Because We’re Free by Johnny Atkins

Updated: August 25, 2009


This morning, during my semi-regular routine of abusing substances (black coffee & nicotine) and reading the news, I came across a story that struck a chord deep within me. My reaction was one not of rage, betrayal, nor disbelief… but I was reminded.

It seems that the courts of Scotland have deemed it appropriate to release Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi from his sentence of life imprisonment for his part in bombing a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in 1988. The rationale behind this amazes me: the man is terminally ill, and it has been decided that he should live out his remaining days in his native Libya. “Our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown,” says the Justice Secretary of Scotland.

Granted, a 57-year-old cancer victim is potentially at a crossroads in his life. Maybe he has “seen the light”, and could turn into a unicorn who shits nothing but love, sunshine and rainbows out of his ass. Hey – people can and do change their ways.

For my money, this man, if allowed to live out the rest of his life, should be shown no mercy. Ever. From anyone.

were-free_1Trust me, friends: this is not something I have only figured out after reading one news item today, or on 9/11, or even when I was a teenager. I am reminded of a lesson learned when I was a child in the early 80’s: terrorists are bad. Since then, and over time, I have come to know that they aren’t just bad – they are, among other things, evil.

Growing up as an Army brat, I became part of my dad’s career at an early age, when it came time for his inevitable “PCS accompanied” orders overseas for three years as a shiny new Lieutenant. It was late 1980, and we were stationed in West Berlin, at a military housing complex less than 1000 meters from the Berlin Wall.

I never lived in fear, riding public transport to and from school, soccer practice (before it was a cool thing for American kids), and anywhere else my parents allowed me to go. The German people were kind to me and my older sister, likely (in part, at least) because we spoke their language well – or at least tried to.

At the same time, this was after the 444 days in Tehran. I remember political cartoons depicting Khomeni as a crazy evil (and powerful) bastard. I remember a “less evil” terrorist in Frankfurt working his way through base housing complexes (Adams Kaserne, Bowman Housing, Chapman Barracks, etc.) with fire extinguisher bombs never intended to harm anyone – in alphabetical order. We lived in Gibbs Housing Area, and yes, he did get to letter “I” or “J” before they caught his stupid ass.

I also distinctly remember several news stories on AFRTS which made me ask several questions of myself – and sometimes adults: Why do Irish people want to blow each other up? Why is the Holy Land full of people who want to blow each other up? Why are Russians doing bad things in Afghanistan? Who is this “Red Brigade” that keeps killing and kidnapping people, and why don’t we go to war on them? Clearly they’re bad guys, right?

Every night on AFRTS News, we saw updates about US Army Brigadier General James Dozier, and what further developments there were in his kidnapping case. When we’d call and talk to folks back home, few if any knew that Red Brigade terrorists had walked into his quarters in broad daylight, bound & gagged his wife, snatched him up when he came home, and held him at various locations in Italy for over a month.were-free_2

This was 1981. I had 87 miles of reinforced concrete nearby to remind me that the Cold War was indeed our military’s focus of effort, but even as a child I was baffled by the lack of outrage and support from Americans. Terrorists took a serving FLAG OFFICER from his home. Do you give any thought about what they can do to you, America? Shit, my dad’s just a Lieutenant… I am fucked if these guys come after me!

Later, at age 27, I was no less horrified by what happened in New York City one Tuesday morning… but I was perhaps a bit less surprised than most. I already knew a thing or two about terrorists. The bombings in Beirut in 1983 were a large part of why I chose to enlist in the Marine Corps.

A whole lot has happened in my life, in this nation, and around the world since I was a kid. I understand now that even when the right people see things in a very clear, “good vs. evil” context, sometimes “the right thing” is just something they can’t do for whatever reason. It’s probably a big part of why I’m not shittin’ kittens and screaming for justice after reading my morning news today.

I hope that there’s some sort of crazy-insane, cloak-and-dagger Tom Clancy shit happening behind the scenes while this guy gets transported back to the ol’ homestead. I really do hope that somewhere in a windowless building near Langley or Meade and someone now has something very, very worthwhile to use against terrorist assholes because of this. I know better, but it gives me a glimmer of hope. I like having hope.

I also know that, like Morpheus said in The Matrix, “They hate us because we’re free”. Khomeni, Arafat, McVeigh, bin Laden… regardless of philosophy or agenda, their motivation is and will always be hatred. Evil. Taking something away from innocents who deserve it.

General James Mattis has been a Warrior-hero of mine since I first saw his name signed below an amazing and inspiring letter in March of 2003. “Chaos 6” has proven himself as a warrior and leader for decades, and has landed himself in hot water a time or two for trying (in futility, I believe) to explain to the press and the populace that “killing bad guys is fun”, and that some assholes out there just need to have death visited upon them as soon as possible. It’s not something most civilians like to think about, and I doubt very many could understand. His words caused a bit of furor in the press at the time. He has since (and rightly) been given the privilege of two more stars on his shoulder, and I am proud to say he remains a clan elder in my tribe.

Men like Chaos 6, Douglas MacArthur, Lew Diamond, Robert Dean Stethem, Randy Shughart & Gary Gordon, Mike Burghardt, and Lord knows how many others have stood face to face with evil men – men who needed killing – and held their ground. Sometimes they came up a little short, but much more often they did prevail. They never questioned the sacrifices they made for it, either.

Looking at the news today, I can live with it – just barely. Megrahi has been granted a reprieve in my eyes.

Death is a very patient adversary. Sometimes, so am I.




  1. JMC

    August 26, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I remember all those incidents. I was in Air Force Basic Training at the time; in fact, Tehran was a large part of why I enlisted. I couldn’t understand why we were still pussy-footing around with the major joke that AF boot camp was in those days. There was indeed at least SOME “Tom Clancy shit” going on behind the scenes, as we found out after the fact, but I was, and still remain, convinced that it was far from enough.

    A former resident of Brooklyn, I grew up watching the Twin Towers being built. I cried the day they came down. If I’d been younger and in better health, I would have been beating down the recruiter’s door while they were still looping the replay. Anybody ever dares come marching onto my property, they’re going to face one very pissed-off, very ARMED little old lady.

    I may not have trod the Sandbox or the Rockpile, but I still paid for my freedom, and I’ll do what I can to continue paying for it ’til the day I die.

  2. Sam

    September 10, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you, JMC, for your service. I was barely two when the ’80s rolled around, so I don’t remember the horrors of Tehran or Pan Am; luckily, they write this stuff down, and even years later I was deeply affected. I joined the Army at 17 because it gave me a purpose; I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. Like you, I never had to go to war, but I was a ready soldier, and I earned my keep. In a perfect world, there would be a waiting list for the military, with all able-bodied Americans eager to do something meaningful, to help protect the freedoms granted us by our forefathers.
    To Johnny, I share both your anger and your lack of surprise over al Magrahi’s release. The majority of the world are like small children who believe in fairy tales and magic, that if we just talk to terrorists, give them what they want, if we’re nicer to them, that they’ll give up and we’ll all ride flying cows in NeverNeverLand. It falls to the rest of us to protect when possible and to punish when not.

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