Iâ€™ve been waiting for something to happen, For a week or a month or a yearâ€¦ Lives in the Balance, Jackson Browne, 1986
Hearing Browneâ€™s words play on the radio after a particularly poignant conversation with my battle scarred son impressed upon me once again, the chronic apathy and seemingly mindless complacency that afflicts this nation as regards the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. With 1,210 days, at this writing, into the Iraq war the death toll stands at 2,546. Compare this to Vietnam.
You might ask what it takes to remember, When you know that youâ€™ve seen it before.
During the first four years of the Vietnam war, from 1961 to 1965, 1,864 US troops were killed in action. The death toll grew with another 5,008 killed in action in 1966 and continued to grow each year peaking with the deaths of 16, 511 US troops in 1968 alone.
My son, John, now 26, served his second Iraq tour in Ramadi, in the Anbar Province. Bounded to the north and west by the Euphrates River, Ramadi, prior to the US invasion, was known as the City of Mosques. Today, Ramadi has no electricity, running water or working sewers to service a city of 400,000 people in a region where temperatures can soar to 130 degrees.
John had demonstrated a maturity and steadiness under fire that earned him the respect of his fellow warriors and his lieutenant. The lieutenant awarded John the job of driving the lead humvee on patrols into and out of their forward operating base. The job, a necessity if not an honor, was a potential suicide mission.
Along with his lieutenant and three other Marines, Johnâ€™s job was to prevent any vehicle borne IED from hitting the rest of the convoy, at any cost, even if that meant taking the hit themselves. That was their job, to absorb 500 pounds of vehicle borne C4 explosive. To that end, and often with only three hours sleep in a 24 hour period, John used his vehicle as a battering ram with oncoming traffic absorbing many head on collisions during his tour never knowing if this was THE ONE, if this was his â€˜day to dieâ€™. That was their life in Ramadi.
Noted historian, Howard Zinn, recently wrote â€œâ€¦the true meaning of a patriot, someone who supports a country’s ideals, not necessarily its governmentâ€¦â€ He goes on to say, â€œâ€¦those who gave their lives did not, as they were led to believe, die for their country; they died for their government. The distinction between country and government is at the heart of the Declaration of Independenceâ€¦ It says governments are artificial creations, established by the people, â€˜deriving their just powers from the consent of the governedâ€¦â€™â€
In October, 1963, the â€˜governedâ€™ began withholding their consent to the Vietnam War in mass. The first notable protest to the war was held at the University of Wisconsin. The ensuing protests, marches, tax resistance, draft resistance and acts of civil disobedience over the next few years are widely credited with finally ending the war in Vietnam but not until 58, 202 US troops were killed and 304, 704 were wounded in action.
With such a recent history it is hard to understand why the 99% of this country that are not fighting this war are not mobilizing to help the 1% that are. Rumsfeldâ€™s â€˜war on the cheapâ€™ may play a roll here. With so few serving in Iraq, too few family members have any real vested interest in what our troops are up against. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently wrote for Time, “My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions — or bury the results.”
Recently, three young soldiers were left alone to man a checkpoint in Iraq. All three are now dead, one of them from my own state of Oregon. Where is the outrage that these young men were placed in such a situation without backup, without support? With yet another painful example of criminal incompetence, why are the governed not withdrawing their consent? Instead we bicker. We bicker about whether we can truly support the troops if we do not also support their mission. Advocating for the troops is not a partisan issue.
â€˜Even in the narrowest interpretation, â€œfailed statesâ€ are identified by the failure to provide security for the population, to guarantee rights at home or abroad, or to maintain functioning (nor merely formal) democratic institutions.â€™ Noam Chomsky, Failed States, Metropolitan Books, 2006
I want to know who the men in the shadows are, I want to hear somebody asking them why.
It can be argued that the emerging â€˜governmentâ€™ in Iraq and the present government of the US each meet the definition of a failed state. Yet, while it is estimated that over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the US occupation and our troops continue to die almost daily, not everyone has suffered. According to the Wall Street Journal, by March of 2006, avid war proponent Vice President Cheneyâ€™s Halliburton holdings had increased in value by a whopping 3,281%.
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are, But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
During Johnâ€™s four years in the Marine Corp he served 14 months in Iraq, received a meritorious combat promotion, was a squad leader and was honorably discharged in May, 2006. As with all combat veterans he saw things no one should ever see and he did things no one should ever be asked to do.
John rarely speaks of Iraq, avoiding the subject whenever possible. He will not tell new acquaintances he was in the military to avoid any questions. He simply does not want to think about any of it. Two sometimes three times a month he awakens soaked in sweat to the sound of his own screams but can never remember the nightmare.
I never expected to be the mother of a trained killer. I never dreamed I would be the mother of someone who had killed somebody. Yet, here I am. Advocating for the troops is not a partisan issue. Write Congress and demand they provide for the welfare of the men and women in harmâ€™s way. Do it today, do it now, becauseâ€¦
â€¦there are lives in the balance, There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons, And there is blood on the wire