When a sibling joins the military, adopt the flag. Accept it all blindly, a patriot at heart unwilling not to support the mission. Ignore your doubts.
Slap him on his back, the child you sang bedtime songs to, now a soldier fighting for your country. Do this even when you despise the politics that drove your country into war under false pretenses. Do this even when he demonstrates no understanding of the current conflict or the region whose language he intends to learn.
Wear the ribbon. Believe the rhetoric.
Because, if you cannot support your brother–who in the anonymity of the Army is now your country–who can you support?
When you go to his swearing-in ceremony, keep your mouth shut when the recruitment officer who signed away six years of your brother’s life informs him he must attend church every Sunday during boot camp to avoid punishment. Hold it tightly closed when he tells him that foregoing the service would mean his commanding officer would not receive the two hours off and would find chores punishing enough that he will be so eager to worship a god that he never misses a service again.
Stifle the part of you that asks if there is more than one service. If there are choices for the soldiers who’ve signed up — many of them video game addicts who associate war with pixels that regenerate in a different spot after each kill so they get another chance to come out on top.
Do not ask if they can choose between an evangelical Christian sermon (like the ones your parents drilled into you) or a Jewish Sabbath the night before or an Islamic service. Or even a non-punishment producing Atheist option.
Silence yourself in the name of duty because suggesting that coerced religion in the armed services is tantamount to forced religion in the country will call into question your brother’s honor. Your country may disown you. Your parents will disdain you, even as the sibling who traveled across country for the ceremony.
When you come home for the holidays, resign yourself to the fact that you will be the default black sheep. That your brother, of age but still mentally a teenager, will have elevated adult status over you, regardless of your seven years seniority or publishing record. Your words, your life, have nothing to do with honor.
Be prepared for him to bring along a Bible, verses highlighted, and present it to your father, who will cry tears of validation over your brother’s devoutness. Ignore his well-documented behavior that so contradicts the scriptures he quotes. Think nothing of it when he tells your parents that he almost couldn’t get one of the pocket books, so many other soldiers wanted one, too.
When the brother who once swore to you he would have killed your rapist, your ex-husband, had he only known and been older at the time, declares that you consider him a rapist if he’s not out fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, know that your ensuing panic attack will not reach through the rhetoric he so quickly and so blindly adopted. Know that his violent screams spewing hatred will be the general reaction any time you dare counter his assertion You’re welcome for your freedom with a question about what freedoms you wouldn’t have were he not studying Arabic in Monterey, California.
From here on out, your mother will comfort him, rather than you. You will forever be the ungrateful sister who dares question the narrative of the armed forces and descends into classless hyperventilation when she discovers that her brother’s attitudes toward rape resemble those of her rapist.
You are the girl. Silly you, thinking that you might ask for more understanding. More insight. That your parents might read your words, might want to know the real reason behind your divorce from a man they never particularly liked, anyway. Foolish, thinking that you might deserve a bit of indignation at an accusation that you hold any soldier responsible as a rapist when you disagree with the government’s war.
Instead, wonder silently. Who is it that gets to decide who we criticize? Who is it that indoctrinates the young men we prepare to send into their own vicious PTSD with the belief that anyone who disagrees is the enemy?
If you want to call yourself a patriot, you must consider it appropriate that religion is mandated, that women are lesser, that you cannot question the powers and people who send our youth, unprepared, into unnecessary war. When you speak out, prepare yourself to lose not only your country, but your family as well. Because, at the end of the day, no parent in your family greets their visiting child with a welcoming sign and unconditional love if she isn’t serving her country, their god.
Kathryn Roberts’ fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared online and in print in various journals, most recently in Elohi Gadugi, DigBoston, Metazen, and Pithead Chapel. Fomite Press released my debut novel, Companion Plants, in October 2014. She is a dual-genre MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts and live in Vermont with her husband, where they run a small bookselling business.
Featured image courtesy of www.flickr.com/photos/andriuxuk/.