Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I Will Not Lie Down

I have blogged about the war in Iraq at times. I blogged about re-reading an Atlantic Monthly article from shortly before the beginning of the war-- an article that pretty much predicted the course of events that have taken place. I also blogged about how the death toll from this war has surpassed that of the 9/11 attacks, the putative reason for the war.

Today, Bush asked for more time for this war to work.

At 45, I'm old enough to remember the Vietnam War. I remember the exhaustion this country had at the end of it. I remember the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976-- how there was a sadness and escapism to them. The United States had slunk from Vietnam, tail between its legs. The most powerful nation in history had lost a war to a bunch of guys in black pajamas. Or at least that was the perception. It was a war that need never have been fought. And it was a war that began on false premises.

I'm surprised that more people haven't drawn the analogy between the fake "Weapons of Mass Destruction" of this war and the fake "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" that began our involvement in the Vietnam War in earnest.

In early August of 1964, an American destroyer, the USS Maddox was off the coast near where a South Vietnamese commando raid into North Vietnamese territory was taking place. Believing the Maddox was part of the raid, North Vietnamese patrol boats attacked the Maddox, inflicting virtually no damage. Two days later, the Maddox' crew mistakenly thought they were being attacked again. It was pretty clear immediately that there had been no attack.

One of the people witnessing the second event was a naval aviator named James Stockdale. He happened to be flying overhead and knew that day that there had been no attack. His superiors told him to keep quiet about that fact.

The "attacks" were highly publicized in the United States. President Lyndon Johnson used them as rationale for greatly expanding the war. He stampeded the House and Senate into passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

The resolution, which granted Johnson a virtual carte blanche to wage war on North Vietnam, passed the House 416-0. It passed the Senate 88-2. Two Senators, Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska, were the only two members of Congress to vote against it. Morse would warn, "I believe this resolution to be a historic mistake."

Stockdale was later shot down. He spent years as a POW, being beaten and tortured, fearing that he'd reveal his secret-- that the Gulf of Tonkin "Incident" was a fabrication-- to his captors. This would have been a propaganda coup.

Some of you may remember that Stockdale, who retired as an Admiral, was Ross Perot's running mate in 1992. When he was ridiculed for his behavior in the 1992 debates-- behavior that was largely a consequence of his hearing loss due to beatings suffered as a POW, it pained me. I knew what he'd suffered and why. Most people didn't know that. Most people didn't even know what the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was. I guess that Master's in Political Science I got comes in handy sometimes.

The current war was founded on blatant lies, greed and corruption. It has exacted a toll on individuals and families. It has exacted a toll on the body politic-- blogger Chris wrote today of how dispiriting this whole thing has been. And it has. But, as Flannery pointed out in response, even right-wingers are seeing the light.

Bush has chutzpah to insist that, after four years that we have to stay the course in a war that he started with brazenly false premises, and was clearly motivated by the prospect of monsterous corporate profits.

Bush and the confederacy of dunces around him clearly thought that this war was going to be a slamdunk. Run in, be greeted like liberating heroes, set up shop and go home, leaving a puppet government in charge, with a handful of U.S. troops to train Iraqi troops and hand out candy bars to happy children, and multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts for Haliburton (Oh, gee-- Cheney is the vice-president of Haliburton too-- what a coincidence) and cheap oil for a couple of decades. Oh, and for the True Believers, the establishment of a stable democracy among the Arab Mideast. Poor Tom Friedman, a liberal, fell for that one.

Instead, it feels more like the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" part of "Fantasia," with the situation running completely out of control, as an idiot gets in over his head.

The picture at the top of this post is one I clipped from the front page of the New York Times on April 7, 2004. I kept it because it both broke my heart and angered me. 12 US Marines had been killed in firefights with Shiite militiamen in Ramadi and Najaf. A year into the war, it was clearly expanding and spinning out of control.

My brother spent 14 years as a Marine. He was present at the attack in Beirut, Lebanon in October, 1983. He had just turned 21 a few months before. He was fortunate enough to have been in a tent a mile away when the truck bomb obliterated a multi-story concrete building, killing 241 young American soldiers. He spent nearly 4 days digging guys out of those smashed concrete building that had been blown up by one of the factions in the Beirut war. Not quite a year later, I received a letter from him. I found out later, it was the only time he communicated to anybody in his immediate family for decades-- not his wife, not my parents, nobody-- about what happened that week. He wrote about how "fucked up" dead bodies were. He wrote about how awful it was to hold a crushed guy who was screaming and knew he was dying, but lying to him that he was going to be okay, just to make his last few minutes of life a little better. He wrote about how awful it was breaking the arms and legs of guys who were dead, and rigor mortis had set in, so that he could fit them into body bags.

