Are you better off than you were four hours ago?
The marathoner’s answer is always ‘no’. You’ve done to your body what the US Army Field Manual on Interrogation prohibits inflicting on high-value al-Qaeda targets. Dislodged toenails. Chafed crotch and nipples. Blood blisters like creepy Halloween decorations on your toes. And acute muscle pain that gives you the gait of an extra on The Walking Dead.
Yesterday I ran 26.45 miles in 3:09:18 at the 37th Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, arriving 308th out of 23,515 finishers. Marines in combat uniforms handed out water and Gatorade along the course. Hurricane Sandy generously distributed the headwind. Unofficial course entertainment included two Gangnam-style dance routines.
The course was surprisingly scenic, lightly hilly and well-managed. The finish line was staffed with a large squadron of Marine lieutenants who saluted you before placing the finisher’s medal around your neck. And a mighty fine looking medal at that.
At one point along the course you run by a dense series of posters of Marines recently killed in combat. They are officers and enlisted men. They are white, black, Hispanic and Asian. Some photos were taken in dusty combat zones. One was taken in a living room, with the happy Marine holding his toddler son. I’m not very often susceptible to emotion, but I felt tears welling up. And I wondered was it worth it. Was it worth it to send thousands of Americans to die in unwinnable wars? Did those sacrificed lives in Iraq and Afghanistan make your and my families’ lives safer or more free? Or is the blood spilled in Afghanistan like water spilled in the Sahara? Who exactly are we fighting this for?
And are we better off?