Monday, October 15, 2007


To hear supporters of war, whether it's in Iraq, or Vietnam, or (some hope) in Iran, it's a glorious adventure, one which will unite as a people and bring our country back to the hallowed days after World War II, when America was established as a superpower and all was right with the world. They speak of those who wear the uniform in faux-reverential tones, speaking empty platitudes about honoring the men and women who fight our wars for us. All they know of war, all I know of war, has been learned from books and movies and TV. It's been well-documented that those in our government who sent our country to war in Iraq didn't have military experience of their own, and many of those with big mouths and big microphones either haven't served or won't serve, for primarily selfish reasons.

As I said, my only knowledge of war is second-hand, either through the truth, as best as it can be told, or through fiction, in dramatizations of battle. I'm in the middle of watching the new Ken Burns documentary, "The War," about that revered "Good War," World War II (I have seen episodes 1, 2, 6, and 7). I won't pretend that watching a documentary in any way allows me to share the experience of the men who were there, but I would like to share my reactions to the experience of listening to them talk.

When you listen to the men who were there, they don't speak of the glory of battle. Not only is it not the wackiness of Hogan's Heroes, it's not even the prisoners in Stalag 17. Or the gruff warriors in The Longest Day. Or even the blood on the beach in Saving Private Ryan. (Although Schindler's List comes closer than most.) They don't talk with wry smiles about spending six months wearing the same blood-soaked clothes in driving blizzards and oven-like jungles, or of liberating death camps, or having their foxholes fill with maggots as they were pinned down by artillery fire, or dropping bombs that still had the power to kill fifty years later. They don't talk about a "good" war, but instead speak of the "necessity" of what they were doing. For some, even Pearl Harbor wasn't enough justification, although the men who were unfortunate enough to walk through the gates of hell into Buchenwald or Mauthausen learned what the necessity of the war really was. No, sixty years later, these men speak of nightmares, and death, and convey with a look what they can't say with words, that there really are no words which can tell you what it's like. The footage that Ken Burns gathered is remarkable, backing the words with images of coffins and flamethrowers, emaciated soldiers and bombed-out buildings, sunken, haunted eyes and burning aircraft, spiraling into the ground. And none of it looks like fun. None of it even hints of a "glorious adventure."

One of the things that has long bothered me the most about our national shame in Iraq was that it has been clear from the start that no consideration was given to how war affects those who are on the battlefield, whether in uniform or not. And since no such consideration was given, our country was rushed into battle without doing everything in our power to avoid it. Our country has not suffered the staggering losses we did in Europe and the Pacific, when more people died on one battlefield in three days than in the fifty-five months we've been in Iraq. (And remember - we were the lucky ones. The war wasn't fought on American soil. Our houses didn't burn and our cities weren't destroyed.) However, listening to the testimony of the men and women in "The War," what continues to come to my mind is that we have forever damaged the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, American and Iraqi, who may not bear physical wounds due to the bombs and bullets, but will bear the marks of battle for the rest of their days.

To all of those who beat the drums for war - to those vile souls who still think that somehow blowing up bombs validates our national manhood and is something to swagger about. To those whose bloodlust for those who differ from themselves in heritage, or belief, or place of birth and drag us all along on their gruesome crusades. To those who would sacrifice other lives, American or not, in the name of greed and power. To George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, and Colin Powell, and George Tenet, and Alberto Gonzalez, and Rush Limbaugh, and William Kristol, and Bill O'Reilly, and the whole gang over at Fox News, and the Corner at the National Review, and the rest of the 29-percenters who refuse to see what harm they bring to the world every time they speak. To all of you, I wish I believed in a heaven and a hell, and an afterlife where, in a just universe, those who have suffered for your ill words and ill deeds would spend eternity in paradise and where you would burn with the horrible wounds, the crippling nightmares, and the tragic devastation of lives forever changed by your deeds for a time out of time, beyond the death of the universe, spending forever in a cataclysm of pain for a crime for which there is no atonement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen bro !!!