In March 2006, my best friend and former roommate Avi Zaffini shipped out for Iraq. Avi and I have been friends since I was in seventh grade. You see, Avi is now a United States Marine, but I remember when he was a chubby slow fourteen-year-old who looked more like the Pillsbury Dough Boy than an elite warrior. Avi writes and thinks about timeless ideas with a passion and precision that most people envy, but I remember when he could barely write a coherent paragraph. Avi has a deep and balanced faith in God that informs and directs his life, yet I remember when he was a know-it-all teenager with a judgmental attitude that I could barely stand. Avi has a wonderful relationship with his beautiful girlfriend Megan. Everyone says they are going to get married, yet I remember when Avi was in middle school. His idea of romantic evening with Megan was chasing her around the park at our school cookout. He has only loved one girl, and I have a feeling he got it right the first time. Yes, I have a long memory of Avi. A lot has changed about him for the better. Now, I am faced with the fact that he might turn into a memory. The progress might stop. He could be killed in Iraq. He might die in a war we both support.
We both agree the war in Iraq is worth fighting. The anti-war crowd would say Avi is putting his life in danger for a lie. Avi does not understand it that way. He had this to say about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: “The fact that they were not found does not take away the fact that the Iraqi government would not have hesitated to themselves use or assist others in using those heinous weapons against us.” It seems apparent to both of us that the war in Iraq has become the central front in the war on terror, and terrorism must be defeated with military power. Avi explains, “It is only by the terrible, swift sword of military strikes that this horrible travesty of terrorism will be curbed. Iraq proves that there is a time for peace and a time for war.” Avi sees the world through Marine’s eyes, in black and white. There is no room for shades of gray in combat. The terrorists in Iraq need to be destroyed, and he is willing to do it. It is easy to defend the war while discussing it in the safety of a dorm room in peaceful Ashland, Ohio with the danger of combat half a world away. The debate over the war becomes more personal when your best friend is dodging bullets in that war.
Avi and I have had a long and deep friendship. We played football and basketball in our school’s parking lot. We went to numerous sleepovers together. We talked about girls together. We suffered through Latin class together. We have done everything from sweat together to talk about our dreams together. His zeal for and dedication to the Marine Corps is a big part of the reason that I want to be a Marine Officer. His job is to fight and possibly die for our country. The fact is many Marines have died in Iraq, and his job is even more dangerous than most. He is a Field Military Policemen. For civilian readers, that means he will be sitting on top of a Humvee in a convoy manning a 50 caliber machine gun. This is not an easy job. Avi is actually fighting for our cause. He may lose his life. I honor that. I think it is noble and good. However, I am supposed to be the best man in his wedding. We are supposed to be friends for life. I pray to God that he will come back safely. I think he will. He is smart, tough, and has a beautiful girlfriend who gives him every reason to live. In a perfect world, he would be able to do his duty, and we would be friends for decades to come. Our world, however, is not perfect; I cannot know for sure if he will come home safely. I have to deal with the fact that the war I believe in may kill my best friend.
There are no easy answers to the nightmare scenario I have described. I know it is a reality for the friends and families of thousands of American soldiers and Marines who have died in Iraq. There are probably hundreds of guys in my position, who were supposed to be the best man, who are supposed to be friends for decades. Moms and Dads are not supposed to bury their sons, but they do. Little brothers are not supposed to clutch flags taken from their older brothers’ coffins, but they do. Fiancées are not supposed to cancel their wedding to plan a funeral, but they do. It happens almost every day. These seem to be injustices. The world is not working the way it should; yet I still believe the sacrifice of life for a just cause is not an injustice.
Jesus says in John’s Gospel that, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Maybe Avi’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake our country and the cause we support is the ultimate act of friendship. If Avi is killed, it is a tragedy, but it is also a triumph of friendship. His loss would not be a victory for the hate the terrorists have for America and progress of freedom in Iraq. It would instead be a proclamation of Avi’s love for his friends, his family, and his country. Hopefully, Avi will not have to commit the ultimate act of love and friendship. I have these words for Avi. Keep your head down man. We all love you. It seems inadequate, when compared to how much you love us.
James Kresge is a junior from Galena, Ohio majoring in political science and history.