Soldier Responds To Letter From A First Grader

Dear Mackenzie,

Thanks for your kind words. The support of young Americans like you makes everything we do feel at least marginally worthwhile. But let’s get a few things straight.

First of all, I’m not your friend. In fact, I specifically tried to avoid receiving this letter to save myself the burden of writing you back.

Second, your black-and-white characterization of this conflict grossly misunderstands the complexity of modern warfare and, indeed, the folly of declared war against any group as broadly unspecific as “the terrorists.”

This isn’t World War II, and the extent to which I am “good” and the enemy is “bad” is subject to debate — just ask anyone who’s ever woken up to a Hellfire landing in the backyard. It’s inaccurate, in any case, to suggest that we’re here fighting any sort of unified adversary. On a given day, I couldn’t tell you if I’m being shot at by Taliban, Haqqani, Hezb-e Isalmi, Taj Mir Jawad, or the Afghan National Army. At a certain point, when you’re surrounded by people who hate you, there comes a time for looking inward.

The truth is I’m not a “hero,” and what I do has no bearing at all on your daily life. Seriously, what am I “saving” you from? Al-Qaeda abandoned its goal of a global caliphate years ago and has since retooled to source a collection of loosely affiliated regional insurgencies that, while dangerous, won’t disrupt your flow of touch screens and high fructose corn syrup anytime soon.

Frankly, it’s this very sort of half-baked, yellow-ribbon-car-magnet, support-the-troops bullshit that has made the perpetuation of America's commitment in Afghanistan as palatable as it’s been to a country of binge consumers unanimously ignorant to what’s actually going on out here.

Despite my distaste for limp platitudes, I am, by all rights, a patriot. For this reason, I find your depiction of our nation’s flag with six stars and five stripes particularly offensive. The United States flag has fifty stars, one for each state, and thirteen stripes to symbolize each of the original colonies. Perhaps if even a fraction of the $680 billion blown on this war had been reapportioned to public education you would know this.

If you really wanted to do something nice for me this Christmas, you might instead have written your congressman. You might have said to him or her that you were fed up with the waste and disgusted by the endemic mismanagement of this so-called war. Or you might have simply told that cloying, self-satisfied teacher of yours to shove it.

But don’t let me harp. It’s simply my hope that, somewhere in between Saturday morning cartoons and learning to add and subtract, you’ll stop and apply a dose of critical thinking to your assessment of our military’s role abroad.

Thanks again for the letter and happy holidays. Punk.

Very Respectfully, Sergeant First Class Patrick Fenway Logar Province, Afghanistan

P.S. The butterfly in your picture is wildly out of proportion.

Friends Rusty, Collin, and Amy also contributed to this response.