Friday, June 01, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Light Blogging Week
Just got back from an overnight on the Rim (more crowded after Memorial Day, even on a weekday) and head to professional continuing education Thursday and Friday (must keep the credential credible) so I won't be here for a while.
About the only event worth noting is Cindy Sheehan's retirement. Or burn out. I don't do nearly what she has done to speak against the war and I'm burned out. Imagine all that plus the invective and hatred from the wingnuts. She's a brave woman. We should all be so brave.
Friday is my Third Blogiversary. Maybe I'll do something for the occasion.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Memorial Day 2007
I really never knew him but he has been my companion for many years.
Some say he was an asshole jerk. I can't say for sure.
All I know is that the brief time we were together left a lasting impression.
You see, I watched him die.
His death was not dramatic or heroic. Just dumb.
An accident in a war filled with many accidents.
The difference was that I saw it happen.
I watched him die.
He fell out of a helicopter that was his ticket to safety.
A medical evacation for a minor cut,
Hardly even a wound,
A convenient excuse to get out of the jungle.
But nobody expected him to die.
We watched him rising toward the chopper
Cursing his good fortune, each of us
Wishing that we were ascending in his place.
The chopper's big rotors slapped the air
As it hovered above the moutainside.
Its turbines screaming,
Waiting to carry him back to the rear.
I saw the medic leaning out of the door.
I saw the medic reach out to pull him in.
I saw him put his feet on the skids.
And I saw him fall away from the chopper.
He fell abruptly, violently.
No slo mo effect. No eternity to reach the ground.
Just a rapid free fall and a bone crunching THUD.
Mere seconds ended his life at 19.
We wrapped him in a poncho
And hooked him to the cable again.
This time he made it,
Boots pointing upward as they disappeared into the open door.
But this time was too late.
The chopper carried away a corpse,
Leaving us to our thoughts, black and evil.
No one wanted to trade places with him now.
All these years I've remembered his fall
And seen his body break upon
That nameless mountain.
All these years his death has been my companion.
I did not know him well
But he remains with me still.
Even now all I really know is that I saw him die.
That seems to be more than enough.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Why “Supporting the Troops” is Wrong
All week long politicians of various stripes declared “Support the troops!” as they debated Iraq war supplemental funding bill. Actually, I’ve been hearing that mantra pretty much ever since the war began. The big difference is that early on, Americans had other goals to pursue: finding weapons of mass destruction, destroying evil and bringing democracy to a benighted region. These days supporting the troops is about all that we have left.
“We can’t let the troops down. Not after they’ve given so much.”
“The troops know they can succeed, if only we give them the tools they need.”
“The nation must show itself worthy of these brave men and women.”
The debate, such as it was, seemed to center on the troops. America’s war aims are apparently not nearly as important.
At this point I will note that CheneyBush does talk about the war and its importance in protecting (insert “vulnerable America” image here; this week it was “your children”) against a growing, alien danger. Regular readers of this space know that I consider anything he says to be “...a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Today, I want to consider one way that Americans blind ourselves to this distressing reality.
“Support the troops” provides cover for all sides in the debate about the war and occupation. It’s an all purpose phrase that works well as both offense and defense. But, in reality, the politicians are supporting war, not troops. At the most fundamental level, the troops are a basic tool of war, previously funded with regular appropriations. The funding bill is about equipment and operations, about how and where those troops will apply the lethal force that CheneyBush has decided is necessary in Iraq to achieve his policies. You might as well say you support the tanks and helicopters, too.
The troops may be cogs in our war machine but they are still our daughters, sons, husbands, wives, parents, siblings and friends, far more precious than mere equipment. Now that over 3400 Americans are dead and another 25,000 wounded, we apparently cannot change to a more successful strategy because that would be a “defeat”, a “loss”. “Their sacrifices would be in vain,.” we are told. “It will destroy morale.” Note that nothing in these words speaks to the national interest for which we are asking these men, women and their families to sacrifice. Here’s where CheneyBush starts bleating “Al-Qaeda!”, “Terrorist!”, “Fear!” to conjure up a threat worth dying for. As noted above, I consider this highly bogus.
Listening to the debate on funding the Iraq occupation, it seems that the politicians care far more for individual soldiers and less about the reasons for their sacrifice. It seems that we dare not tell the troops that their sacrifices did not make America safer because CheneyBush led them into an impossible situation. So the nation tells them “Keep going, keep sacrificing, we’ll make it work somehow.” We “support the troops” by continuing to put them at risk in pursuit of failed policy.
And the troops will keep on doing what they are told. They want to. That’s why most of them joined. As an organization, the military wants to demonstrate its ability to serve the nation, even under difficult, hazardous circumstances. The troops will accept challenge and risk because that’s what they prepare and train for. It’s their job to take risks for the nation, the more challenging the better. Think Normandy, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir or Ia Drang Valley. Street fighting in Baghdad may not be so dramatic or large scale but it’s very deadly and tests our troops as greatly as any previous military challenge.
After four years of war, death and sacrifice, we are afraid to tell our forces–and ourselves–that invading and occupying Iraq was a mistake, that all their sacrifice did nothing to strengthen America. Even worse, the war and occupation has nourished future terrorists and tarnished the nation’s reputation. By any objective standard, Iraq has been a waste. That does not diminish our troops’s sacrifice, their courage or their determination. Those achievements are beyond success or failure. The nation asked. They served. We must never forget their sacrifice. But we also must continue to ask why that sacrifice was needed if it did not serve our national interests. We can truly honor that sacrifice by releasing them from CheneyBush’s lies.
A majority of Americans now see through these lies and distortions. But apparently, we dare not tell the troops. I guess we don’t think they can handle it. That’s bullshit. Not only do most of them know what their fellow Americans think, many of them think the same. They can handle the truth. They’re trained to handle just about anything. I’m pretty sure our troops can redeploy and stand down as well as they have performed in combat, if the focus of American policy becomes Iraqi responsibility and regional diplomacy rather than occupation.
Many, I am sure, will welcome the change, the chance to escape a nightmarish futility. Others will be disappointed, believing they were denied the opportunity to succeed. But, in the end, they are soldiers. Their job is to apply force, as directed, in pursuit of policy objectives. If that policy does not succeed, our troops (and especially the military leadership) should be able to understand and adapt to the change. Explaining why we asked them to sacrifice in the first place will be the tricky part since the original reasons were so dramatic, coming on the heals of the 9-11 attacks and so patently false. That’s where we must face up to CheneyBush’s lies. It seems that America is unwilling to do that just yet. CheneyBush is clearly unwilling. Instead politicians claim to “support the troops” when, in fact, they support war and occupation, a policy that has cascaded from one disaster to another, degraded our military, wasted lives and distracted our attention from real economic, diplomatic, environmental and social issues that threaten our nation.
“Supporting the troops” ignores questions of policy and war. It’s an all purpose mantra that keeps us from asking how and why we are sacrificing these brave men and women. “Supporting the troops” is wrong because it keeps us from thinking about why our leaders called for this sacrifice. If we really want to support the troops, we will continue to ask, "Why?".
A Father Speaks About Duty
Andrew Bacevich, retired US Army colonel and thoughtful critic of the Iraq war and occupation, writes about his son's death in that war. He offers many piercing insights. His thoughts about the speeches we will hear this weekend is particularly so:
Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.