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HS 146 – Dust to Dust with Benjamin Busch

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Benjamin Busch

It can be argued that Benjamin Busch is a modern-day Renaissance man. Not only has he served two tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, but he played Officer Anthony Colicchio on “The Wire” and appeared on “The West Wing” and “Homicide.” Busch, inspired by a number of life-altering events, wrote “Dust to Dust,” a beautiful meditation on war, loss and the larger questions of life and death, in which he chronicles his return from Iraq and the death of his parents. Busch served two combat tours in Iraq.

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In this interview, Busch gives his takes on the wars overseas and their justification. He also discusses his experiences on “The Wire,” which has such a rabid fan base. It’s pretty amazing that he came out of the military and became an actor.

Check out this episode


It can be argued that Benjamin Busch is a modern-day Renaissance man. Not only has he served two tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, but he played Officer Anthony Colicchio on “The Wire” and appeared on “The West Wing” and “Homicide.” Busch, inspired by a number of life-altering events, wrote “Dust to Dust,” a beautiful meditation on war, loss and the larger questions of life and death, in which he chronicles his return from Iraq and the death of his parents. Busch served two combat tours in Iraq.

In this interview, Busch gives his takes on the wars overseas and their justification. He also discusses his experiences on “The Wire,” which has such a rabid fan base. It’s pretty amazing that he came out of the military and became an actor.

Narrator: Welcome to the Holistic Survival Show with Jason Hartman. The economic storm brewing around the world is set to spill into all aspects of our lives. Are you prepared? Where are you going to turn for the critical life skills necessary for you to survive and prosper? The Holistic Survival Show is your family’s insurance for a better life. Jason will teach you to think independently, to understand threats and how to create the ultimate action plan. Sudden change or worst case scenario, you’ll be ready. Welcome to Holistic Survival, your key resource for protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Ladies and gentlemen, your host, Jason Hartman.

Jason Hartman: Welcome to the Holistic Survival Show. This is your host Jason Hartman, where we talk about protecting the people places and profits you care about in these uncertain times. We have a great interview for you today. And we will be back with that in less than 60 seconds on the Holistic Survival Show. And by the way, be sure to visit our website at HolisticSurvival.com. You can subscribe to our blog, which is totally free, has loads of great information, and there’s just a lot of good content for you on the site, so make sure you take advantage of that at HolisticSurvival.com. We’ll be right back.

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Start of Interview with Benjamin Busch

Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Benjamin Busch to the show. He is an actor, director and author of Dust to Dust. He also served in the military, and with the ten year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this is a very timely topic. So we’re glad to have him today to talk to us. Benjamin welcome. How are you?

Benjamin Busch: Hey, thank you so much for having me.

Jason Hartman: The pleasure is all mine. And I just like to give our listeners a sense of geography. Where are you located today?

Benjamin Busch: I’m currently looking out my window at a white field of snow in Northern Michigan.

Jason Hartman: Oh, fantastic. It’s great to have you on the show. Tell us a little bit about your background and your work. You’re an actor in two shows, I guess you’ve been on the west wing as well. Most people have seen that. But give us a little background.

Benjamin Busch: Yeah, I grew up in central New York. My father was actually a writer and my mother a librarian, so words were very much in my life. Although I spent all my time out in the fields and forests, not writing and not reading. I was very experiential. I wanted to have dirt on my hands. I thought that was the best way for me to explore the world. And I kind of had a marshal instinct to me and an artistic at the same time. It’s no surprise that I ended up being both a marine and an artist in my later years. I kind of had those courses set for me. And that’s what I really go into in my book Dust to Dust, is trying to reawaken everyone’s sense of journey.

The path that we’ve chosen has much been based on choices whether we turn left or right along that trip. And it wasn’t until after my second combat tour in Iraq, in the city of Ramadi that I returned home to a child who I didn’t really know, and lost within a year both of my parents. And I think the book finally, I think I was finally moved to write a book that summarized or at least gave some guidance to how to get back in touch with the path you’ve made through your life and the importance of all those little moments.

