Thursday, March 10, 2005

In Memoriam

Literary reporter Calvin Trillin pens a profile of First Lieutenant Brian Slavenas in this week’s New Yorker . Slavenas was killed in action when his Chinook helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Trillin learned of him about a year ago while listening to NPR on a drive to his daughter’s. His story made Trillin weep and never really left his consciousness. A year later, Trillin went and visited Slavenas' family in DeKalb County, Illinois. What follows is a wrenching story of a man whose death has made those who knew him poorer. Slavenas story is also ironic. Standing 6’5 and 230lbs, Slavenas was no warrior. Those who knew him described him as a modest, “gentle giant.” When he learned he’d be shipped to Iraq, Slavenas tried to resign his commission. Before he shipped he said, “Mom, I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

His mother, Rosemarie Slavenas, organized his funeral; there were no American flags or guns in sight. After the service, she told reporters:

George Bush killed my son. I believe my son Brian died not for his country but because of our country’s lack of a coherent and civilized foreign policy.”
Rosemarie’s ex-husband and step-son, disagreed.

The stepson, Eric, told Trillin that “not having ‘Taps’ and a flag-draped casket at Brian’s service amounted to ‘spikes in my dad’s and my heart.’”

Regardless of what side people found themselves on in relation to the war, everyone agreed Brian was an amazing guy. One heartbreaking anecdote that leaves an impression is a conversation Trillin had with his ex-girlfriend. When he asks her why Brian and her broke up, she replies, “He thought I could do better.”

Trillin’s piece effectively communicates what’s lost in the ideological battle over the war: the human warmth that animated the soldier who died. Slavenas was a person; by all accounts a great one at that. This seems lost to those on the right that view soldiers as essentially cannon fodder, and those on the obtuse left that portray American soldiers as bestial killing machines of U.S. imperialism. Most soldiers in Iraq perform their duty without the privilege of knowing whether they have been utilized correctly or morally.

That responsibility rests with us.

A damn fine piece…