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My Memorial Day column:

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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


A gathering of soldiers:


“They say the people back home don’t know what we’re doing here.”

“What? We’re fighting the people who want to be able to terrorize and control us. What’s so hard to understand about that?”

“All I know is, according to the papers support for the war is at only 33%. Nobody thought it would go on this long, or that so many soldiers would die.”

“Ain’t that something? The fair weather patriots are fading into the woodwork now that the job’s gotten hard.”

“Well, it does seem like we haven’t been winning too many battles.”

“Don’t worry about that. The trick is to stay the course. We’re good fighters, when the cause is just – maybe the people who think we shouldn’t be here just aren’t getting the right information. If we lose, it’ll be because they don’t realize freedom can be worth fighting for.”

“So it’s all up to the American people?”

“It always is. Now go get some sleep; General Washington says we’ll be going up against Cornwallis tomorrow.”

Another gathering of soldiers:

“This is the second time we’ve gone through this. We won last time, but it doesn’t look like we’re doing so well this time.”

“Don’t be a fool; we’ll win because we have to.”

“A lot of people are saying we never should have gone to war for such foolish reasons.”

“Maybe they’re right, or maybe if we hadn’t gone to war things would have just gotten worse. But it’s too late to do anything else.”

“But all the people who died – the damage that’s been done – shouldn’t we just quit, walk away?”

“And spit in the face of the people who got us this far? Shut up and eat your hardtack. You need to keep your strength up, in case the British attack Fort McHenry tomorrow.”

Still another gathering of soldiers:

“Have you ever wondered if we should have just left them alone?”

“Oh, I’ve thought about it.”

“They just wanted to go their own way.”

“That’s what they said, all right.”

“I mean … do we have the right to tell them what to do?”

“Good question.”

“They’re just people, like us.”

“That they are.”

“Of course, they did refuse to give their minorities any rights. Split up their families, killed them if they complained.”

“Hm.”

“Do you think people have a responsibility to fight for the freedom of others?”

“Course I do. Joined Lincoln’s army, didn’t I?”

Yet another gathering of soldiers:

“I don’t see what we’re doing over here.”

“They bombed America, dummy.”

“No they didn’t – someone else did. Just because this country has the same kind of government
and believes in the same kind of things doesn’t mean they’re connected to the people from the other country who attacked us.”

“Maybe not. But they believe it’s their destiny to eventually overthrow nations that believe in freedom. They attacked other countries. They built up their military at the expense of their own people. They were experimenting with ways to carry big weapons long distances. Do you really think, if we left them alone, they’d just sit there and never threaten us?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Jeez, Hitler stinks.”

Again, a gathering of soldiers:

“I never even heard of this country. I couldn’t find it on a map.”

“Guess it’s real, though, or we wouldn’t be here.”

“Yeah. But should we be in the middle of a civil war? I mean, isn’t it just them trying to kill them?”

“You got it wrong, bub. They’re being used. There are all sorts of fighters from other countries coming in, saying they’re supporting these guys when they’re really trying to spread their form of dictatorship – and kill Americans.”

“Well, why don’t we just leave, then, so they can’t kill Americans?”

“History.”

“History?”

“Yeah. These are bad guys, guys who want to take over other countries and kill anyone who doesn’t tow their line. You let bullies like that get away with beating up the neighbor, sooner or later they’ll come and beat you up.”

“So that’s why we’re in Korea?”

“It’s not for the weather.”

Another generation of soldiers:

“What if we just left?”

“Left?”

“Yeah. You know, come to an agreement and leave. Peace with dignity.”

“Might as well; the people back home don’t seem to want to let us win.”

“Well, maybe with us gone, the people here will stop fighting each other. Maybe they won’t have a reason to fight, and everything will be peaceful.”

“Sure. Or maybe the winners will come in and kill a bunch of the losers, and take away everyone’s freedoms, and try to continue spreading their hate and dictatorship to the rest of the region. Maybe the whole country will be thrown back to the Stone Age.”

“Huh. I guess it’ll be interesting to see what happens to Vietnam.”

And one more gathering of soldiers:

“Says here in the paper that the American people don’t support what we’re doing in Iraq anymore.”

“Don’t believe everything you see in the papers.”

“Says all we’re causing is death and destruction.”

“I thought the terrorists who are blowing up the people they claim to be helping had something to do with that.”

“Says there’s nothing worth fighting a war for. Says the people were better off before, and Iraq was never a threat to us, anyway, and the war’s unwinnable.”

“Look, put the paper down, and read this instead. It should put everything into perspective for you.”

“What is it?”

“A history book.”

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
raemcn
May. 19th, 2006 09:15 am (UTC)
Thank you for this piece. Going to type through my tears so if its incoherent I'm sorry. I don't understand why so many can not see how evil terrorists are. That is exactly what Saddam is or, well, was now. How can anyone truly believe that he would leave the rest of the world alone when he did come up with the power to attack countries further away, including our own. Afghanistan is another one of my hot button issues. I woke up on Sept. 11th to the second plane hitting the twin towers on live TV feed. My first response was total shock and then I called Paul, my best friend and woke him up. He's become a late sleeper since he was disabled. I was crying and screaming and in complete shock as I yelled at him to turn on his TV. I then called my husband at work doing the same. How is it possible for ppl to forget that day enough to think there is any reason we shouldn't stop these types of ppl if we can. I had these views on the world long before that happened. No matter what you should try and keep the "Hitler" types from gaining enough power to create another World War. The French are neutral, but has that stopped the terrorist attacks in their country? NO! That is what the word terrorist is all about. They don't care who you are or what your views are, all they live for is death and destruction in the most elaborately public way possible. How many activists from our own country have gone to the middle east in the last few years because they are against what America is doing and been tortured to death? These ppl don't care if you are on their side politically. They see you as not one of theirs and that means painful, bloody death for you. Open your eyes ppl and stop seeing things as if we stay peaceful they will be too. It hasn't worked that way before and it never will.
ozma914
May. 19th, 2006 10:42 am (UTC)
I was just getting off work the morning of 9/11, and turned the TV on just after the second plane hit. They were talking about how there'd been an explosion in one tower and a plane had just hit the other, and for just an instant I thought, "What a terrible coincidence" ... until I realized the truth. Most people don't remember, but almost every fire department in the country was called up on alert tht day, so I spent the rest of the day at our volunteer fire station.