As a child, I never thought my parents were vulnerable. I thought they were immortal. And after a tour in the marines where I didn’t think I was mortal, my second tour was much bloodier, I was wounded in that tour and all of our preconceived notions will eventually be met with test. And war tested mine, as did the death of my parents. So I began to write the book mostly, not looking for myself but looking for my parents as we all do. And that’s what brought me finally to look at my own journey for the first time. I don’t think I’d ever really looked back at myself specifically, and this is what triggered it. So I’m hoping that the book does that for everyone who reads it.

Jason Hartman: Fantastic. It’s really an incredible perspective from someone who has seen so much action. It’s definitely a sensitive perspective. It’s been called a beautiful meditation on war and loss. What an amazing perspective, really.

Benjamin Busch: Yeah, and I don’t consider it to be a war memoir although the war plays into it very noticeably. About a third of the book addresses my 16 years in the marines, which you would think would take a larger portion. But really, the book’s going after life itself. And much of it plays in childhood, the things that lead to war. It kind of puts war in context. You don’t often see that in a war memoir, you kind of get right into the war and then you are kind of left in it or you get out of it. This one is kind of where war’s place is in our lives as people.

Conflict is always not far from us, and this kind of addresses that. I was drawn to that. I was drawn to endangerment because I was fascinated with uncertainty. I was always drawn to the unknown, and I think it took my all the way to the extreme which is conflict with one another. We don’t pick the wars we get as marines. We go to the ones we’re issued. But within them, you are still tested by all these great uncertainties and moral tests as well. How do you remain just and as the war progressed and we began to question its legitimacy, how do you then deal with that? The Vietnam veterans struggled terribly with that from Vietnam, and I think you’re seeing some of that now with veterans of Iraq.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, you definitely are. Tell us about the chapter titles in your book. They’re odd in a way: Arms, Water, Metal, Soil, Wood, Stone, Blood, Ash. Is that a cycle?

Benjamin Busch: Well I wanted, and like I said I kind of went against a lot of conventions with memoirs because I wasn’t setting out to celebrate myself – I wanted to provide a window for readers back into themselves. So I took my environment and I broke it down. I was always very much part of my landscape, and so I took the things that composed it. I took the soil, and that’s a chapter. And the stone, and water, and metal, and wood, and blood, and bone and finally ash. And I took each of those substances from childhood to adulthood.

So we really begin to see in each chapter how I begin to first notice one of these substances. We had a river, so water was kind of first noticeable to me as a force in that river. And then over time, you see how your perspective on water does change. As an adult it’s the same river but it means different things to you. And so each chapter does that. By the time we get to the end of one substance, we’re somewhere in my adulthood. And then the next chapter begins once again back in childhood.

And it’s not something where readers need to be concerned with chronology. It’s not about this happened and that happened. It’s more about let’s take a look at this huge piece of our environment, and think about it. And so many people work with dirt, work with stone. Our surroundings even if we live in a city are so composed of these same elements. Building are built out of concrete and stone, glass and everything else. So I really sought to kind of track these particular themes in hopes that people as they read this book would keep putting it down because it would inspire them to remember things from their own lives which these elements speak to.

Jason Hartman: Why a lighter on the cover of the book?

Benjamin Busch: Oh, that was actually designed by Alison Forner. It’s a wonderful image, I think. And I wanted something which was a solitary object. The first line in my book is, “I knew very early I was a solitary being.” Which we all are in our own ways. I wanted something which was familiar, which in the hands of an adult was just useful and not dangerous but in the hands of a child is dangerous. And so a lighter that had been lost and recovered kind of spoke to all of the things that I’m going and talking about in the book. And Ash is the last chapter in the book, so I guess beginning it with fire and ending it with ash made sense.

Jason Hartman: Yeah, it definitely did. Do you express your thoughts as to the justification for the war obviously with this ten year anniversary a lot of that is under question. It has been really since about one year in or so. Well, it’s always been in question. But the whole weapons of mass destruction, the WMD thing with Bush and Colin Powell, and Condalingus Rice, just any of your maybe more political thoughts on the war?

