In less than 100 hours we will be entering a new year.
Had it not been for today’s assassination of Pakistani presidential contender Bhutto, I’d be more optimistic that 2008, in areas other than those that are more specifically economic, might be happier for most Americans. As things now stand, what’s up and how high, or what might be really down, everything is a feather caught in fitful winds.
I had hoped we all might have cause to aim our hopes more skyward; the last year of the Bush presidency, the Iraq fires set on lower temps. My most fervent plea is that the present circumstance holds, and that before we ever again lustily trek in ho-hearty military adventures on behalf of vicarious national machismo, we dig deep into the truths of what they genuinely entail for those most immediately affected.
In A Few Good Men, Colonel Jessup screamed “You can’t handle the truth!” at Lt. Daniel Kaffee. He’s right you know. We can’t. If we could, war would very much in fact be the last enterprise we entertained.
En route to my genuine wishes for 2008, I want everyone — most especially those who want to the least — to read the blurbs I’ve pulled from a few books by Iraq veterans. Read the excerpts. Visualize them. Breathe them deep into your lungs so they permeate your body and soul.
A few preliminary truths are that Americans are very little if at all different from any other member of the species we claim membership in. We love our children to the same degree as any others. We suffer pangs of fear that occasionally are disabling. Think of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, a Jew named Shylock: “I am a person too. Hath I not eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as you are? If you prick me do I not bleed? If you tickle me do I not laugh? If you poison me do I not die? And if you wrong me shall I not revenge?”
Have you ever seen or heard of a fellow, so caught in rage that he slammed his fist through a wall or a door? What about a woman crashing a plate on the floor? The fellow wasn’t angry at the wall any more than the woman was ticked off at either the plate or the floor. There was an excruciating hurt inside and the violence was a scream to make the pain stop. Just STOP! Every suicide draws from the same terrible emotional and psychological toxins and has as its end the same end: to make the pain stop. Just the right circumstances and each and every one of us suffers the same. All that is necessary is that the pain be sufficient.
We would like to think our soldiers and marines are somehow different; more moral, less susceptible to the effects of war than soldiers from other lands and other times. Truth 2: they are not. They are human. And it’s long past the hour when the repercussions of that imperfect state get weighed in the matter, whether to war or not.
Understand that not a word of what follows is necessarily an indictment of the individual. Rather they are depictions of what our aggregated impulses conclude when we cheer them off, on their way to war and to depravities that none of us have the courage to acknowledge.
From My War: Killing Time in Iraq, by Colby Buzzell, and Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army, by Kayla Williams, and The Deserter’s Tale, by Joshua Key, and Operation Homecoming, by a collection of U.S. soldiers.
Heavy drinking, drug use, hash smoking, and Valium popping are prevalent means by which the endless days, weeks and months are survived.
Pornography, virtually unknown in Iraq before the invasion, is everywhere.
Iraqis have been the easy targets of theft (cash, jewelry, knives, electronic equipment, sunglasses, etc) during raids or at checkpoints.
Iraqis are held in widespread contempt; “ragheads,” ‘camel jockeys,” “sand niggers,” “f*cking locals.” In raids, doors are broken down, furniture busted up, mattresses shred, sleeping children rounded up from their beds, and every physically capable man is zipcuffed. Many have been savagely beaten, and burned with cigarettes.
“You can’t talk to them [ordinary Americans] about the horror of a dead child’s lifeless mutilated body staring back at you from the void, knowing you took part in that end.”
“Do you realize the sh*t we’ve done here, the people we’ve killed?”
“The problem with American society is we don’t really understand what war is. Our understanding of it is too sanitized.”
“When you see a little girl in pretty clothes that someone dressed her in, and she’s smushed on the road with her legs cut off, you don’t think, ‘Well, you know, there were Fedayeen nearby and this is collateral damage. They’re just civilians.”
“You’re safest if you’re a soldier. I’m haunted by the images of people that I saw killed by my country.”
The Old Testament Jews comported themselves similarly. So did Phillip’s and Alexander’s forces. And Attila’s. And the popes’ during the Crusades. And the Norse raiders. And the Yankees and the Rebs. And the Germans and the Russians and the Japanese and the Americans in WWII. And Charlie and the NVA and the Americans in Vietnam. Every war it is the same. Although most soldiers were good human beings, some were not. That’s just the way humanity across the globe and across time is broken down, has been, always will be. But all had a point, and many, many reached it, went beyond it. Not even those who returned in tact, returned completely in tact.
Think about that the next time we think about warring. But even more important, have those who do not want to think about it, who do not want to dwell on the horrors, think about it hard. It’s why, to this day, I cannot abide those who voted GOP in 2004. It was either all too damned easy for them to turn away from the truths their votes truly meant, or their hearts were cold and hard beyond my capacity to grasp. The deaths and mutilations on all sides were there, and their vote said they liked it all. How? How can anyone even pretend to be like that?
Following Vietnam, I wanted with all my heart for us to have learned the lessons. Too many didn’t. In 2008, can we not this time endeavor to study earnestly the admonitions that have been written so terribly stark in the wasted blood and treasure that is Iraq?