“I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

I confess. I did not like those videos. The ones they would show us when we were cadets to get us “pumped.” The ones with loud music, cross-hairs, and lots of explosions originating in airplanes of various shapes and sizes, all impressive and powerful, eliciting applause from an audience whose majority hoped their future daily lives would involve zipping up a flight suit to climb into to one such machine, the faster the better. The videos did not fire me up. I kept thinking about the small figures on the ground. Were those pulling the triggers in the video sure they were the right targets? Legitimate “bad guys”? Had we checked and double-checked? I felt very helpless. Do you want me to go in there and find out for sure? I felt my place was on the ground, among the small figures, trying to help ensure we knew the difference between friends and enemies.

Yes. I understand, and to some extent understood when I was seventeen, the utility of the videos and the glorification of spectacular (presumed) mission accomplishment. But it looked also to me like the glorification of violence. Yes, they also taught us ethics, just war theory, the Law of Armed Conflict. They taught us that, as officers, if we received an order we understood to be unlawful, we should not obey it. We were not to be automatons or killing machines—that would be disloyal.

I didn’t think you had to love war to fight one. I hoped that being someone who loved peace would make me fight better. I wanted to help minimize conflict, to deter it, to conduct it honorably when necessary, and to end it as quickly and creatively as possible, if there was a chance to do so.


Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Namedwell: Synonyms for Self by Farzana Marie. In her submission, Ms. Marie described Namedwell as “vignettes and mini-essays…composed of the raw materials of personal story.” Twelve days after sending her submission to us, Ms. Marie, a U.S. Air Force veteran (2006-12) and a doctoral student in Middle Eastern literature at the University of Arizona, suffered a massive stroke and fell in Afghanistan. She is now being treated in Arizona, but has so far lost the ability to speak or write, and is challenged cognitively. To find out more about this inspiring young writer, please visit the fundraiser page set up in her honor.

Note on the Photo: With a winding backdrop of cheering family, friends and guests lining the roads, more than 1,300 new cadets from the Class of 2015 and cadet cadre completed the March Back from Camp Buckner to Washington Hall. (Photo by Mike Strasser, West Point Public Affairs)


From Eight Slices of the War in Afghanistan by Farzana Marie
Introduction by Dan Cafaro, Publisher
I: To Merge, To Erase
II: Restrepo: One Slice of the War
III: Inside with an Itch
IV: Enter to Search
V: To Fight
VI: To Find or Be Found
VII: When Language Fails
VIII: Tea with Terrible Questions
Afterword by Dr. Timothy Kirk, Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Ret)