Benjamin Busch: Well, the book is not a political book and that would be a distraction from the thing that I’m really trying to speak to. I didn’t want to editorialize in the book, because I really did want this book to be an awakening for its readers. I wanted to write something about all of us. And I didn’t want to put an opinion on it, I just wanted to make it an observation. So the whole book itself is really me trying to give the readers my eyes. And let them walk around looking through them for a little while. And if I can in some way remind anyone of something that they’ve kind of let go fallow in their head, then that’s the kind of purpose of the book is to turn us back that way.

I do write about the more political thoughts in current periodicals, if you look up my piece that came out in The Daily Beast. On the very day of the ten year celebration, March 19th, then you’ll see a very different side of me which is editorializing in my own way, which is presenting my view of certain facts and how they’ve been handled in the public. So, I do that but in different places. I don’t do it in my book. I think there’s probably three or four sentences that even address that aspect of the war.

Jason Hartman: That’s probably hard to keep that out I’d say. But it’s interesting that you really didn’t want to editorialize and you wanted to make it really just give the reader your eyes. But you’ve done a lot of other work. Your periodical writing, your acting work, and I’d like to talk about the broad spectrum, not just the book if we can. So I did want to get some of your thoughts on that if you don’t mind sharing them.

Benjamin Busch: Yeah, well the piece that I wrote for The Daily Beast a week ago, it’s very enditing of a passive public and what became very clearly a disproven cause for war that we ended up staying in for nine years, which is kind of unbelievable. I differ in my approach to Afghanistan because that’s where Bin Laden was. And I did believe in going and getting him. Turning Afghanistan into a western nation or a democracy is a different idea and a different mission entirely. I don’t think we initially planned on that kind of thing.
But Iraq, the call was for weapons of mass destruction in a link to 9-11. Both of those were complete and totally disproven. Which means that everything that followed thereafter was based on an unjust cause. How do you ever reconcile that as a marine or soldier or anybody else that goes forward in the name of a nation for something that which can never really be legitimized? How do you explain that even to Iraq? I don’t know that you can.

Jason Hartman: Well, we don’t have to talk about this for a long time, but maybe just a couple points on that. Number one: I’ve always wondered if the Bush presidency was that crooked, if the whole thing was just that wrong and they knew there weren’t WMDs, why didn’t they just plant them? If there’s that much criminal behavior in the political, which I don’t deny that there is by the way, but it seems like it’d be pretty easy to plant a couple little vials of anthrax somewhere or any other WMD and say that it was found out there in the middle of war-torn Iraq. It wouldn’t be too difficult to do something like that it seems.

Benjamin Busch: Well, I can’t get into that mind. I’m still wondering when any of them will confess to their real reasoning. They had the intention to go to war we see from meetings and memos now in retrospect and investigations. They were planning to go to Iraq long, long before we went in. And in fact we went into Afghanistan very light, too light. Light enough that Bin Laden was able to escape for ten years because they were holding the largest portion of their force for an invasion of Iraq. We didn’t really realize that at the time, but that’s why Afghanistan was so stripped down in operation initially.

And then almost [00:13:28] because Iraq became the true focus of the war for several years. I don’t know. I couldn’t even begin to guess or pretend to have ideas as to why one thing was done and not another. There was an idea that this war was based on, whether you go with the Neocons who are in favor of freeing nations and creating a global world by way of making democracy happen wherever they possibly can, especially and desperately wanting to have one in the Muslim Middle East where that was the most unlikely thing to occur naturally. At least at that point in time. So, I don’t know. I wish someone would finally be honest with us. I don’t think they ever will. We’re at that point, ten years, what’s done is done at this point. We can’t undo anything that we’ve done.

Jason Hartman: No question about it. It just seems like we have a pretty sad future as long as there are so many profit motives for war, it just seems like we’ll never have peace. The saber is rattling very loud with Iraq and North Korea and it seems like we’ve just always got a couple wars coming up at any given time. It’s a sad state of affairs really.

