War, up close and personal

Greg Kane

We have a tendency as Americans to talk about war in the same detached way we would discuss sports, entertainment and other trivial concerns. A conversation over whether President Bush should send troops to Iraq can easily segue into a debate over which point guard should start for the Kings. Or whether Michael Jordan should have stayed retired. Or which suitor “The Bachelorette” should have chosen.

This doesn’t mean Americans don’t care, as the hundreds of thousands of people at recent anti-war protests across the country can attest.

But for the citizens of what is arguably one of the most powerful nations in history — a nation with nearly impenetrable borders — war just doesn’t seem real.

It happens on television and in the newspapers. It is recreated on film, so we can experience its horrors in widescreen and Surround Sound. It is told and retold by refugees and soldiers and journalists, whose faces and voices are beamed into our homes and wedged between stories about car accidents and weather.

It is there, but it’s not there.

Sacramento State student Jason Weston is an American, but he sees the impending conflict with Iraq from a different perspective than most other students — by the time it happens, he may be in the middle of it. The 23-year-old is a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves.

His bags are already packed. Weston is one phone call away from the unfathomable — a living, breathing war.

“I know what can happen. I know it can get ugly,” Weston says. “Fear of not coming back is the largest thing. Saddam doesn’t shoot at you. Most of the time he uses chemicals and gas.”

When we think of Iraqi “President” Saddam Hussein, he’s almost like a cartoon character. We spoof him on Saturday Night Live and in movies like Hot Shots and make fun of him in political cartoons. When Weston mentions the name, however, it takes on more gravity. He could actually be on the other end of that gas we hear so much about.

To him, war is all too real.

“At Christmas time I was really dwelling on it, and it was affecting me pretty badly,” Weston says. “Now, I’m just like, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ It’ll eat you alive if you keep on thinking about it.”

Weston is part of a telecommunications unit trained to hook large combat units into a phone system — “Kind of like Pacific Bell,” he says. Since large numbers of U.S. troops would have to be in Iraq for his services to be necessary, a phone call at the Weston house would indicate a serious war effort.

“You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of troops,” Weston says.If recent reports are any indications, we’re not far off from those numbers. On Feb. 18, CNN reported that the U.S. already has 100,000 troops in Kuwait preparing for an attack on Iraq. The U.S. also wants to put 40,000 additional troops in Turkey for a smaller attack from the north.

Unless a miracle happens, there will be an U.S. attack on Iraq. If additional troops are sent to the Middle East, there’s a good chance Weston will be among them.

He’s not happy or sad about it. He doesn’t want to leave, but he won’t dwell on the negatives, either. To him and thousands of other U.S. troops, the impending war isn’t about political ideologies or beliefs. It’s not about right and wrong. It’s not open to debate.

Weston won’t be able to change the channel. To him, war is a reality. It’s there.

“Nobody really wants to go, but you can’t really judge what’s going on,” Weston says. “You just have to do your duty.”

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