As I’m writing this piece, it has been two weeks since I left Norway and the Bergen International Film Festival filled with the euphoric sense that I’m actually on the right path. Four days ago I got back from talking about the Future of the Military at Chicago Ideas Week. Both extreme surprises in terms of responses, outcomes, and purposes. Cumulating the end of a horrible, horrible summer.
The flight over to Europe consisted of me sitting next to a seemingly hairless Scotsman while the man to my right across the aisle watched me sob heartbroken tears as Gwen Stacy, played by the lovely Emma Stone, Peter Parker’s first love is murdered in front of his eyes and he couldn’t rescue her. I’m pretty sure he was surprised that a grown man can have an emotional reaction from a comic book movie. The instance where the kid dressed in a Spider-Man costume faces off alone against the Rhino… I lost it, again, and had to take a moment in the washroom.
In my head I felt like that kid. I was standing up to the baddie that was bigger than me, stronger than me, and way better equipped than me. I was only mimicking what my heroes would do without actually being able to do what they do. And unlike that little kid, my hero didn’t tag me out and thank me for holding on until he arrived. I was alone and that was that. The only thing protecting me is that I’m sincere with my words and I already have nothing to lose.
After my moment, I sat back down to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past. And it was a totally different experience. It was as if somebody was using heroes that I grew up with to lay a point home. Both movies talked about giving hope. They talked about what it means to just keep fighting. Something that I had not been sure of in a long time. At the end of one movie, the hero steps back up to the plate after having lost his world. The end of another, the heroes find that they can actually make a better future for themselves and others.
I don’t know about you but I love that type of thing. It sustained, though blinded, me during my military stint. I felt that it had betrayed me as I was leaving. Come to find out, it was just in the hospital recovering from a grievous beating. Lately, it has been allowed to be released on the condition that it take it easy for a while until the bones are fully mended. I had no idea what I was in store this time around. For all I knew, I was just going to further be somebody’s prop then forgotten when my uses were gone. I didn’t believe anything good was going to come out of this trip for me.
On my way to the moment where I fell in love with Norway and the people that I met, I had another Gaiden in Amsterdam, meeting up with Noel Sharkey and talking more in depth about the meanings behind our usages in drone technology and what that means for our futures during the PAX for Peace conference. Fifteen minutes before going on to stage I got a book, signed by the author, and told that it was a Doctoral Thesis in which I had been quoted multiple times and to take special note of Chapter Six. It was the first time since speaking about my dealings and troubles with the US Air Force that I had felt any sort of validation. The fact that I had felt anything at all was a testament to how far I had come in bearing my guilt. It was only a fraction of what I was to feel later.
Noel and I finished out the night by partying with our flower vases that held the shape of a standard 9mm GLOCK holding fake flowers shooting out of the barrel. I didn’t get it through security at the airport, unfortunately. It was a good ending to the event, a great beginning to my lonely trip, and a completely better situation than the last time I was in Europe. The whole trip reflected that last part..
Leaving the next morning I was taken to the airport by a Palestinian man my own age and we talked about the political situation around the world. He was concerned, not only with his own State, but with the happenings in Syria and the World’s dealings with America in general. Intelligent man, and I hope to one day see that he has gone as far as he can go in life. I agreed with many things that he had said and I got him to consider a few things as well. Like not hating, completely, on American Military Members. I told him about the 22+ reported Veteran Suicides a day. We already know what we’ve been a part of. I’m just lucky I got an outlet to talk about my experiences. I was, at one point, one of those possible statistics. I hope, at some point, to be somebody that helps others to not be as well.
He was astonished that America wasn’t taking care of the men and women that it sends to murder for capital gain. He was also astonished that we let our leadership get away with it. After that I explained the destruction of the Warrior Ethos and Spirit. When he dropped me off he told me that we had a fortunate meeting. I nodded, wished him well, and got onto my plane to Oslo.
Keep in mind that at this point I was still in (positive) shock of the whole PAX episode. I was still dealing with a massive depressive episode that started in April on top of all the shit that I had been dealing with in the last 9 years. I was not in a good place at all.
Oslo was strikingly familiar when I got off the airport train into the main city terminal. I caught a taxi to the Norwegian Parliament, on almost no sleep, met up with my great friends Jonathan and Tonje, then was part of a parliamentary discussion where I talked to a few people who were making informed decisions about the future of Norway and their involvement with the whole drone structure. I told them what I always do. This is a technology that few people have considered the consequence of before using. That while I do have many misgivings about my service and the job that I had done, it is extremely easy to pull the trigger to kill. What shocked me, was how truly easy it was. Nearly no effort and lives are snuffed out. And that terrified me.
I mentioned that while it was easy to misuse the technology, it was even easier to use it positively. With the way that the Free and Open Internet should work, we could find the way to make the necessary adaptations for more transparency as well as a continual responsible use. But that means giving the people more power and those in charge will have nothing of that if they can help it.
Halfway through I realized that Tonje had told me they had watched the DRONE documentary before I showed up. I had no real idea what they were responding to because I had not seen it yet. So I misinterpreted what I had seen in their faces as a mix between pity and fear. Broken minds see everything around them broken as well. Memories included. I wonder what exactly they thought about me now. I have maybe an idea from the festival in Bergen.