Benjamin Busch: I think the largest problem is our lack of clarity as to what we think we’ll be able to accomplish by imposing ourselves. I think it’s pretty clear that conventionally no one can stand against us. Btu we’re not dealing with conventional war anymore.

Jason Hartman: Right. We’re dealing with corrupt war.

Benjamin Busch: We’re dealing with ideological war. We’re dealing with religious war. And we’re dealing with cultures and traditions that we don’t have a concept of motivations for. We try to simplify everything because we’re Americans. We don’t like to study too long. And I think the biggest problem we have with that is our impulses are pretty impressive. And with a company’s impulse is a lack of sustained efforts. We’re not fans of prolonged engagements, prolong conversations or prolonged study. And unfortunately with places as complex as Syria and Iran and Afghanistan and Iraq, these are ancient places even with recent government shifts, they’re still very subtle and nuanced and we’re just not getting it. And we don’t seem to want to learn.

That’s the part that I find the most disturbing is our lack of willingness to invest in thinking instead of weapons. We’ve got great weapons. The marine corps is a very dangerous organization for good or otherwise, and has been used as such. There’s a lot of anti-military pull, but honestly I joined the marines on purpose. If we were to be used, and we always hope for a noble mission, then I wanted to be one of the Americans that went forward for that noble mission. Enough that I could die for it. And I think that we forget even now that the counter to all of this is well, if the military realized that this was a false war, then why didn’t they all just quit? Why didn’t they all just resist?

Jason Hartman: It never happens in a unified… the command in control is far more organized than a bunch of individuals who have scattered different thoughts obviously.

Benjamin Busch: Well, my response to that is that it’s complicated. If the marines know that we’re involved in a war that has been proven that as unjust in its cause, then why do we continue to go? Well, we sign up for service. Like I said, we don’t make the wars. We are sent there by the electorate and if the electorate feels that it is not worth reversing, which they can do at any time – there could have been a vote at any time to end the wars. They ordered a second presidency to George Bush against an anti-war candidate in John Kerry, so I always kind of throw it back that we as marines and the military in general, we are tools of the state. We know this. We hope that we’ll be used honorably, but if we are sent, we signed up to go. It’s not an organization…

One of the amazing things is that in order to defend democracy the military is not a democratic organization. It doesn’t have a vote within it. It doesn’t vote for its wars and it doesn’t ask our opinion in going. We are sent. That’s what we sign up for. It’s kind of this one on democratic group that you join specifically not to have a choice in. And so even though it’s kind of a cop out answer, well why didn’t I just say no, I’m not going to go… well my marines were being sent. So I want them to be well led so I’m going. Of course I’m going. And I’ll do what I can in the name of justice on the ground. I’ll take what initiative I have as an intelligent individual to try to do the least harm possible and at the same time preserve the lives of those in my charge. It’s a pretty heavy task, but I joined the marines. They didn’t force me.

Jason Hartman: yeah. Good points. I just think the motives are far bigger and more sinister than the electorate. I think it has to do with central banking and the military industrial complex, and there’s just so much… it’s just too damn profitable for obviously over all, it’s obviously destructive. It doesn’t create value ultimately. It creates massive waste. But it creates a lot of value for those few players that supply and finance war.

Benjamin Busch: Well what we see with these wars especially is a shift from the military providing on the ground support in conjunction with state department specialists to everything being subcontracted. In my piece in The Beast I mention that the US forces outside of the embassy are now gone. That’s true in Iraq, but there are 20 thousand contractors we’re still paying to do things in Iraq. And probably the same number in Afghanistan. And that’s money we’re borrowing to pay for efforts we’ve already declared lost.
I think there was just today, Kerry of all people, secretary of state now, he was trying to get the Iraqis to halt Iranian overflights to Syria with arms. And the Iraqis are kind of like, no. I think we’re going to do what we want to. You made us an independent state. And you have no pull here, even though we’re still spending billions of dollars in Iraq. So it kind of created the monster that we’d said we wanted, which was a free thinking independent Iraq and now we can’t push them around. It’s kind of the end of all things for all of our intentions with our experiment there. This isn’t the thing we do.

