Trigger Warning - Strong and Offensive Language
I was on a nuclear submarine in the Indian Ocean about 6 hours away from the Suez Canal the day the attacks took place. We were less than a day from leaving the Indian Ocean to return to the Mediterranean sea to enjoy a port call in Crete.
It was about 12 hours after the attack happened that we received word about it. I was asleep in my rack when the Captain came over the 1mc (submarine loudspeaker) and said some words I didn’t quite grasp. Something about New York, World Trade Centers, and us turning around. I remember thinking to myself how it didn’t sound like a training announcement. And another more senior Sailor poking his head out of his rack said, “it was probably that Bin Laden.
“Who the fuck is Bin Laden?” I whispered to myself.
I was 22 years old, sitting in the middle of the ocean waiting for the word to send every ounce of ordinance we had into Afghanistan. 3 weeks later we would send 27 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles into that country. Several weeks after that we got verification via satellite imagery of the targets we had successfully blown up.
In the middle of that timeline is just boredom and waiting.
Now that I bring this up, I want to touch on the poem “Quiet” and could we have reminded silent instead of sending every bit of “fuck yeah” into this 3rd world country? What I want to share is my experience of all 27 of those missile launches. Sailors I served with went down to the Torpedo Room to sign their names on the missiles. Some went down to write “Fuck you Towel Head”. Others wrote “Faggot Sand Niggers” and I remember someone handing me a sharpie and I am glad I declined.
We had barely seen pictures of what had happened back home and here we were on the other side of the world, channeling our hate, and blowing someone else up because someone had told us to. It was one of the most confusing times of my life.
When a missile is launched from a submarine, for about 2 seconds you can watch it leave the water through the periscope. It shakes the ship (fast attack submarines displace 7000 tons of water), a large flash lights up the dark above the water (we always launch at night), and then just like that it is gone. All that anger and hate is gone in about 2 seconds, and then boredom takes back over. The boredom that we as Sailors, this is a generalization of course, takes over our lives while we await someone to tell us our purpose.
Remaining quiet in a way is what keeps us in this loop of violence. Though that quiet is about who we truly are, the things we really want to accomplish, the things we truly love. Allegory or otherwise we are instead quiet awaiting someone else to tell us what is right or wrong. Speaking up for the humanity inside of ourselves is what can keep us from blowing up stuff. And when someone attacks us, asking ourselves honestly if retaliation gets us closer to our goals could help us from mindlessly following such orders.
As far as erasing or creating boundaries the more we drop bombs on each other the more the residual side damage will continue to create division. This could be about war specifically or this could be about how we talk to each other on Twitter. It could be about how we have so much anger in us and so anxious to sign up to fight. We should be finding better ways to channel that anger and sharing with others our stories of how we did that. Because I don’t like my submarine, missile, and racial slurs story. It didn’t feel heroic. It felt divisive nearly 20 years ago and it feels divisive today.