an institution of higher education that provides quality learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of its students and community

First Place - "Careers In Death"

1996 Anne Horton Writing Award
First Place
"Careers In Death"
Chris Gunnon

From my vantage point, fifteen hundred feet up, the sights below punched a hole in my head; a hole big enough to let the concept of war flood in. This concept would help to answer many questions, but not all.

The mountains on which I sat formed a semi-circle, nearly a mile across, around the dark loch below. I had spent my day off climbing to the spot, and was quite at ease. Scotland has a monopoly on the worlds most beautiful shade of royal green. This green rose from the sea and reached to the top of the mountains, interrupted only by veins of rock and the scars that flowing water had left behind. A heavenly mist floated on top of the hills, resting on an invisible sea of hotter air below. A ship sat in the middle of the loch. Behind her, and along her sides, rested several large black submarines. They looked like puppies suckling up to their mother.

I was well aquainted with the ship. I could imagine what the people were doing down there. They would all be working. They would be doing what they were trained to do. Some were painters, some were physicists, some were rich, and some were poor. Although many of those people didn't know it, they were working towards the same goal. That goal was to insure the submarines remain capable of blowing up the world. As I sat up there I could not get around that simple goal. It sounded so absurd. The fact is, it was true. Every job, no matter how small, was being done to maintain that goal. It was hard to think of myself as part of that.

How could we pick such a wonderful place to store all these missiles? That valley had enough potential energy to sink all of Great Britain. There were always those who were interested in the submarines; tourists, environmentalists, even locals, but most of all spies. The spies worked towards that same sick goal for their own countries. None of those interested, whether for or against us, could change that we were there reaching our goal. Only the U.S. could do that.

I descended the mountain, and a year later the military closed down their base in Scotland. I was transferred and would spend the next six months in the Mediterranean. Being at war with Iraq insured that I would spend the majority of that time at sea. As I sat on the fantail one day, absorbing the sun and the brilliant blue spectra, I realized that again my ship had a horrifyingly simple goal in this confrontation. It seemed as if we were floating endlessly. It appeared that the weapons were being fired at an empty sky. Later when we watched the news, it was clear that all the artillery was hitting its mark. Our goal was to deliver as many explosives as possible into Iraq, more specifically, into Baghdad.

The USS Saratoga was as busy as a bee hive. She had planes, wings sagging with bombs, surging from her decks. Empty planes landed to be refueled and reloaded, as fast as the others took off. Sailors scurried around, all of them doing their jobs, all of them working towards our goal. In the weeks to follow we would win the skirmish with Iraq. Huge parties would be thrown in honor of the United State's victory. Even wishes to return and finish the job could be heard. Not often did we hear remorse for the civilian casualties. They were accepted as necessary losses. This lack of compassion was and will always be a product of victory. It was this lack of remorse that prompted me to start looking for a new career.

After three years away, I made my anticipated return to the United States. I was residing in a large town in Florida and thought all was well. Then I realized there was a war going on right in my own back yard. Only twenty-six days into the new year and the town all ready had thirty-one murders. It was the norm for a person to carry a gun. This was the only war I had seen where there was no goal. There was no reason for me to be carrying a gun. Who was my enemy? How could I tell when to fight? In Scotland, the enemy was not easy to see, but we new it was espionage. In the middle east, it was Sadam Hussein. Now, in Florida, it was unclear. The news told me that any poor looking, black male was my enemy, but I found that hard to believe. The politicians told me it was the lack of tax paying support that was to blame. I found that hard to believe also. As a matter of fact-- I found it hard to believe anyone, now that everyone had a gun. The longer I spent in the U.S., the more I began to see that this war was in every big city, something I had missed while I was away. And it puzzled me that even with that metaphorical hole in my head, the answer to this problem could not get in. I still have no way to fathom why this problem exists. In the militaries of the world, men take up careers in death to defend their countries, gain land, or profit. They do unthinkable things to reach these goals, but that is the way the world works. Why do individuals within their own community take up such grizzly careers? Is it profitable to go to prison at age twenty? Do they really want any land in their neighborhoods, or do they want out? As far as defense of their belongings-- they must only defend against themselves.

It is clear to me that it's much more dangerous in downtown, big city, USA than it was for me in Iraq. I could not find any answers, so I loaded my gun, put a smile on my face, and did my time in Florida.

I now live in the peaceful village of Grand Detour. There remains that gaping hole in my head, a condition that effects most all of us, but my career is now that of a healer and not a killer.