Scouting the room for fellow civilians among a sea of naval uniforms, I spotted a table in the back of the mess hall that was dotted with both and took a seat.
This was at a dinner at the political science conference on the relationship between gender equity and peacebuilding at the U.S. Naval Academy I attended last year. The eyes of a servicemember at my table flashed up when she recognized a scholar who had worked in Iraq sit down to my left.
Over the course of the dinner, the two of them exchanged reflections in their own shared vocabulary: the ethics of intervention in Iraq. And so as we sat in the safety of the large mess hall, this high-ranking servicemember confided in us over salads. She said she was gripped with doubt over her time flying planes in Iraq.
The experience, she said, of working on behalf of American ideals but without a guarantee that policymakers with the intelligence in Washington were seeking the good of the Iraqi people was stomach-twisting. She will carry the memories and doubts about the orders she carried out all her life, she said. It is because of this experience that she pursued a Ph.D. in political science.
Hearing her speak, I felt the gravity of words in diplomacy, the weight of American policy on human lives across the world.