Learning from Reyam: In Freedom’s Name
By MONICA BENDERMAN
Reyam is fourteen years old. Her name means “white gazelles”. She’s a beautiful girl who loves to draw and chat with her friends. She’s bright, and works hard on her lessons. It’s three in the morning in Georgia, and the computer monitor and two candles cast the only light in the room as Reyam and I chat on the internet. She hopes she does well on her test in school. She would love to have a puppy, and her instant message icon changes weekly to fit the current teenage trends.
The miracle of technology, Reyam is teaching me Arabic using microphones, instant messages and something I’m still getting used to called an IMvironment. Reyam is in Baghdad. She “buzzes” my computer and I hear her talking – she is gentle, intelligent and caring, her parents should be proud. She tells me she hears bombings and it makes her scared. She tells me she sometimes wants to hide under her bed and she thinks she might cry. She tells me she tries so hard not to cry. She doesn’t want to cry, “I am an Iraqi, and I must be brave.”
Her generator loses power and our connection is ended for the night.
It’s five in the morning. In a parking lot opposite an abandoned Winn-Dixie store sits an old red pick-up with more rust than paint and a rope holding the hood down. The driver’s door is open and sticking out are a pair of slippered feet. The man they belong to is trying to sleep. Everything he owns is piled into the bed of the truck.
He once called himself ‘Honest Abe’, and is the spitting image of our sixteenth president. For years he traveled to schools around the country sharing his love for history in a one-act play he had written, dressed in the black hat and tails of his namesake. Now accused of stealing money from the people he worked for over the past five years, he has been arrested and released. He had worked for room and board and for reasons known to him, his social security was meager. He cared more about teaching children our country’s history than saving money for his retirement. His hands and feet are blistered with open wounds; a skin disease no one seems able to diagnose. Not wanting the burden of having to care for him, the city has decided to let him live in the parking lot until his court date. A police officer has said that it would be best if the man simply died.
In Iraq, the United States military is “surging” to strengthen the security of a country whose borders had once been secure, now decimated from an invasion by the United States military. Some people in the United States actually still believe our soldiers are over there fighting for our freedom. Thousands of Iraqis become refugees from their homeland every day. Thousands more have died in the four years this fiasco has continued on. This is for freedom?
I sit and think about my friends in Iraq, the Iraqi people we talk with, the soldiers who tell us what they face and how they believe; and I take a look around this United States, my home.
Let me tell you something about freedom.
Freedom does not rely on history. Freedom does not rely on endless lectures on where our culture has been and where it is going.
Freedom does not rely on young men and women signing their lives away for an enlistment bonus serving as nothing more than a glittery facade to keep innocents from knowing they’re about to become slaves.
Freedom does not rely on wars being fought on foreign soil so we don’t have to face our enemies at home.
Freedom does not rely on the work of past generations, so that this generation can remain idle in their responsibility, consumed by achieving the pretense of success.
Freedom does not rely on others fighting our battles while we profess moral support for their actions from living rooms and computer monitors where our words are posted using pseudonyms so our government cannot track our actions.
It is August. At the end of the month the final brigades designated as part of the “surge” for security in Iraq are scheduled to deploy from Fort Stewart. Soldiers don’t hide their feelings much any more. In grocery stores, gas stations and local businesses, more and more soldiers are willing to express their displeasure at the continued deployments with no definitive end. Some soldiers are returning for their fourth deployment in four years.
I will hear from those who tell me soldiers volunteered to serve, they get what they deserve. Others will tell me soldiers can stop fighting at any time. Still more will write and remind me that our soldiers are fighting for our freedom, and we should honor them by supporting them and allowing them to continue their work.
In Georgia this weekend, residents are gearing up for “tax free shopping.” Parking lots of shopping malls will be full of vehicles bearing faded out ribbons with barely legible words. “I Support the Troops.”
Two years ago tonight I received a phone call at three in the morning. It was my husband calling from the County Jail. He was being taken in the night to an airport in nearby Savannah to fly three thousand miles away to serve the sentence imposed by a military judge who oversaw the kangaroo court-martial his commanders fabricated and manipulated. No one in the command bothered to tell me what they had up their sleeve, but the past two years were a sentence from hell, as much for waiting for the promises of “support” to materialize from those who claimed to have the best interests of soldiers in mind as for the reasons he was put in prison to begin with.
A ten year veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq, Kevin had seen the reality of what he had been asked to do, and took action to stand against it. Kevin was proud to serve, he was proud of what he gave this country. He trusted people when they said they would stand with him as he fought against actions that violated his commitment to serve with honor. He believes in the Constitution and his oath to defend its laws, enough that he refused to give in to the threats and intimidation of his command even if it were to avoid spending time in prison for his beliefs.
It was midnight last night as I witnessed a scene played out repeatedly at our house in the year since he was released from prison; anger and frustration from facing the reality that the country he believed in and gave so much to really does not care, regardless of what a soldier fights for.
We learn more daily about the depth of the surveillance program that threatens the freedoms of people in the United States. The Patriot Act becomes more invasive with every renewal. People complain about their liberties being taken away as they continue to laud the efforts of our soldiers in Iraq keeping us free.
Freedom is earned. Freedom is fought for, not with guns, but by standing strong for the values and principles which define the laws of our Constitution. Freedom takes work. Freedom takes commitment. Freedom means taking a realistic look at ourselves, our goals and our actions; knowing we are living our truth, but not at the expense of another’s freedom.
Freedom requires courage and diligence.
Freedom requires action from all, not just a few. We have freely allowed the homeland of millions of innocent Iraqis to be destroyed. We have freely allowed a war to continue for over four years, creating a spending deficit which will take generations to overcome, putting lives in turmoil, and dividing our nation. We are freely allowing our freedoms to be taken away.
It is midnight in Georgia. In the distance is the sound of artillery rounds pounding from the training grounds of Fort Stewart. We hear them nightly now as the final brigades of the latest surge make final preparations to deploy. “I am an American, I must be brave,” though what I see from my country is enough to make a person cry.
Monica Benderman is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war and the destruction it causes to civilians and to American military personnel. Please visit their website, www.BendermanDefense.org to learn more.
Monica and Kevin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org