Four years ago today I called my mother.
I was in Iraq. Bloodied. Cold. Sobbing. I called her because I had no one else; nobody that I could turn to that could extinguish the anguish I felt. At that moment I didn't want to be a Marine, or a warrior, or a hero. I wanted to be her son.
Earlier this week another Marine called his mother, this time from Afghanistan. It was Valentine's Day, and Teresa Danford was missing the only Valentine that mattered to her; hoping, praying that she might hear his voice. While at work her phone rang. She quickly recognized the number as the satellite phone her son, Lance Corporal Mark Ryhne, would call from at random times. Disregarding her company's no-cell phone policy, Teresa answered the phone -- knowing that it could have been the Marine Corps informing her that her son had been shot, maimed or captured. I don't pretend to know what was said during that conversation, but I can only imagine that it was the best Valentine Teresa and her son ever received.
Unfortunately, Teresa's employer, Crane Interiors, did not view the situation with the same sympathy that I'm sure we all do. The next day, her employer informed her that she would be suspended three days without pay.
It just so happens that this wasn't the first time Crane Interiors was unsympathetic to Teresa and her Marine son. Six months ago, just prior to boarding a plane for Afghanistan, Mark tried to visit his mother for lunch. Because of company policy, Mark and his mother had to eat their lunch in the parking lot. Apparently exceptions could not be made for a deploying young man and his heart-broken mother.
Today, five days after her suspension, and only after this was exposed in the media, Crane has announced that it will repay Teresa her lost wages and allow her to return to work on Monday.
I'm not impressed.
Crane Interiors has received a deluge of bad press in the past twenty-four hours following Teresa going public with the situation. Their public statement lacked any admission of wrong-doing, and fell short of what I would call an apology. To me, this situation represents something more.
This situation, this decision, by Crane -- a decision, in my opinion, devoid of sympathy and compassion to a Blue Star Mother -- represents a much larger, more pervasive problem.
America doesn't care.
America wants to forget that it has been at war for more than nine years. America wants to forget that it has sons and daughters fighting in foreign lands; and it obviously wants to forget that it has mothers paying the ultimate price. At the end of the day, America doesn't want to care.
But what of Mark? What of his mother, Teresa? Are they to be pushed to the sidelines of American priorities, as Crane Interiors tried? Why is it that our public has decided to refocus its efforts on 'domestic' issues?
Is there anything more domestic than a US Marine?
What breeds from the fundamental disconnect between the American public and the military? There is a danger in the indifference of the American public and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that danger is that the American public no longer holds the officials they have elected accountable for defining a strategy and winning the wars which they have entered us into. Losing a visceral connection to the violence and reality of war has led us down a path towards endless conflict, and a growing divide between those sharing the sacrifice of war and those who are indifferent to it.
Are you indifferent?