Ending a Life, and a Part of Yourself, for the First Time – NYTimes.com
Ending a Life, and a Part of Yourself, for the First Time
By THOMAS JAMES BRENNAN
Two hundred meters was all that separated me from an insurgent carrying an AK-47. I sat in a dilapidated brown leather chair, recessed in the shadows of a second-story room in the government complex of Falluja, Iraq. My sights were perfectly centered as I perched my elbows on the desk in front of me. The clear tip traced the center of his chest. He crept around a corner of a mud wall and slowly moved toward our position. Fear built inside me. I hesitantly began to pull the trigger of my M-16.
I was scared, to say the least. It was the first time my training would be tested. I heard my rifle crack as I fired. The weapon’s recoil nudged my shoulder, and he crumpled to the ground. The aroma of gunpowder filled the room. I fired two more rounds into his motionless body, then stared in amazement as his body lay lifeless, his black and red scarf astray. The sun rose across the city’s skyline. I was 19.
For me, the 10th of November is special. It is the Marine Corps’s birthday, a day for celebrating camaraderie. But it is also the day, eight years ago, when I was pinned down in the relentless firefights of Operation Phantom Fury. It is the day when I took a person’s life for the first time.
These two drastically different events make for mixed emotions at that time of year. In 2004, fighting in a large-scale attack on the corps’s birthday was thrilling. I’d be lying if I said that I am not still motivated by the memory. What better way to celebrate 229 years of decorated service than to take part in writing the corps’s next chapter? But I also feel as though I lost a part of myself that day.
Taking someone’s life brings you to the darkest side of yourself. There are nights when I see the faces of people I killed. There are days when I get lost in vivid memories of violent combat for minutes at a time. But it also leaves you emotionally numb. In the last eight years, I have not been able to cry unless I am reminiscing about Falluja. It is as if my brain created a space where feelings were lost or delayed. And when I did feel emotions after killing, it was often the sense of relief that I was not on the receiving end – an emotion that might readily, but incorrectly, be interpreted as satisfaction.