Thomas E. Woods, Jr., is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown (on the financial crisis.) A senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Woods has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, FOX News, FOX Business, C-SPAN, Bloomberg Television, and hundreds of radio programs... (Read More)
I’m not sure you’ll ever read this post in its entirety and, honestly, that’s ok. I might be writing more for my own self-therapy than anything else. I want to let you know that my recent experiences on the battlefield have completely changed my view on war. You contributed to that change with your writings and by introducing me to other libertarian thinkers. You will always have my very sincere gratitude for that. There are three reasons for sharing my story. First of all, it’s interesting, which makes me sound very conceited, but I hope by the end of this, you agree. Secondly, like you, I was also once a neo-con (probably to an even greater degree). Lastly, as I already mentioned, it will be therapeutic for me to reflect, write and share.
My story is of a typical “American Dream.” My family moved to New Jersey from Poland in the mid-90s. I distinctly remember what living during communism was like, and if I forget any details, my father intelligently fills in the gaps. We’ll save those stories for another time. My parents were able to receive green cards because my great grandfather was born and raised here, in the U.S. (son of immigrants) before emigrating to back Poland after WWI and Poland regaining its independence (I guess he didn’t know WWII was going to happen).
My transition to life in America was a little bit rough, at first. I couldn’t really speak English when I got here, couple words here and there. I was thirteen at the time. I was considered very advanced for my grade in any math and science classes, which was much more due to the schooling I received in Poland than my intellectual curiosity. I wasn’t very motivated to do much with life, at the time. My family’s sudden change in material wealth was a little overwhelming. We weren’t rich by any means, but having something after having nothing at all for so long is a weird experience for a kid.
During the ups and downs of high school, I got the urge to attend the US Naval Academy. I know what you’re thinking. Wow, what institution is more geared towards turning out leaders of tomorrow’s military machine? (The answer is West Point.) I can honestly say that my ignorance of the facts and the innocent desire to serve the country which allowed my family to have a much better life are the factors that made me apply. I was very relentless, despite getting rejected, and eventually got in. I graduated in 2008, received a commission in the Marines and later became an infantry officer.
At that point, I thought I had developed a sense of duty and my desire to serve and be on the front line was driven more by the ingrained and rich history of the Polish military and the propaganda machine of “defending our nation”, than anything else. (I guess 9/11 had something to do with it, too.) “Confortare, infirmos tuentur.” How chivalrous of me?
I began to change my view of the military’s mission during my first deployment. I was in south-east Asia, mostly the jungles of the Philippines, wondering what we were all doing there. How are we supposed to defend our country while being half way around world? I still really liked my job because I could work with some fantastic young men who serve in the military for valorous reasons and make many sacrifices. I still could not figure out why the hell we were in the jungles of the Philippines, though. If anything, I remember thinking: I should be in Afghanistan fighting the enemies of our nation. Yes, those thoughts actually went through my head, were expressed to some of my fellow officers who, not surprisingly, shared my sentiments. I actually wanted to go to war.
I shared my thoughts with my father, a very well read, self-educated, libertarian intellectual. He didn’t say much in response, just sent me the link to your website. At first, I dismissed it, thinking I was too busy for this anti-government propaganda. (Sorry, Tom) I gave it a shot though, because you were so anti-Obama, I thought it couldn’t hurt. I agreed with some things, didn’t care for others and couldn’t stand your view of the military and our mission around the world. I was an officer in the US Marine Corps, a storied fighting organization. You were talking about me. How dare you, Tom?
My feelings didn’t change much after coming back home from my first deployment. In the spring of 2012 I finally got my wish. I was going to lead young men in combat. My battalion was deploying to Afghanistan. I left my wife behind in tears because duty called.
I was one of the good guys, I thought. I taught my Marines about compassion, helping people, protecting the weak while in combat. My Catholic upbringing instilled in me values which I then wanted and needed to share with my men. I did share, I mentored, taught and tried to make them understand that we could do so much more over there than just shoot and blow things up. This proved easier after realizing what I was battling against. The military system (the Marines boot-camp specifically) instills in young men a super aggressive mentality of blindly following orders and asking questions later. In the end I was able to get through to most of my guys. I was proud of our unit and that they were by my side in combat.
My views on war changed drastically during the deployment and I finally started believing everything about the topic you have said, written and linked to. It took me getting shot at and shooting back, getting blown up and witnessing first-hand the physical and mental devastation of war. I saw that devastation on the Afghans and on the men in my battalion.
Unfortunately, my experiences are not special or out of the ordinary. Hundreds of thousands of service members have had similar, even worse experiences during the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them are now shadows of the human beings they once were. Some are gone forever.
I ended my military career two months ago. I sit here now on my couch in California battling the remnants of my experiences, debating whether to send this to you. It feels good to have written this. I guess it helped me face the reality of my own internal struggle of two ideologies. I cannot help to be very proud of what I have accomplished in the military, knowing that I did it for all the right reasons. I am proud to have graduated from the Naval Academy which allowed me to get to know and serve with great young men. I still believe the Naval Academy produces fine men and women and at its core teaches them the correct ethics, morals, and virtues. At the same time, I now understand that all of this human talent is used not to benefit our society, but is wasted by our government on foreign land in alleged “defense” of our nation. It’s an internal mental battle I now fight but at least I fight it. At least, my father introduced me to your writings and you introduced me to the greats of Mises and Rothbard. For that, I am forever grateful.