Who will suffer?

By Jaime O'Neill

This is Aimie's war.

Aimie can't make it to class today, and Aimie is never absent. She comes to my office to turn in work that is due and to get the next assignment. It is still early in the semester, and I have not gotten to know my students yet, but Aimie has already impressed me with her eagerness to please, her sunny disposition and her absolute diligence. She always takes a seat in the front row, always responds to questions, but there is not a whiff of sycophancy about her. She's just a good student, a rare enough specimen to be readily identifiable even early on.

She's a tall girl with an open face, and she's seldom without a smile. Even this morning, she offers one, though she tells me she'll be absent because her baby is sick and she's managed to get an appointment with the doctor, an appointment that conflicts with my class.

I'm surprised. She seems almost too young to have a baby, but then my students look a bit younger each year. Still, I doubt she's much over 19. From papers she's written, I've assumed her life to be less complicated. She's on the women's vollyball team and this new revelation about her baby forces me to readjust a bundle of stereotypes I've created for her.

She apologizes profusely for the absence, and tells me she is worried she may have to miss the next class meeting as well.

"Don't wory about it," I say. "Our kids have to come first."

"That's very true," she answers, and I can see a flicker of stress leave her face.

She has a daughter, nearly a year old. Her husband, she says, is "in Iraq."

"In Iraq?" I say.

ÓWell, not in Iraq exactly," she says. Not yet, anyway. But you know, over there."

That revelation puts me adrift. The simple world I had constructed for this girl to live in is not at all the world she inhabits. The obvious and innocent trust she has placed in me and in people my age, the figures of authority, suddenly seems almost sinister.

The clouds of war have hung heavy over this entire semester, but now those clouds are low over head. Aimie's husband, the father of her baby, puts the coming storm on local radar, and I can see clearly that it's going to rain here, too, not just with heightened terror alerts and spiraling budget deficits and global tensions. Here, in the brave and smiling face of this young mother, is the war in Iraq stripped of all the rhetoric and embodied in flesh -- hers, her husband's and her new baby girl's.

Those glibly brave words from on high about evildoers and weapons of mass destruction all come down, finally, to young poeple putting their lives at risk.

Aimie's sick baby has been enlisted in Rumsfeld's war, and thousands of Iraqi babies are draftees in Hussein's army, their nascent lives on the line. Those lives have been placed in the hands of men my age, and the young have little choice but to hope those men are wise. I feel no assurance that they are. I see, instead, men whose egos are very much engaged, men whose lives have mostly been lived playing dice with the lives of people whose lives are just beginning.

Across the nation, young people like Aimie carry on while waiting for the next thing to happen. They do housework and homework, and take sick babies to the doctor.

Once fired, a bullet travels through time eternally. It takes the life of the one it kills, and of the children he would have had, and the children they would have had, ad infinitum. In that context, all weapons are weapons of mass destruction, and such weapons will soon be loosed. Those bullets will ricochet far into the future, into Aimie's future, into Aimie's baby's future, into the futures of untold numbers of babies here and throughout the world.

"Our kids must come first," I'd told Aimie, and she's said, "that's very true." I wish I had confidence that the men who authorize the firing of those eternal bullets were more mindful of the kids.

Aimie leaves my office, goes to pick up her baby at her mother's house for the trip to the doctor. In an hour, I will collect the batch of student papers from her class, mark those papers in the fragile faith that these kids are preparing for bright and secure futures. That faith is hard held in these times.

Who Will Fight the War?

Who Armed Iraq?

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