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It's nice and all, but please quit telling me to be safe.

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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This essay was posted by journalist Austin Tice on his Facebook page on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 7:44 pm. We are reprinting it here with permission from his family. ·

Against my better judgment, I'm posting this on Facebook. Flame away.

People keep telling me to be safe (as if that's an option), keep asking me why I'm doing this crazy thing, keep asking what's wrong with me for coming here. So listen.

Our granddads stormed Normandy and Iwo Jima and defeated global fascism. Neil Armstrong flew to the Moon in a glorified trashcan, doing math on a clipboard as he went. Before there were roads, the Pioneers put one foot in front of the other until they walked across the entire continent. Then a bunch of them went down to fight and die in Texas 'cause they thought it was the right thing to do.

Sometime between when our granddads licked the Nazis and when we started putting warnings on our coffee cups about the temperature of our beverage, America lost that pioneering spirit. We became a fat, weak, complacent, coddled, unambitious and cowardly nation. I went off to two wars with misguided notions of patriotism and found in both that the first priority was to never get killed, something we could have achieved from our living rooms in America with a lot less hassle. To protect careers and please the politicians, we weighed ourselves down with enough armor to break a man's back, gorged on RipIts and ice cream, and believed our own press that we were doing something noble. Our granddads would have whipped our asses.

We kill ourselves every day with McDonald's and alcohol and a thousand other drugs, but we've lost the sense that there actually are things out there worth dying for. We've given away our freedoms piecemeal to robber barons, but we’re too complacent to do much but criticize those few who try to point out the obvious. Americans have lost their sense of vision, mistaking asinine partisan squabbles for principles. When we do venture into space – the part of space we've gotten comfortable with, mind you – now we pay the Russians to give us a ride. That's humiliating. I can't believe we let that happen.

So that's why I came here to Syria, and it's why I like being here now, right now, right in the middle of a brutal and still uncertain civil war. Every person in this country fighting for their freedom wakes up every day and goes to sleep every night with the knowledge that death could visit them at any moment. They accept that reality as the price of freedom. They realize there are things worth fighting for, and instead of sitting around wringing their hands about it, or asking their lawyer to file an injunction about it, they're out there just doing it. And yeah most of them have little idea what they’re doing when they pick up a rifle, and yes there are many other things I could complain about, but really who cares. They're alive in a way that almost no Americans today even know how to be. They live with greater passion and dream with greater ambition because they are not afraid of death.

Neither were the Pioneers. Neither were our granddads. Neither was Neil Armstrong. And neither am I.

No, I don't have a death wish – I have a life wish. So I'm living, in a place, at a time and with a people where life means more than anywhere I've ever been – because every single day people here lay down their own for the sake of others. Coming here to Syria is the greatest thing I've ever done, and it's the greatest feeling of my life.

And look, if you still don't get it, go read Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. That book explains it all better than I ever could.

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