Jason Hartman: Good points. No question about it. Tell us a little bit about your acting. You’re acting in two shows now I believe and then you’ve got a, is it a documentary coming up or is it a conventional film?

Benjamin Busch: I was on a show called The Wire on HBO, which is considered the greatest show ever and I have to agree. It really was an amazing, amazing show. So smart. A real examination of who we are in American cities now and probably all cities everywhere. And I was a small part of a wonderful thing and it was a great experience for me. Because of that I became friends with a lot of wonderful actors that I’ve used in my own films. And then I was written off that show to go do Generation Kill, which amazingly enough was based on the book about the invasion of Iraq with search marine [00:21:18]. And I had gone up that same pathway in the invasion.

So it was almost a recreation of the things that I had done. And so I was now wearing a costume of my uniform, and I was playing a character that I really had been. And it was the hardest work because I felt the least believable. When you play something so close to yourself, you really do feel like you’re acting because you’re trying so hard not to be yourself and at the same time that was what the part was. So those have come and gone. They’re out there in the world of Netflix and I’m very pleased with how they both turned out.
Since then I’ve made a few films. One of them was last year called Bright and it had a number of actors from both of those shows in it. I shot it in LA over 5 days. And that came out in concert with my book Dust to Dust. And it’s interesting how to two kind of feed off each other – the one chapter I did not write in the end was Light. Because it wasn’t a substance enough for me to really describe, even though light amazingly enough is a substance. And so I wrote a whole movie that focuses around light, and a character who’s afraid of the dark aided by a father figure who is blind and they’re all characters that I have met as people on The Wire and Generation Kill.

So my art and my life are constantly going back and forth. I was a marine and then I play a marine. I didn’t write about light but I ended up making a movie about it while thinking about the same things I was thinking of as I wrote my book. So, I’m always kind of cross pollinating with myself. All these different media that I use to express, I’m a photographer, I write poetry, I write prose, and I act and direct films. They all are related. And there are certain things that I can’t do with one that I can do with the other, which is why I always move between these various medium. Some things I write better as poems, some things I’d rather just show you with an image. And it’s interesting how that’s always worked in my life. And I think being a marine, although you’d think that you couldn’t have two more opposite things, being an artist and being a marine…

Jason Hartman: Yeah, those are pretty opposite seemingly, yes.

Benjamin Busch: Even better than that, I went to Vassar college as a studio art major. Which really throws a wrench into it. I was the first marine to come from Vassar since 1861, so I’ve always kind of had this military side and this artistic side. And the two of them really have benefited from one another. I’ve found them both useful.

Jason Hartman: Well that’s very interesting. You are a whole person. That’s great to hear. Well, give out your website and of course the book’s available on Amazon by the way. It’s got 5 star reviews and a lot of reviews. 50+ reviews I believe and 5 stars, so looks good. And of course you can buy the book on Amazon and I’m sure other bookstores as well. But do you have a website or blog of your own, or are you strictly writing on other sites like The Daily Beast?

Benjamin Busch: Yeah, I don’t write or blog myself, but anyone can find me on Facebook. The cover of the book is my profile picture. And anyone who wants to leave a message, I always respond. I’m happy to hear from readers, especially about what my book makes them think of in their own life. That’s the purpose.

Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Well Benjamin Bush, thank you so much for joining us today.

Benjamin Busch: Hey, it’s been a pleasure. Let’s do it again sometime.

Narrator: Thank you for joining us today for the Holistic Survival Show. Protecting the people, places and profits you care about in uncertain times. Be sure to listen to our Creating Wealth Show, which focuses on exploiting the financial and wealth creation opportunities in today’s economy. Learn more at www.JasonHartman.com or search “Jason Hartman” on iTunes. This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, offering very general guidelines and information. Opinions of guests are their own, and none of the content should be considered individual advice. If you require personalized advice, please consult an appropriate professional. Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.

Transcribed by Ralph

The Holistic Survival Team

Episode: 146

Guest: Benjamin Busch

iTunes: Stream Episode

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