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If there’s a song I’ve identified with strongly over the past decade, It’s got to be “Hands Held High” by Linkin Park.  Bear with me now, it’s not one of their screamy emo songs, and it’s worth a listen in my opinion.

It has really changed for me throughout the years.

I remember when this album was released in 2007, shortly before I joined the navy.  Every step of the way through my enlistment, my service, and my separation – my understanding and appreciation for the song has grown.

I was a young man who saw his best friend join the marines headed to serve in Iraq/Afghanistan.  I remember the day he told me he would enlist, I walked through the rain the his house to talk to him in the middle of the night.  Being the over dramatic 18 year old I was, it felt like I was losing a friend – I was scared I might never see him again.

I remember crying, though I’m not sure I showed him my tears.

Nearly a decade later, I’ve not seen him in years, but feel as close to him as when he left for boot camp.  We (vets) often rely on the words “brothers and sisters” to describe our attachment to our fellow service members, though I believe we mostly have specific individuals in mind when we say it.

And it’s true, I think of him as much a brother as I do a friend.  (For the remainder of the article I will refer to him as “John”, though name is changed to protect privacy).

“Jump when they tell us they want to see jumpin
Fuck that! I want to see some fists pumpin
Risk somethin’, take back what’s yours
Say somethin’ that you know they might attack you for

Cause I’m sick of bein’ treated like I have before
Like I’m stupid standin for what I’m standin for
Like this war’s really just a different brand of war
Like it doesn’t cater to rich and abandon poor”

Before I joined, I can clearly remember hearing this as a call to action.  In my naivety, thinking I had a duty to serve – that i should follow the example of John, of my parents, and enlist in the military.

In all my misplaced bravado, I asked John to walk me into the Marines recruiting office when he was home on leave.  John, knowing me, asked me if I was sure – saying “I won’t be responsible for you being unhappy.  This is your decision”.

He knew me better than I knew myself – and I’m lucky the marines weren’t in the office each time I went down there, because I would have been a miserable Marine.

Not a terrible Sailor, though.  I think I did ok as a squid.

This last bit though…

“Like this war’s really just a different brand of war
Like it doesn’t cater to rich and abandon poor

Like they understand you in the back of the jet
When you can’t put gas in your tank
These fuckers are laughin their way to the bank and cashin’ the check
Askin’ you to have compassion and have some respect”

I always thought (when I was young) that most people join the military to “kill things and blow shit up” (to sum it up).  It took a good long 4 years for it to settle that the choice to join is as complicated and nuanced as any individual person is.

For some, the Military was their path out of poverty.  For others, it was rebellion against parents and people making all your decisions for you (oh the irony).

Some people struggling to get by saw it as a last resort, or as a way to escape a dangerous childhood (sometimes by putting themselves in even more danger).

Others joined out of a sense of duty to country or family, and some even came in “Because i didn’t want to go to college and my friends were doing it”.

I joined because

  1. I didn’t want to spend $80,000 to figure out i didn’t want to do something,
  2. I needed to get the fuck out of dodge, and
  3. my parents were military, my best friend was military, I wanted to be military.

So naturally, as an 18 year old shithead, I thought everyone’s story was as simple as mine.

I didn’t really understand these lyrics.   I had a great home life.  I grew up in middle-class white suburbia.  Nothing horrifically tragic ever happened to us.  All my friends were relatively nice.  I was mister happy-go-lucky.


Then I started seeing my shipmates having problems.

Broke – sending money home to family.  Why aren’t they working?  (2008…)

Debt problems.  How hard is it to understand not to overspend?

Drug use.  How hard is it to follow an order?  Just don’t do that thing.

Drinking and DUI’s.  What the hell man, call a cab.

Sailors w/ families get special treatment (good schedules, days off).  What about ME?

Fraternization happening everywhere.  Just follow the rules people.


As always, it all comes back around.

During my first tour I was burning the candle at both ends.  After work I would take acting, singing, and piano lessons.  I would get involved in some local charities/non-profits.  I was getting to know locals and have a life outside the command.

It was like living a double life.  People in the military “couldn’t see me being an actor”, and people in my classes “couldn’t see me being in the military”.  I was in a long distance relationship with someone who was arguably abusive.  The stress finally got to me, and my mental health started to decline.

