The Unkindest Cut Of All
There exists in 2008 America a quiet quandary, a presence far beyond the "elephant-in-the-room" phenomenon. A recent story told of a missing Iraq War veteran, who, suffering from post-combat trauma, was found decomposing in a drainage pipe. A Hollywood horror film could not have created a more gruesome image. The sadness is explosive; the quandary is far less visible, far more critical.
The reaction to his having gone missing was typically contemporary American: the volunteers, the search parties, the understanding former servicemen who grasped the situation with ready empathy, and, most of all, the distraught family. The story told of a grouping of people of wide political convictions but united in one thought: this young man and his family need our help. The eventual discovery, perhaps inevitable, brought the story to a close.
But the quandary continues: it is difficult to describe, and will never fit every case identically, but it is there, and it is troublesome. Consider: whoever are the category, or demographic, of those who join the service or the National Guard these days, just place one of them before your vision. For the most part, they have very little idea of what they are in for. They have not experienced combat. They think there are rules governing their combat exposure. They believe something good will come from their time in the service. From this point on, things happen that are not voluntary, but are forced on them and their families.
The enlistee bocomes part of a thinking pattern, at least partly necessary, that is forced on him by the military-political complex. To wit: "you are engaged in the defense of your
country." How is that? Well, "your President" has said so. Because "your President" has said so, the DOD has not only said so, but written it into all the orientation materials that that he will experience throughout his training and all the morale material he will hear throughout your time "in country." His officers and NCOs will all speak the same language on this subject: you are engaged in the defense of your country. The enlistee has no choice at this point as to believing the "party line," because his survival depends on it. He has to be a team player to survive. So, if there was any inclination to examine carefully the "party line," it will tend to disappear. So he has now become our defender.
Now, what of his family? Some of them might have had no strong opinion on the war, though that is no longer likely; you are either with it, or against it. Some families have actually gladly sent the enlistee off to war, because they didn't need any convincing that the Iraq War was being fought in defense of our country. Note the U.S Army TV recruitment ads that feature a father proudly standing with his son in uniform. No question that, to them, this is clearly a patriotic matter. But now comes the tough part, and the quandary emerges.
Suppose this war never was for the defense of the United States; suppose this war was mistakenly gotten into by ideologues who wanted it, and Congressmen who failed miserably to represent the Constitutional system of "checks and balances." How then shall we view the disappearing, eventually decomposing veteran of this war? Further, how shall we approach his family? Shall we arrive at the funeral home, to compassionately tell his survivors that we are truly sorry their loved one got caught up as a victim in a political tug-of-war by a passel of politicians who never knew what it was like to face death, dismemberment, and trauma to the psyche in a war zone? That would be the most unkind cut. We have seen some of that from people who use military funerals as a venue for protest: it doesn't matter what the protest, it's just totally unthinking.
It is too late for the lost one and his family. But it is not too late for others outside the immediate situation. What not to have ever happen again?
This war was a "half-war." We have in our Constitution, both explicit and implicit, the principle that major decisions should not be arrived at by a majority of one: that's why efforts to amend the Constitution require a two-thirds or a three-fourths vote. It has, further,always been the conventional wisdom that we should never, never, never, commit our service people to being in harm's way without a strong vote of support from the representatives of the people. Note that: a STRONG vote. Never mind the fraction: a clearly, unequivocally STRONG vote. There has never been strong support for this war, and now there is practically no support. This war is a "half-war" if ever there was one.
Consider the implication for that enlistee. he suffered his pain without ever knowing his country was behind him. In his final loneliness in that drainpipe, think of what this "half-war" and its driving forces have done to him. It will do him or us no good to think that the "warhawks" of 2003 will burn in hell. The monument we can erect in his memory is a committed populace that can leave its comfort long enough to vote for candidates who will truly "keep the peace."