For many students, the Iraq War is a distant tragedy. For others, the war has hit close to home, with friends and family serving overseas. On a campus where the vast majority of students are personally disconnected from the war, those who have been affected by it harbor conflicting views of patriotism, duty, and sacrifice.
This is the case for Chris Goy ’09, whose best friend Derek Slade enlisted in the army immediately following their high school graduation.
“He had never been one to truly conform and let someone make the decisions for him, but he wanted to enlist,” he said. “His choice seemed to be a positive change for him, and when I saw him before basic training, he seemed to really have it together.”
The following summer, Slade went to sharpshooter school, and eventually discovered that he would be deployed to Iraq immediately after Christmas. His family rallied behind him and his choice to stand up for his country.
“I remember we were both in freshman year of high school when we watched coverage of the Twin Towers being hit,” Goy said. “We both came from military families and understood our job of civic duty. While we were never blindly patriotic and didn’t necessarily agree with what was happening, we felt that our country needed us.”
Goy received a scholarship from the U.S. Air Force upon graduation. After much deliberation, however, he decided to attend Wesleyan instead. Slade, however, continued on with military training before shipping out to Iraq this past January. Goy noted that he tries not to dwell on the danger his friend faces on a daily basis.
“Even though I try not to think about it, I end up looking at fatality lists every week, praying his name isn’t there,” he said.
Like Goy, Derek Kuwahara ’09 is personally connected to the Iraq War. His best friend Joseph Anzack, Jr. was deployed in 2007 and didn’t return home.
“His major goal was to join the army,” he said. “I grew up with him from elementary school through high school, and we both played varsity football together. He was always a very serious and very driven kid.”
Towards the end of last year, Kuwahara was at Wesleyan when he heard a rumor that his friend was dead.
“Friends were saying that Joe was dead,” Kuwahara explained. “I talked to other guys, listened to news reports, and visited war victims’ sites, but couldn’t confirm anything. I finally sent him a message, and he replied, ’I’m not dead.’”
Later that summer, Kuwahara received a message from his football coach, who notified him that Anzack had gone missing.
“I found out that he and two other members of his Humvee battalion had been captured, and the rest of his battalion had been killed,” he said. “Joe’s father was interviewed on NBC News and bits of the story kept popping up, but his body still hadn’t been recovered. After about a week, his body turned up. He had been shot and beaten to death.”
Kuwahara’s town held a large service for Anzack on the school’s football field. His body now rests in Washington, D.C. at the Arlington National Cemetery.
“Joe went the way he wanted to,” Kuwahara said. “I’m proud of him. It’s been almost a year since his death and it’s hard to believe he’s gone.”
This tragedy has largely affected his views of Iraq.
“We’re a nation at war,” he said. “You don’t feel the impact of [this war] until something happens to someone close to you.”
Similarly, Eugene Wong ’09 has a cousin who is currently serving in Iraq.
“In 2000, my cousin Jason decided to join the Massachusetts National Guard,” he said. “This was before 9/11, before any talk of war. Then, soon after, the government called on the National Guard to go over to Iraq. It was surprising, and it wasn’t what he signed up for.”
After serving in Iraq for about a year under the National Guard, his tour ended and he came back to the United States He chose not to renew his contract with the National Guard when it ended shortly after. His role in the army, however, was far from over.
“There’s a law that makes anyone eligible to be redrafted back if it’s within two years that you served,” Wong said. “So he was redrafted back last July as part of the U.S. armed forces.”
This overseas deployment came as a surprise to Wong’s cousin, who had restarted his life after returning from Iraq.
“My cousin was working, had just gotten married, and had a kid that spring,” Wong said. “The army dropped this on his lap. It’s difficult for a new family.”
The government’s actions frustrated Wong, whose aunt now cares for his cousin’s wife and child.
“This incident made me realize that they’re desperate for troops,” he said. “It also made me realize that this is a crucial time period for us abroad. All eyes are on us. It shows how badly the U.S. doesn’t want to screw this up, and how the U.S. will go to the extent of redrafting the public to win the war.”
Goy added that while government officials have become increasingly desperate for success in Iraq, they refuse to enlist their own children in the armed forces.
“We get to choose whether or not we want to fight in the war,” he said. “I just wish that the sons and daughters of congressmen were serving so that they had a real taste of what people suffer through.”
Wong noted that his views of Iraq changed after witnessing the emotional hardship that comes from war.
“The whole incident makes me want the war to end,” he said. “But I’m still conflicted. I think we should maintain this course and not pull out, but that means maintaining troops. From a political standpoint, this incident with my cousin put things into perspective. Instead of talking about policies, we’re talking about people. It has made me look at the war on a more realistic and personal level.”
While Goy’s connection to the war has also become more personal since his friend was deployed, he still remains conflicted about the course of the war.
“Our troops are over there,” he said. “They need to know that they’re fighting for a just cause. We’re reaching a point, however, where we need to seriously reevaluate this war. To withdraw successfully and not have lost lives in vain, the U.S. needs to give the Iraqi people and insurgents a timetable. But I don’t think we should leave until we are confident that we have done everything possible for them. There is serious room for pause and reevaluation.”
Goy noted that, while his personal connection to the war may have shifted his views on the conflict, it also reaffirmed his belief in supporting the troops abroad.
“I wish more people could understand where I’m coming from, and that they wouldn’t leap to the first conclusion of getting the hell out of Iraq,” Goy said. “At the end of the day, we all go to sleep thanking whatever it is that keeps us safe at night. If we don’t maintain hope in this war, how will our soldiers?”