Constantly exhausted, I found myself falling asleep during night shifts at work.  My chief found me one day (not the first time) and went off.  I broke down.  I cried.  I acknowledged that, despite my seemingly fantastic life, I was having suicidal thoughts.  I wasn’t taking care of myself.

He stopped, and he listened.  He took me aside and found help for me.   He did everything I wasn’t doing for the people around me.

I was being an asshole to everyone around me.  Everything was us vs. them.  I happened to do well at my job, and I felt superior to my shipmates.

It’s ironic that I spent so much time trying to be other people on stage, but I never really took the time to actually try to understand the people right in front of me.


I secluded myself a bit more after that.  I started to be protective of my time.  I tried, but struggled, to change my holier-than-thou attitude toward my work and my co-workers.

One day, a shipmate was getting hounded by someone for making a mistake.  And I could see on her face something was wrong.  I stepped in, asked her to step outside, and then tried to do what that chief did for me.  I asked her if everything was ok, and it turns out it wasn’t.  We got her the help she needed (at least I hope we did).

That’s when it really started to click for me.  That’s when I started to see the people in the military as my family.

That’s  about when I really started to understand these words.

Like they understand you in the back of the jet
When you can’t put gas in your tank
These fuckers are laughin their way to the bank and cashin’ the check
Askin’ you to have compassion and have some respect

For all the disdain and disregard I showed, I failed miserably at showing compassion and respect for the people around me.  Though they were present, I never really took the time to listen and let them into my life.  Even as they went out of their way to try to steer me in the right direction.

There was me, ignorant of life and mostly happy, telling people – Follow those orders.  Do what you’re told.  What’s so complicated?

Our pasts are complicated.  Our families are complicated.  Our love lives are complicated.  Addiction is complicated.  Money is complicated.   Health, especially mental health, is complicated.


My acting coach used to tell me “It’s easy to find the differences between you and your character.  Stop doing that.  Find the similarities.”

In my livin room watchin but I am not laughin
‘Cause when it gets tense, I know what might happen
The world is cold, the bold men take action
Have to react to get blown into fractions

10 years old is somethin’ to see
Another kid my age drugged under a jeep
Taken and bound and found later under a tree
I wonder if he had thought, “The next one could be me”

Now here’s some grade-A writing.  This verse alone has changed drastically for me in the short span of just a few years after getting out of the military.

As an 18-year old bravado heavy aspiring future-vet, I could only think “Me before them”.  I should join and do this, I should be one of the “the bold men” taking action.  I’ll be the one to save that kid.  I’ll be the one to help make sure these tragedies never happen.


9 Years later, and this verse gets me angry.  It pisses me off.  It reminds me of the horror we’ve inflicted on a bunch of anonymous brown people, and the utter neglect we show for our own society – all while paying lip service to “the vets”.

Syria and Iraq – Millions of deaths, civilian casualties through the roof.  Societies destroyed.  Kids forced into armies.  Men, Women, Children all brutally attacked.

Both caused by the failed tactic of regime change – championed by war hawks, and even straight up corrupt politicians who sent us to Iraq for personal reasons.

Vets at home are struggling to get the health care they need and deserve.

Our infrastructure crumbles, and there’s lead poisoning our cities.

My generation is now mostly slaves to their student debt – something prior generations don’t fully grasp yet.

I doubt the victims of the past decade ever thought “The next one could be me”.


And all our leadership wants to talk about is indiscriminate bombing and torturing the families of terrorists.

The big bad boogeyman of terrorism is coming to get you, but the weekly mass-shooting is just normal.

There’s bombs in the buses, bikes, roads
Inside your market, your shops, your clothes
My dad, he’s got a lot of fear I know
But enough pride inside not to let that show

That’s politics today.  Keep ’em afraid.

You know, the sad part is I think our leadership truly believes the false narrative they’ve spun for the past 15 years.

But everyone forgets.

My brother had a book he would hold with pride
A little red cover with a broken spine
On the back he hand wrote a quote inside
“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die”

A quote from Jean-Paul Sartre to sum it up.

What keeps us moving on this track is not fear – it’s a lack of compassion.

An absolutely amazing song, Mike Shinoda.

Thank you for reading.

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