Where's Your Mom? Kirkuk. That's in Texas?

[Dwayne Betts]

Nah, Kirkuk isn't in Texas. Kirkuk is Iraq, 156 miles north of Baghdad. Last time I was here, I talked about the blues any war gives, the unexpected ways people find themselves in war, and all the tragedy that brings. I learned something writing that post. In my own writing, I came off as an ageist. When you write from emotion, I think to some degree it's easy to forget that people who've touched down on the half-century mark still take pride in what their hands can do. 


I wrote from the place that says your mother shouldn't be in a war with a gun if you aren't. Forget the fact that I can't get into the military, forget the fact that I have no real desire to be in the military (unless I was a fighter pilot). I'm talking that visceral understanding that if you're fighting in a war, no matter what you're doing, it's dangerous, and the son should shoulder danger before the mother. But that came off skewed, and me and this guy had a heated back and forth--he told me how the military pushed the retirement age back to allow experienced soldiers that they had to hire as contract workers to stay in, and he talked about patriotism, and we went on until like 1 in the AM.

And now we're here, with me talking about Kirkuk again. But I have a different song, kinda.

Lately I've been asked about my moms far too often in public. Asked about mothers in general. It's only too often because it's always about troubles from my past and how that changed our relationship, and how the prison system impacts black women, etc. etc. But the other day, a few weeks ago my moms was in the Washington Post. The AP story isn't available on the Post site anymore, but you can find it here.


Long story short, there was a memorial for the fallen soldiers in Iraq in which weeds were erasing names. My mom began going out and cleaning the memorial. Because bombs and things go off out there, she had to rock her military helmet, but she was out there. A reporter got word and an article was done talking about the memorial and the cleaning of it and the dead soldiers.

I've protested the war. I've written poems and articles against it. I'm no fan of wars, I guess, and definitely not this one, which has become discarded by everyone from President Obama to McCain for the next hot political item as soldiers get sent back and forth to places more dangerous than fire in the California hills. Yet, I'm a fan of soldiers. James McPherson has a really intriguing book on the literacy level of Civil War soldiers. He argues that those soldiers were the most literate in history and actually grappled with what caused the war. I think about my mom, I think about the other soldiers there and the names on that memorial and I wonder how engaged they are with the reasons behind the war. But more than that, I wonder how engaged I am, and all the critics of the war are, with the names on that wall. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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