Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Big Tobacco Reports From Iraq on His War of Atonement


I asked Big Tobacco to write a guest post about whether he would be able to attend Jewish New Year services at his FOB (Forward Operating Base) in Iraq. He got inspired and wrote this very compelling response. We agreed that he and I would both put this post on our individual blogs before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Here is Big Tobacco’s Day of Atonement blog post:

I will not smoke today.

She stands in front of me in the chow line. I see a tattoo on the back of her neck. I lean closer and notice that the tattoo is of a placard written in English and Arabic that sits on the back of the last gun truck in every convoy.

Stay Back 100 Meters
Or You Will Be Shot

I wonder how she is ever going to get a job in the real world with a tattoo like that.

I’m judgmental.

I’m in my barracks room. One of my roommates is a Christian and he spends at least twenty minutes a day in silent prayer. I lie in my bed and look at porn on my laptop while he kneels by his bed to pray. Strangely, I don’t see anything wrong with this arrangement.

I’m disrespectful.

I sit on a bench near the FOB Burger King and smoke a cigar while I finish my Whopper. A female sergeant sits at the far side of the bench. I ask her about her unit patch. She responds. I joke with her, drawing out each intoxicating laugh. When she moves her hand, I see that she is married. This doesn’t dissuade me. I have to keep her laughing, drawing her closer and waiting for the opening that will get me a tent number or a promise from her to see me later.

I’m an adulterer.

I attend “Lunch With The Rabbi” in Kuwait. When I arrive at the chapel, the rabbi hands me a Kosher MRE. I expected brisket or at least a kosher corned beef sandwich. I grimace and put the MRE in my bag. Then the rabbi wants me to study the Torah with him.

“Study?” I say. “Sir, I’ve got the Cliff Notes. I try to follow at least five or six of the Ten Commandments. I’m workin’ my way up, though. I’m gettin’ there, sir. I’m getting there.”

He gives me a pocket prayer book for Jewish soldiers, insisting that it will keep me safe. I toss it in the trash when I leave. Gotta’ travel light. Not enough room in my rucksack for G-d. My situational awareness will keep me safe. My 5 and 25* will keep me safe. A book is just a book.

I don’t make time to study the Torah.

I’m at Camp Attabury, Indiana, for an Army NCO development school. I go out and get drunk every night, but I have trouble getting the attention of girls at the bar because my classmates are far more muscular and better looking than me. I start wearing my yarmulke when I go out to the bars. Now the girls flock to me because I’m different and interesting. The yarmulke is a great ice-breaker and works like a charm.

I use my religion as a punch line instead of as a way of life.

I’m in the chow hall again. Although I turned my nose up at the pork sausage for breakfast, I let the KBR contractors pile on the steak and crab legs. I eat every crab leg on my plate and go back up to the line for more.

I obey G-d’s laws when it suits me to do so.

I’m home. My wife drags me to temple with relatives who are Conservative Jews, a branch of Judaism that just doesn’t know how to have fun. I loath sitting in synagogue listening to people I rarely see read from the Torah and babble in a language I’m barely conversational in. I turn to my wife and say:

“I’ve had enough. I’m going to sleep. Wake me at Aleinu.”

I don’t respect my family.

I’m in the parking lot of Har Zion, a Conservative temple on the Main Line in Philadelphia. Services are over and I sit in my car and light up a cigar. A congregant walks over to me and asks me to respect the Sabbath and put out the cigar.

“Listen, dude,” I say. “It doesn’t exactly look like you walked here.”

His face betrays shock and he leaves me alone. My wife stares at me in horror.

I don’t obey the Sabbath.

It is the last night in Kuwait before we fly to Iraq. A number of soldiers call their families to say goodbye. I decide against calling my wife, even though any number of things could happen to the plane as we fly over a war zone. My wife will cry if I call and this will be a pain in the neck. I don’t feel like dealing with her so I go to sleep instead.

I don’t treat my wife as well as I should.

I don’t know, G-d. I guess the war in Iraq isn’t the only war I’m fighting right now.

But I promise I’ll try to fight harder.

*5 and 25 is a drill that is done [in Iraq] any time a vehicle stops. Too many people were getting blown up from IEDs that were directly under their vehicle. So now when you stop the vehicle, before you get out you open the door and look at the ground below your feet. If it is clear, you get out. Then you scan out to five meters. Once the five meters around the perimeter of the vehicle is clear, you scan out to 25 meters.

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