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good luck, soldier

Post #283 • May 24, 2004, 6:17 AM • 6 Comments

A couple of weeks ago a woman came into my studio and said some kind words about my work. I gave her a brochure and chatted with her.

Me: "So, what do you do?"

Her: "I'm a Marine."

"Wow. Have you been in Iraq?"

"Yeah. I'm a Marine nurse and I've been in Iraq for a while. I'm here on vacation."

"How has Iraq been going?"

"Not so good. A bunch of friends of mine have been killed and it's not for any good reason. But," she said with a shrug, "we got a job to do."

I had a thought that reocurred to me when I heard Chuck Close talk about teaching himself to paint again after his aneurysm: I am never going to complain about anything ever again.

I wondered if I could do her job. Perhaps I could, but not with the aptitude I have for art. (Artists do poorly in wars: Braque was trepanned, Beckman went mad, Caillebotte was killed outright.) I possess no real reserve of courage. I can muster it on demand, biting my lip. I have, on occasion, discarded common sense in a manner that resembled courage but wasn't. I have the courage to speak my mind, to travel, to try unfamiliar pursuits. I do not have the courage to be shot at.

Marine nurse. Putting your mangled friends back together. Good Lord.

"Thank you for defending me."

"No problem."

And then I wondered if she was defending me. We never did find those weapons of mass destruction. We barely found any chemical weapons. No attack was imminent under Iraq's old regime. This woman's evaluation of her own status on the battlefield was that the troops have no good reason for being there.

"Take care of yourself out there."

"I will. And I'm going to put this," my brochure, "up in my barracks. I'm going to enjoy having it to look at."

"I'd be honored."

Good luck, soldier. Thank you. Come back home in one piece.



No. 2

May 24, 2004, 5:21 PM

It's a scary, scary world that we are living in... I watched Charlie Rose on TV recently interviewing Bob Woodward on the book that he has written about our current president - a book that is based on more than 3 hours of Woodward interviews with George W.

What ultimately rose from this project was the image of a man who never asks anybody for advice, never changes his strategies according to change in consequenses, never doubts himself the least bit... George W. Bush (according to Woodward) is a man to admire mostly because he makes up his mind, embarks on his mission and, wrong or not, will never sway from its course, no matter what the cost may be. When asked by Woodward how history will look upon Mr. Bush's presidency, George Jr. simply replied that he is not too worried about history, since none of us will be around in 100 years anyway.

So the great leader of the West, the guy whom we have all trusted with the power to kill, control, take over, abuse, and neglect the rest of the world as he pleases - this gentleman is so sure of himself, rests so firmly in his faith that he sees no reason to confer with anyone else. Ever.

What a great concept democracy is... what a beautiful idea. Too bad that most any realized version of it bears only very little resemblance with the original idea.

Most of us discuss these issues over coffee, or perhaps dinner. Or by the watercooler at work. In the studio. Or maybe not at all. But some people - like your soldier friend - are forced to dealing with reality; eyes wide open, every single day of their lives, not knowing exactly why they are even there in the first place. Good luck to them. And good luck to the rest of us too, for that matter...



May 24, 2004, 6:30 PM

Great post. I remember when I lived in NYC I worked in an office with a politically conservative VietNam vet. We would always battle about politics, Giuliani etc. On Veterans Day I went into his office and said "Thanks for you service to our country" and I shook his hand. He freaked out - I was the only one to do that to him, and I was (in his mind) some commie pinko punk-ass art dude. It meant a lot to him that it meant something to me despite our other differences. It's cool that whatever YOUR ideas about this war we're in, you know that the soldier you met has to be there in some serious crap for all of us. We should all send art over there.


Mark Barry

May 24, 2004, 9:00 PM

Good story, you never know who you'll meet or influence when you start the day. If you have her address send her an original piece of work. You'll have a show in Bagdad and make her day.



May 24, 2004, 9:01 PM

Sending art to soldiers -- there's an idea one could work with. I like that.

I am too often overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness/powerlessness/despondency that it becomes increasingly difficult to come up with productive ways to deal with the current situation. I'm sure I'm not alone, but you would think that artists (of all people!) would be particularly apt thinking outside the provierbial box of 'business -as-usual', at locating spaces where creative alternatives can be forged.... it seems like there is this rather sizeable reservoir of ingenuity and creativity that remains, for the most part, untapped...

My brother spent the last two years overseas. His unit is comprised mostly of kids from low-income families who joined the army in order to pay for college. The military never actually paid their tuition (there is some fine print that states that they actually dont have to follow through on such promises if the economy isnt fairing too well) and since these kids werent doing something productive with themselves (e.g. not attending college) they were the first to be shipped away to Kuwait after September 11 attacks.

I was surprised to find that most of them were pretty open about their disenchantment with the US military; none of them disguised the contempt they feel for our President and his class of people. Those in his unit, they all feel cheated. They have experienced some really hellish situations.

Side note: I remember, once upon a time, seeing a Guerrilla Girls poster a cemetary scene, graduation caps on gravestones. I wish I could find a print of it somewhere. Ive looked online but without luck. I cant remember exactly what the caption read, but it went something like this: If our President had a real plan for education, where would he find his soldiers?

Anyway, it amazes me that people can face extraordinary degrees of hell-on-earth and manage not only to survive but to support one another and find beauty and happiness and vitality through their interactions with one another. It was because of their dedicated, playful companionship and their ability to find imaginative ways of morale-building that my brother's unit maintained most of its sanity. I think that art, in a lot of ways, really facillitates the kind of poetry that makes life rather exceptional in spite of adversity and violence and destitution. I'd support any cause that attempts to spread that inspired energy around a bit.



May 25, 2004, 7:10 PM

ok, so how would we send art? I'm thinking just anonymous postcards with drawings to random soldiers. Anyone know where I could find addresses?



May 25, 2004, 8:23 PM

Try these links:



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