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"Show me your company, and I'll tell you who you are," my grandmother would often say with a light Irish lilt but unmistakable seriousness, an admonition about taking care in choosing what company you keep.
On Thursday, I could sense her smiling down through the snow as I stood pinned to the White House fence with Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges, Margaret Flowers, Medea Benjamin, Coleen Rowley, Mike Ferner, Jodie Evans, and over 125 others risking arrest in an attempt to highlight the horrors of war.
The witness was sponsored by Veterans for Peace, a group comprised of many former soldiers who have "been there, done that" regarding war, distinguishing them from President Barack Obama who, like his predecessor, hasn't a clue what war is really about. (Sorry, Mr. President, donning a bomber jacket and making empty promises to the troops in the middle of an Afghan night does not qualify.)
The simple but significant gift of presence was being offered outside the White House. As I hung on the fence, I recalled what I knew of the results of war.
Into view came some of my closest childhood friends -- like Bob, whose father was killed in WWII when Bob was in kindergarten. My uncle Larry, an Army chaplain, killed in a plane crash.
Other friends like Mike and Dan, whose big brothers were killed in Korea. So many of my classmates from Infantry Officers Orientation at Ft. Benning killed in the Big Muddy called Vietnam.
My college classmate with whom I studied Russian, Ed Krukowski, 1Lt, USAF, one of the very first casualties of Vietnam, killed, leaving behind a wife and three small children. Other friends, too numerous to mention, killed in that misbegotten war.
More recently, Casey Sheehan and 4,429 other U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, and the 491 U.S. troops killed so far this year in Afghanistan (bringing that total to 1,438). And their mothers. And the mothers of all those others who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Mothers don't get to decide; only to mourn.
A pure snow showered down as if to say blessed are the peacemakers. Tears kept my eyes hydrated against the cold.
The hat my youngest daughter knit for me three years ago when I had no hair gave me an additional sense of being showered with love and affirmation. There was a palpable sense of rightness in our witness to the witless ways of the White House behind the fence.
I thought to myself, this White House is a far cry from the "Camelot" administration of John F. Kennedy, who brought me, and so many others to Washington almost a half-century ago. And yet, I could not resist borrowing a song from the play, Camelot: "I wonder what the king is doing tonight. What merriment is the king pursuing tonight""
Perhaps strutting before a mirror in his leather bomber jacket, practicing rhetorical flourishes for the troops, like, "You are making our country safer." The opposite, of course, is true, and if President Obama does not know that, he is not as smart as people think he is.
More accurately, the troops are making Obama's political position safer, protecting him from accusations of "softness" on Afghanistan, just as a surge of troops into Iraq postponed the inevitable, sparing George W. Bush from the personal ignominy of presiding over a more obvious American defeat in Iraq.
Both presidents were willing to sacrifice those troops on the altar of political expediency, knowing full well that it is not American freedom that "the insurgents" hate, but rather U.S. government policies, which leave so many oppressed, or dead.