I spent a short few hours in Oslo before heading off to Bergen. I read chapter three of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior on the plane, reflected further on what I had just experienced then realized I had no idea where I was going as I was walking off the boarding ramp. There was no one waiting for me with a sign that said my name. All I knew was that my hotel was in the downtown area. So I got on the bus and headed to the only thing that I remembered from downtown: the fountains.
I ended up having to charge my phone at the local TGIFriday’s (I know, right?) in order to message Tonje over social media about my predicament. Five minutes later I ran into my keeper, Kari. It was her job to make sure that I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there to answer questions about a movie that I had not seen. The First World Anarchist in me rebelled at such a notion. That she was the first of many lovely Norwegians I met that week, notwithstanding. The Norwegians are a beautiful people, with an amazing history and culture. Anyways, I digress. Her, as well as a few others in the BIFF crew, and I became pretty good friends.
As we walked next door to my hotel (I know…) to drop off my things in my room, we ran into Bronx Obama, Louis Ortiz, himself. It was a magical meeting that ended with the final result of us being friends. The whole trip is like this. Fair warning. And, I shit you not, every time I stopped to look around outside there were two Ravens staring at me.
Ten minutes later we are rushing off to my first Question & Answer session following a showing of the DRONE film. I awaited in the shadows with Shahzad Akbar, the heroic Pakistani lawyer who is fighting for justice in world legal affairs regarding unlawful drone strikes by representing the civilian victims and their families in the court of law. Amazing man. He’s the Yin to my Yang in the film. Really, a good man. I can’t stress that enough.
I saw, or rather heard, the ending of the film. Powerful stuff. With my final scene coupled with the ending sequence, Flimmer created something that both terrified and fascinated me. Since the film isn’t out yet I’ll offer no spoilers. Let’s just say that I was extremely confused why a bunch of people were clapping while I was on stage. They must be cheering for Shahzad. People were staring at me in wide eyed wonder and I was thinking they were fearful of me. The hushed voices and obvious speaking of the home turf’s tongue sent me off into paranoia.
The first thing that somebody said directly to me was this, “thank you for doing what you’ve done. We need more people in this world like you.” I was astounded. You’d have to ask people that were there what my facial expression was. My response was along the lines of, “I’m not a hero and you should know that. I’m a murderer and an international war criminal. I’m a stormtrooper who actually realized that I had been working for the Empire with the full realization of what that means. This is my redemption.”
That was the first of many compliments like that. People were pointing me out in the street and asking to take pictures with me. They wanted to ask questions. They wanted to give me hugs. People were telling me, “hey man, you’re doing good.” Not one person said anything negative towards me. Except for my former peers, I might add. They always seem to have nothing relevant to say other than call me names. But they are not the subject of this. The trip is.
I saw the film the second day I was there. I cried halfway through. Kari thought I was having a bad reaction and patted my back a bit awkwardly. But it was a cleansing thing. Like all the negative energy that I had been holding on to evaporated. That was when I recognized I was doing a good thing. That all the shit had been fertilizing my lotus. I lost my fear and gained myself back. The fire that had been gone, my soul, made its triumphant return. I hope to someday be better able to explain that feeling. It had been like all the negative emotions that I had been feeling for nearly a decade, the ones that had been hammering my soul, finally relented and I saw that they had forged a hammer. I was completely connected to the True Source.
I did a total of 18 Q&A sessions that week. Everyone of them, outstanding. Not from my part but from the questions that were asked and the thoughts that were behind the minds of those people. Didn’t sleep either because jetlag and adrenaline. It was an amazing adventure. The highlight of my trip was being invited to a friend’s home, meeting his daughter and wife, hiking around Gullfjellet for five hours, eating a traditional Norwegian dinner, and leaving with a pair of Swiss hiking pants. The kindness and honesty, care and giving of everyone that I met overthere was incredibly overwhelming. And it just kept getting better.
The next day I spoke in front of a second year cadet class at the Norwegian Naval Academy. They gave me their leadership handbook because it was in line with everything that I talked about. One former officer and former instructor told me that I was the bravest soldier that he had ever met. The feels were like a typhoon.
The following day to that, a young woman brought her mother to see the film for her second time, and they invited me to dinner and adopted me into their family. I feel that if I keep talking about all the stuff that happened I would end up just writing a book. I left Norway feeling deeply honored and humbled. I felt powerful and hopeful.
It has not faded, either.
I want to use this opportunity to thank everyone. I want to thank my Grandfather and my mother for raising me well. I want to thank all the creators of my heroes growing up. I want to thank all the people that believe in me. The fantastic people at PAX for Peace, the Bergen International Film Festival, Flimmer Film… Everyone. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. You all gave me hope and helped me find my strength. Thank you.
Conversely, I want to thank my former colleagues and critics. Nothing too much, for now, but if it wasn’t for the reaction that I got for simply telling the truth I probably wouldn’t have been as forthcoming about everything because I would have held out hope one of them would come around to do a better job than me. I was a wounded dog that had suffered beatings at your words. I’m sorry that it has come to this but I will no longer defend you to anyone. I was not one of you, I am not one of you, and I will never be one of you. Now you have to decide if you’re going to be one of my people.
Thus ends this chapter. Now the real work begins. Welcome to Project Red Hand.
Written by Brandon Bryant