Ryan Smithson, an average teenage kid living in East Greenbush, New York , attending Columbia High School. Ryan was your average teenage, punk not understanding life until the day his moral compass sets in. The conversation on page 5 shows the first time Ryan heard about 9/11. “ A plane crashed into the World Trade Center”
“What?”, says Ryan That sucks”, then the conversation picking back up and we talked about sex or drugs something equally as interesting. This textual evidence shows Ryan as the average teenager, this quote should be remembered because of Ryan’s life changed unbelievably due to the attacks. Ryan, in History class watched the attacks “ You guys are living history.” (pg. 6) , said the History teacher. Everyone watched in horror, abnormally silent, Ryan watching, unknowingly to become an American Soldier all due to these attacks.
Ryan Smithson’s moral compass had drastically change and has evolved from an average, no future, and punk teenager to an American Soldier, all due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States of America. Ryan had first heard of the attacks in daily teenage gossip at school but then witnessed the attacks on live television in history class. Everyone then realized the severity behind these tragedies, leaving not only the entire class shocked but the world. Ryan’s moral compass felt it was his “generation’s responsibility.” (pg.14) to never let this happen again and make the antagonists pay. The witnessing of these attack had Ryan thinking of enlisting, but the real moment for him to decide to enlist was his visit to Ground Zero, in New York City. “I’d heard all about September 11th. But I didn’t feel the weight of it until I saw the fence. I didn’t know these people. They were not my friends or family. I had never met them. Their existence before that day meant nothing to me. But at that moment their existence meant everything to me.” (pg 17). Ryan expresses the true meaning of 9/11 to him, reflecting upon the visit to Ground Zero the real moral compass emotions led him to join the Unites States Army. After, seeing the destruction and solitude towards Ground Zero first hand, Ryan Smithson knew he was enlisting, to fight for the U.S.
Ryan Smithson’s view on war changes the minute Basic Training starts and that Drill Instructor goes off, “ You are not one. You are no one! Every one of you relies on each other.” (pg. 27). Ryan Smithson’s view as “If I don’t do something who will? ” quickly changed to “ If we don’t do something as an army who will? ” The ego of Ryan diminished right away and began to think amongst himself as having “ – a new family. The only family who understands you – the fifty soldiers you’ve grown to love.” (pg. 85). A main aspect Ryan never saw coming was the real reason “why we invaded Iraq” (pg. 78), to save the families and kids working day to day in the fields struggling to stay alive and have nothing. “ Preserve the innocent. Protect those who deserve it most.” (pg.209), thus speaking of the children and families of Iraq. Ryan learns war has came to be a part of him “ War is dirty and disgusting. It’s ugly at face value. But in hindsight, the magical aspects of war are so obvious, – you miss them.”(pg. 139). Although, the best part of being in Iraq according to Smithson when asked is indeed “ One way or another, sir you know you’re going to leave.” (pg. 254) The feelings Ryan has impacts his moral compass by never wanting to abandon his platoon, but wanting to “come out of this mess feeling like it’s worth something.” (pg. 209).
Ryan had many interactions with death making him realize life is precious and with faith, fear can be overcome. The way of dealing with death at war is just sucked up; “showing emotion shows vulnerability and vulnerability gives into the fear. It‘s about the need to survive ” (pg. 214). The fear of death and living with this fear In war is covered up by “humor”, Ryan says, though sometimes you just can’t control emotions. Jim Conklin died in a convoy from an I.E.D killing him at a age of 22 years old. Ryan feels he “betrayed Jim. Now he is dead, and I’m not entitled to tears.” (pg. 219), he feels it’s responsibility to “fight for each other”, leaving Ryan feelings of not doing his job. Textual evidence of this feeling from Ryan are “ My eyes are blurry, and I choke on my own tears. I feel the as if I’m trapped in rubble, and the weight of James H. Conklin’s last good-bye is overwhelming. I shed tears I don’t deserve to shed. I’m not entitled to tears, but they come nonetheless. They are not quiet, respectful funeral tears. They are tears for a fellow soldier, a brother I barely knew, and I sob like a baby. – I have lost nothing in Jim Conklin’s death but in a way I have lost everything. The tears for injustice, for impurity, for virtue, for love, for hate, for misunderstanding, for innocence, for guilt, for nothing, and for everything” (pg. 221).
A reoccurring theme of this book “there is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.” (pg. 307), was not truly understood by Ryan when the Sergeant said that until now. Textual support of Ryan figuring this quote out is “Without faith God is nothing, Allah is nothing, Buddha is nothing.” (pg.307). If you are in fear faith will pull you through, but you must have faith all the time for God, Allah, or Buddha to be there. “When the war is over, I’m sitting at home one day, and I miss it. I miss the power, and I miss the vulnerability. I miss the innocence, and I miss the guilt. I miss the death and I miss the life. I long for it, but I know it can’t come back. So I hold on to it. We call this Faith. And without Faith we are nothing.” (pg. 310) The feeling of death surrounding him causes his moral compass to realize war is real. The feeling of this causes Ryan to now have experienced all aspects of war, completing him as an American Soldier The moral compass of Ryan after experiencing deaths and the fears, he has evolved into a complete American Soldier. The experiences in Iraq has made him feel war is fighting to keep America Free and to rebuild Iraq for the innocent.
Ryan Smithson’s moral compass resulted from the 9/11 attacks and caused him to become a complete, American Soldier. Ryan formed a brother and sister hood like no other at war and will never forget his experiences, all driven by his moral compass. Ryan learned to “fight for each other”, fight for America, and fight for the innocent families in war torn, Iraq. War to Ryan “-is beautiful, War has been glorified in our culture, and for so long I assumed it was a sick obsession with death and evil. After seeing war, after experiencing it, I know how much deeper it goes. War is hell, but war is also paradise. War encompasses all that we are, all that we were, and all that we will be.” (pg. 308-309). The way war can shape a person is undeniably, inevitably amazing. Ryan now realizes he is grateful for war. Textual support for this is “And now I see that I am grateful for war, the ghosts. I’m grateful for the worst in humanity. I’m grateful for my moments of insanity, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to becoming sane.” (pg. 309). Ryan Smithson’s moral compass led him from a boy to not just a successful man, but an American Veteran, true Heroes.