're like the man who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. We know something about both of those things.

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