Editor’s note: Eilhys England contributed to this column.
This past Memorial Day week – our nation’s date for remembering and honoring the fallen and those who served – saw more than the usual laying of wreaths, flag-waving and patriotic speeches, including the president using the prestigious Army War College as a bully pulpit from which to inform us he finally has a plan to put Iraq on a stable track.
But few Americans paused in between their barbecues and other Memorial Day events to ask whether all of our country’s conflicts have been worth the pain. Few questioned whether the war in Iraq truly impacts al-Qaida – the real authors of 9-11 and this country’s clear and present primary danger – or is critical to our national defense.
And fewer still challenged our political leaders on why, after 14 months of bloodshed, we’re still taking hits in Iraq. After all, once upon a time these same cheerleaders were relentlessly proclaiming that the liberation would be quick and easy, and our forces would be welcomed with open arms.
Perhaps we don’t demand accountability anymore because we’re afraid of being labeled unpatriotic for not supporting the troops or our war leaders – who keep promising they’re close to winning what appears to be an unwinnable war.
Maybe changing Memorial Day to Consequence Day would foster deeper, more reality-based thinking and more public debate before we ever again allow the dogs of war to be unleashed over a phony Gulf of Tonkin attack – which Lyndon Johnson used to get us stuck in Vietnam – or the similarly trumped-up weapons of mass destruction/Sept. 11 terrorist connection that George W. Bush used to make his case against Saddam and sink our nation into the treacherous Iraqi quicksand.
From the Revolutionary War to the present nightmare in Iraq, 1,200,000 Americans soldiers and sailors have been killed. Tens of millions more have been marked with the indelible scars of war – physical and psychological – they’ve been doomed to carry to their graves. Veterans who’ve seen action and want to go back for seconds are rare birds, and it’s hard to find a vet who’s a hawk. Those who’ve faced down the dragon know too well the waste, the stupidity and the unmitigated horror of war.
The United States has fought 11 major wars. The vast majority of these conflicts wouldn’t have occurred had our politicians done their due diligence, employed moral courage and not bought into spurious rationales for bloodletting. Certainly our history demonstrates the extreme caution we should exercise before employing the always-ugly, always-costly military solution.
“The art of war is of vital importance to the state,” wrote Sun Tzu 2,500 years ago. “It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.” This wise man also stated, “In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from a prolonged war.”
The majority of our wars have been pricey and prolonged. Many have bitterly divided the nation. And predictably, few of the war-pushers in the White House or Congress have fought or at least served on active duty. This is particularly true with the chicken hawks responsible for our latest and possibly most catastrophic military misadventure – and just try to name any of their kids currently in Iraq sweating a bullet or a mine explosion.
When Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz, one of the prime architects of the Iraq War, was recently asked to cite the number of Americans killed so far, he was so clueless that he was off by several hundred – even though back before D-Day he could give dozens of precisely calibrated neoconservative reasons about why regime change in Iraq was an absolute necessity.
But to Celeste Zappala, the death of her boy, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, is no such easily forgettable abstraction: “The explosion that killed my son in Baghdad will go on in our lives forever. Sherwood gave the full measure of his responsibility as an American citizen doing his duty for an administration that betrayed him.”
Perhaps the mothers of America should form a Consequence Committee to pass on issues of war and peace. Clearly the decision to go to war is far too important to be left to our shortsighted, agenda-driven politicians and Pentagon eager beavers.