On our recent trip to the Mediterranean, Jim and I made friends with a soldier named Steve who was returning to Iraq, flying on the same plane we were on to Frankfurt. Steve was a very sweet guy. Very even tempered and, like any good soldier, proud to do his duty. We, of course, asked him what it was like. He told us that it was mostly hot. He also said that the politicians have basically dumped a lot of unnecessary and useless equipment on them -- the useful equipment being in short supply -- and that he and his men spend a lot of wasted time doing little more than servicing and maintaining a lot of unusable crap.
"And we do a lot of waiting around. We don't know where or when the enemy is going to plant a bomb. We're just there," he said with a bemused smile. It was his third tour of duty.
I myself am not a veteran. I came of age during the Viet Nam era and my number came up (84) -- a sure bet for the draft -- when, suddenly, before the draft papers hit my mailbox, the draft was ended. I have to confess that I don't know what I would have done. The thought of being in the swamps of Viet Nam, especially with my asthma, scared the total crap out of me. I was very much a product of my generation, wholly opposed to the war, knowing that it was basically nothing but the product of the insanity of Robert McNamara / Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The Vietnam Veterans for Peace were out there trying to make the clueless politicos understand that they had put the working soldier into an impossible situation -- fighting a war that no war planner had actually figured out an endgame for, supporting a regime that the public hated.
As always, it's the soldier who gets caught in the crossfire and ends up bearing the brunt of the criticism and disrespect, while watching his buddies get blown to pieces.
When the Iraq war started, I knew -- hell, everyone with a brain knew -- that this was another War to Nowhere. Planned by a bunch of chickenhawk warmongers who were clueless about war planning and about the cost of war. And how did I know this?
Because, in a war, if you don't line up your allies abroad and your public support stateside, you have a recipe for disaster. When President Bush, who pretends to be such a big supporter of veterans told Americans that the best thing they can do to support the war was to ignore it, to "go about your business" and just keep buying stuff, I knew this guy was going to lose it. That's NOT how you conduct a war.
In World War II, the entire populace was motivated and focused on winning the war. They became participants along with the soldiers by SACRIFICING for them. As reported over on Raw Story, there is a superb Frank Rich column out in the NY Times, which you're not allowed to read unless you pay for it. So I'll quote from Raw Story's account:
...the Bush Administration "has asked no sacrifice of civilians other than longer waits at airline security," while our troops go to war in Iraq so "we can party on,"What angers me most about this administration is that they have treated soldiers worse than any administration since Nixon's and Johnson's. Their attitude has been, "We'll go start this war and throw a few soldiers in the mix into a situation where no one knows who the enemy is and the rest of you don't worry you pretty little heads about it. We'll even make it easier for you by hiding all the flag-draped coffins coming home so you don't have to think about it."
This week, I received in mail, the Beirut Veterans coin, which is pictured above, which honors the soldiers killed during the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, 1982-1984. I'm working with Bill Kibler, a Beirut vet, to make a musical contribution to a hoped-for memorial march commemorating the sacrifice made by these soldiers. It's still in the approval stages, so I don't want to say much more than that, but I have to say that, personally, I have never felt more scandalized by anything than I have by the brutal and horrific way the Bush administration have disrespected and dishonored the men they have placed in Iraq (while cutting funding for veterans programs).
They are responsible for the conditions which have led to recent attrocities. They are the ones who have basically undermanned, underequipped and undersupported they guys wearing the dog tags.
I will proudly display my Beirut coin right where I can look at it every single day. And every single day I will think of the men and women who are in the service right now. I will hope and pray that they will be brought home soon. And I will hope and pray that the civilian leaders who have bungled the planning and execution of this war will start listening to veterans for a change.
EDIT: The Frank Rich column can be read here.