America is split right down the middle when it comes to the war in Iraq. What happens when a marriage is, too? Stacy Bannerman of Kent, Washington State, is a longtime peace activist. Her husband, Lorin, was a member of the Washington Army National Guard who was called up to serve in Iraq.
For Stacy, her nonviolent, anti-war beliefs collided with her wishes to support her husband as he was sent off to fight in a war she doesn’t believe in. In her book, When The War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, Bannerman looks back on a frantic 18 months when her marriage was turned upside-down by war – and how National Guard families throughout America have been affected by the conflict in Iraq. “I’ve spent my career trying to change the conditions that create war,” Bannerman writes. “ I never imagined my husband would be fighting one.”
Bannerman highlights a community that has been bearing the brunt of the war in Iraq – the National Guard. Guardsmen have been far more involved in this conflict than any other, “citizen soldiers” turned into full-time warriors, and Oregon and Washington have carried a heavy burden. Dozens of troops from Douglas County have served.
In When The War Came Home, Bannerman tells the story of Lorin’s deployment, from the time they first got the news in late 2003 to his eventual return home last year. Bannerman, a longtime activist well before Lorin’s deployment, becomes involved with Military Families Speak Out, an anti-war group trying to draw attention to service family issues.
Bannerman heavily researched the issues the National Guard has dealt with in Iraq, and moves back and forth between her own personal story and the bigger picture. It’s a troubling litany of issues that the war veterans have to deal with — financial problems, family discord, benefit delays, post-traumatic stress disorder and more. That’s all assuming they make it back in the first place, and Bannerman also digs up grim data about how the government is letting guardsmen down with inadequate supplies and training. Occasionally, the statistics she cites aren’t sourced as well as they could be, but generally they paint a damning picture of the government’s too-frequent neglect of those serving their country.
Bannerman is very honest about her own insecurities and flaws, which excuses some of her excesses as her principles and reality battle – such as when she actually tells her husband that she wants him to imagine her face if he ever has to point a gun at an Iraqi. It’s advice that, while nobly intended, could clearly get him killed, no matter what your politics are.
But as a writer, the candor makes Bannerman pretty captivating – she lays it all out, even when it doesn’t make her look very good. Her struggle with her husband’s mission is kind of America in miniature – beside her anti-war views, she has to deal with the simple pain of missing her husband and worrying about his fate.
She faces scorn from both sides – from military families who can’t handle her outspoken liberalism, and from peace activists who have a hard time with the fact that she’s also a military wife. “The concept of a peace activist being married to a military husband doesn’t work for me,” one friend writes Bannerman.
Bannerman’s writing is charged with her own very vocal anti-war views. The frustration she feels leaps off the page; yet in the end, she accepts a tenuous truce with her husband’s battles. “I come to the realization that my love for him transcends my beliefs, and there are few things for which I would not forgive him,” Bannerman writes.