This poem came out of the May 1, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from laffingkat and, as noted, a famous slogan from war protests. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.
He had joined the military
expecting to become a hero
and save democracy.
What he learned was that
becoming a soldier did not
automatically make anyone a hero
and that the army was not a democracy.
Nor was it possible, he realized,
to raise the level of freedom in a nation
just by dropping platoons of soldiers into it
like pebbles into a pitcher
of not-quite-enough water.
There was nothing particularly valorous or patriotic
about hiding belly-down in the drab yellow sand
or shooting pubescent boys because they might have a gun.
The fighting wore away at his ideals the way
the sand got into his boots and scraped through his skin.
The blisters on his feet eventually healed,
and his soul grew its own callous protection
against what he had seen and could never unsee.
He began to understand the protest banner:
Killing for peace is like fucking for virginity.
There is no chastity in a whorehouse.
There is no peace on a battlefield.
Between tours of duty, he went home,
and hit his girlfriend when she argued with him.
After she left him, he listened to the loud silence of the house
and discovered that there was no peace off the battlefield either,
that he had forgotten how to live in peace
even when it was all around him.
Only when deployment came and combat reclaimed him
did he feel at home again, caught in the chatter of gunfire.
Then he knew what truly came from the constant state of war.
The end does not justify the means.
The means determine the end.