My girlfriend at the time was a 911 call-taker for the New York City Fire Department; she actually took calls from many of the people who ended up dying in the towers. And I spent the day frantically trying to call her, because I wasn't sure how close her workplace was to downtown Manhatten.

Of course, most people also don't remember that the terrorists have been attacking America for over a decade. We've been at war all through the 90's, we just never realized it. What's really going on hit me when a newspaper columnist referred to "World War IV" (WW III being the struggle against communism). His arguments made a lot of sense, and boiled down to us being in a struggle for survival, because the ultimate goal of Muslim fundamentalists isn't to kick us out of a country or region; it's to turn every nation in the world into a Muslim dictatorship, just as the Soviets once dreamed of making every nation Communist. Once you understand that, the world suddenly becomes a very scary place, indeed.

Of course, people argue that Saddam wasn't involved in that. I wrote a column once in which I compared Iraq before the first Gulf War to Germany just before World War II, and the similarities are remarkable. One of those similiarities is that, just as Hitler had Italy and Japan, Saddam had the terrorist and fundamentalist rulers of places like Afghanistan. There was no real connection between Germany and Japan; but they had similar aims, and so supported each other. Germany, on the verge of destruction, even smuggled some components of their Weapons of Mass Destruction program to Tokyo.

You want to bet Saddam didn't ship some of his WMD operation to other countries? You want to bet your life?

Well. Having said that, I really do understand people who've buried their head in the sand. Nobody likes change for the worst. Everybody wants somebody easy to blame, and with G.W. Bush they have an easy target; a man who barrels right along doing what he thinks he should, without planning ahead for steps 3 and 4 -- in other words, he's a checker player, not a chess player. I'd have rather had someone more moderate in the White House, but at least he's willing to take action. I'll bet good money that a lot of those terrorists in Iraq wouldn't be sitting around drinking tea if we weren't there -- they'd be attacking Americans elsewhere.

War stinks. It should always be the second to the last choice -- after allowing your civilization to be destroyed.
cbtreks
May. 20th, 2006 12:31 am (UTC)
Very well-written and thought-provoking.

I think fewer people would be against this war if the memory of Vietnam weren't so relatively fresh in their minds. All those years fighting, all those thousands of Americans dying (and many, many, more - like my husband - broken in one way or another for the rest of their lives) and in the end it was useless. (I just wish they'd remember that it was the attitude toward and treatment of those veterans when they came home that broke them, just as much, if not more than what happened to them in combat.)

Like many others, I watch news about this war and think that no one seems to know what's going on - you know, the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing? - and that Commander in Chief does not, unfortunately, plan ahead. I suspect he has absolutely no idea what to do next or how to keep things from going south and also suspect he probably wouldn't listen to those who do. (If there are even any left in Washington anymore.) Not a pleasant thought! I want our soldiers to be able to finish their job and come home but it's kind of scary to think that no one, especially their Commander in Chief, knows what that is and how to do it, so they'll be there for decades being killed and forgotten.
ozma914
May. 21st, 2006 02:49 am (UTC)
I believe Bush had the right idea in going in to stop the death and torture that was going on over there; including a lot of stuff going on that would eventually have effected us (US) directly. But Bush does have a habit of dashing in to do what he sees as right without considering the consequence, and an even worse habit of refusing to admit it when he's wrong. There's no doubt in my mind he wants the military out of there *now*, after the proverbial horse has escaped the barn ...

Iraq and Vietnam are similar in that they're both theaters of a much greater war. But they have two great differences:

First, almost everyone still fully supports the people that are over there doing, even if they don't agree that those people should be there. And there's still good morale over there, especially since our service people are making great (and unreported) strides in helping the people of Iraq recover from what Saddam did to them.

Second, when we left Vietnam, the victors were happy to just kill and destroy in their own country and leave us alone. The terrorists in Iraq -- most of whom aren't even from that country -- have every intention of taking the battle to other places once we've left there, and eventually destroying what we call western civilization. If we don't do this right, they'll just follow right along behind us, and the next thing we'll see is another 9/11. There's even some evidence that the reason we've escaped attack in America since 2001 is because the bad guys are busy in Iraq. (The opposite argument is that some of those people may have become terrorists soley because we attacked Iraq.)

Vietnam, as you said, was useless. I think we can keep that from happening here, but we'd better darn well be sure the politicians don't handicap any effort to succeed -- to bring this to an end in a way that doesn't lead to still more people dying in the future. That's my great fear -- that we'll fail over there, and convince the fundamentalists that they'll succeed with future attacks elsewhere. That would be the ultimate disrespect to all our service people, past and present. (I have an uncle who could compare notes with your husband.)

Of course, an election is coming up, so nobody is going to discuss this reasonably ... they'll be too busy placing blame. Which brings us back to the whole "disrespect" thing.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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