My brother has never recovered. He was eventually given a medical discharge from the service, diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has never been right since that week.

Seeing that picture on the front page, I had to fight tears-- I realized that both men in the picture, like my brother, were irreperably damaged-- the Marine who'd been killed, in the body bag, and the guy who was carrying him. Look at the pain in his face.

In the next few months, these pictures, also clipped from the front page of the New York Times, broke my heart and angered me.

This one was from June 21, 2004.

I had conflicting feelings on this one-- it broke my heart to see a guy this young, Sgt. Luke Wilson, maimed, but I had admiration for how he clearly intended to go on with his life with vigor and energy.

However, the next picture ended up next to to Sgt. Wilson's picture and the picture of the Marine carrying his slain buddy off of the battlefield. I put it up on my refrigerator because it had made me so angry I was shaking.

The picture borders on being a cartoon. It's from the front page of the New York Times on December 15, 2004. I'm sure you recognize the guy on the far right. That's the imbecile who got us into this war. He's giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to, from left to right, General Tommy Franks, L. Paul Bremer II and George Tenet, who, the caption reads, as director of the CIA built a case for the war.

It's as if, after the Challenger disaster, President Reagan had awarded The Presidential Medal of Technical Prowess and Administrative Competency to the top three people of NASA a year later.

Now we see an adminstration functioning just like any organization that has fucked up badly. They are bickering, practicing desperate damage control, jumping ship and trying to blame others.

There's even that poor vampire Dick Cheney, increasingingly out of the loop, desperately trying to claim his old role as the real boss of the White House back by claiming that a Congressional resolution to end the war would give aid and comfort to the enemy. Sorry Dick-- that old canard is worn out-- it was used up and abused during the Vietnam War-- you remember that one, don't you? The one you didn't fight in, because you had "other priorities."

I didn't go to Vietnam either, but I had a pretty good excuse. I was just finishing junior high school when it ended. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident happened when I was 3.

I remember, when I was 12 or 13 years old, which would have been in 1973 or 1974, my father telling me that if the Vietnam War was still going on as I approached 18, we were moving to Canada. I think the draft was actually done with by that time, but I appreciated the thought.

My son turned 13 just a couple of weeks ago. When this war started, he had just turned 9. When the first Gulf War was fought in January of 1991, he was minus three years old.

When I read the New York Times list of deaths in Iraq, I realize that the guys who were killed that were 19 and 20 years were three and four years old during that war.

A couple of months ago, my father called and told me that I needed to get my son a passport. His grandson wasn't fighting in this damned war.

I am a man of milestones. I take note of milestones both personal and society-wide. I was then, today, suprised to realize that I'd missed a milestone.

I have long been interested in World War II. Back in 1993, I went to a wonderful exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society that was entitled "We've Got a Job to Do." It was about how civilian men, women and children pitched in to the war effort, a war to defeat the very real threat of fascism, and how Chicago was changed economically, politically, socially, racially and how the role of women in society changed.

One of the things I came away from after viewing the exhibit was, as the exhibit clearly aimed at, was how much society had changed. Another thing I was surprised to note was how, at the end of the war, people were tired of the war and the sacrifice. They were ready for peace, prosperity and normalcy.

The United States fought in World War II from December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945. That's about three years and a little over eight months.

We have been in this war for four years now. This war has lasted longer than we were in World War II.

When this war started, I was rooming with a friend. A couple of weeks into the war, as the coalition troops sliced through the Iraqi troops like a hot knife like butter without finding any of the weapons of mass destruction that were the alleged reason for the war, my old roommate and I put up a sign on the back porch as a joke. It's a spoof of the signs in workplaces bragging how many accident-free days there have been. I came across it a few days ago while looking for my tax forms. I'd forgotten that I still had it.

I took the sign down sometime in 2004 for a couple of reasons. Mainly because, as the American deaths in Iraq approached 1,000, it had ceased to be funny.

As of today, March 20, 2007, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website, the number of American dead is 3,218. And rising.

A lot of you are dispirited. Yes, there are still the knuckleheads who desperately cling to the lies of this administration. Hey-- there were still people who believed in Hitler, Stalin and Mao after the damage those sociopaths wrought on their countries. Bush and Company are small potatoes compared to them. People have an amazing ability to cling to horribly misguided beliefs. They get snookered time and time again. They never pay heed to the great Sinclair Lewis quote, which I was just quoting on Vikki's blog, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

People like my father-in-law, who will be 80 soon, and my own father, who will be 70 soon, see these people for what they are and reject them. They see the kind of future these bastards are promising to their children and grandchildren, and they've rejected them and their bullshit.

They have not worn them down, and they have not worn me down. I have not given up.

I'll leave it to someone wiser-- okay, at least a better song-writer than I am-- Don Henley, to sum it all up:

I'm brave enough to be crazy
I'm strong enough to be weak
I see all these heroes with feet of clay
Whose mighty ships have sprung a leak
And I want you to tell me darlin'
Just what do you believe in now?

Yeah, we're gonna tear it up
We gonna trash it up
Gonna round it up
Gonna shake it up
Oh, no no no, I will not lie down

I will not lie down for these assholes.


Coaster Punchman said...

Great post. I seethe with anger at the thought of all these Washingtonians who have never served sending young people off to fight and die. This morning Condi Rice was rather flip on the "Today Show" in talking about how no good comes without sacrifice. I wanted to reach through the TV and slap her face.

Flannery Alden said...

All of this war and chaos, these lies, they will collapse under their own weight. The energy necessary to swim against the current of negative popular and global opinion is going to wear down the egos running this show.

I have to believe this.

deadspot said...

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and I'm guessing this administration has more than its fair share of people who repeated history.

kim said...

Am I a bad citizen because I say I am not interested? Of course, I am interested in not sending any more troops and getting the folks home that are over there. But the whole reason why. . .why are we there anyways? Frankly, I'm a little more than bored by the whole affair.

SamuraiFrog said...

Powerful stuff. I'm glad you found the words to express the anger I'm feeling right now. More time means more death, and unlike the president I didn't elect, I support the troops. I support them so much that I don't want any more of them to die. How can he ask for this?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's interesting from this side of the 49th parallel to see the groundswell of opinion change in your country. Of course there were always people like yourself who saw this for what it was, but over the past year, more and more people seem willing to acknowledge this.
And although we currently have a Bush Lite in office up here, he doesn't speak for us either.

Natalie said...

We shouldn't have been three in the first place and to remain there is just insane. I have to keep faith that the country will wake up but it is getting harder and harder to do so.

Skylers Dad said...

Wonderful post Johnny, spot on as a matter of fact.

I wish it was possible for there to be a rule, or a method to make politicians who want to send brave men and women in harms way to have to go there themselves first, or to send their kids first.

It certainly would better define what a "just cause" is, which is all that those of us who have served in the military ever really needed to know before stepping out into the world of war.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Thanks for the link, baby. I'm starting to wonder if the only way to end this mess is to reinstate the draft.

busterp said...

Great post. Nice analogy with Fantasia too.

I had a pretty good idea that the reasons for war were trumped up as it was beginning. I'm just surprised not many others saw it too. Looking back it seems so obvious.

And I hate the way it gets twisted around that if we don't continue the war, it's US making the mistake.

deadspot said...

Here's another interesting Viet Nam-Iraq connection: Colin Powell started his political career lying about My Lai and ended it lying about Iraq.

When I was listening to the UN hearings before the war, Hans Blix called Powell out on the fact that Colin Powell had lied in his testimony about when photos were taken. Powell had said that photos were actually taken weeks apart had been taken days apart in order to give the impression that there was more activity at a suspected WMD site than there actually was, and to make it appear that activity was taking place before weapons inspectors arrived.

I didn't hear a single US media source pick up on it, including NPR, which was carrying the hearings live.

lulu said...

I'm just so tired of it. That's all I can say. So damn tired of it. I am beginning to believe that nothing we do will make a difference, that lying down is as viable an option as protesting. I have lost faith in my country and in the political process. I used to believe in this country; I don't anymore.

Erik Donald France said...

Very impressive post -- in the days of Tom Paine, this might have been published as a broadside or pepmphlet. Nice work and excellent points.