Just Above Sunset
June 6, 2004: We're always looking for the triumph of the good guys and happiness ever after.

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Memorial Day was ninety and cloudless out here in the Los Angeles basin, with kids screaming in the pool until late in the afternoon, and then a pale sunset.  Memorial Day.  Late in the morning, with a roar, four F-18 fighters in close formation shot low over the Sunset Strip on their way toward the coast – the Navy Blue Angels doing the annual flyover of the sprawling Veterans Cemetery over in Westwood.

Memorial Day.  Bush and Rumsfeld spoke at the Tomb of the Unknown in Washington, and Rumsfeld got a standing ovation.

And Time reported President Bush has been given a pistol Saddam Hussein had with him when he was captured and now proudly shows it to selected guests, in the side office at the White House where Clinton had his encounters with Monica. 


Yeah, so ask yourself, what are you proud of? 


"He really liked showing it off," a recent visitor to the White House who has seen the gun told the magazine.  "He was really proud of it."



And Reuters is reporting this:


The Army is investigating reports of assaults against Iraqi civilians and thefts of their money and jewelry by U.S. troops during patrols, raids and house searches, defense officials said on Monday. 

… The probe by the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, suggests that a major scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans goes beyond detention centers into the homes and streets of the troubled country. 

"There are a number of criminal investigations by the Army into allegations of assault, theft and other issues that extend beyond the investigations into activities at detention facilities," Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said. 


Oh great. 

This war is not exactly making us look good and noble. 

The new WWII Memorial opening in Washington last weekend, and that helped. 


That war had fewer ambiguities and we actually were the good guys – if you don’t think too much about what the Tuskegee Airmen faced when they got home after their heroics, and if you don’t think too much about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated in the Army, fighting for us all in Italy, while their relatives were in our internment camps in California.  You see, they were all Japanese-Americans.  Curiously, the 522nd battalion of the 442nd Regiment discovered and liberated the Dachau, the other side’s much nastier camp, but they were ordered to keep quiet about it.  The next day, another American battalion arrived and "officially" liberated the camp.  It would be too strange if….  Well, you get the idea. 

But that war was easier to honor, generally. 

This war, and our guys, some of whom I know, is hard to write about.  And one of my family is being posted to Iraq in January – for a year in this war, or peace, or whatever it is. 

How to make sense of the day?  I found "Billmon" over at Whiskey Bar struggling with it.  See his comments where you will find sections like this:


… I come from an old military family, one that has been fighting this country's wars since before it was a country.  And they're still fighting them: I have cousins who served, and several who died, in Vietnam.  Others served in Desert Storm.  Some of their kids are now in Iraq. 

So Memorial Day has strong meanings for me - even though I never wore a uniform and have never felt any attraction to the mindless cult of military power that so often passes for patriotism these days, especially on the right. 

Like the founders (and Dwight D. Eisenhower, for that matter) I fear the permanent war establishment - the so-called "iron triangle" of a bloated military, a corrupt defense industry and the congressional whores who profit from the care and feeding of both.  And I've watched uneasily over the past several decades as the professional officer corps has evolved into something like the armed wing of the conservative movement. 

These are fundamentally unhealthy trends for any republic - and especially for one that's already showing a pronounced tendency towards imperial hubris.  To a greater degree than perhaps at any time in our history, the military has become a major political player, and a dangerously reactionary one at that.  When Rush Limbaugh is the only political voice allowed on Armed Forces Radio, it's fair to say the trend lines for democracy are not good. 

But as much as I may distrust an increasingly politicized military establishment, I can't disown the men and women who are serving their country - or trying to serve their country - in Iraq.  On this Memorial Day, I must pay my respects to those who have given their lives, and praise their courage and their dedication, and grieve their loss.  And I must honor the wounded, those who have seen their limbs shattered or their minds blasted by this war.  May they be healed in body as well as spirit.  And may all those who fight in this war always know that their country loves them, and respects them, and will never turn its back on them, or blame them for our failure. 


The whole thing is worth a read. 

He runs through a lot of what going wrong, and right, and in between over there.  And then he stops. 


But in the end it doesn't really matter - I am an American and these are my people.  They've been sent to Iraq to fight, and die, in my name.  I can't support the war (which is a lost cause anyway) but I can't turn my back on the troops.  It would be like turning my back on my own family. 

… When I hear the casualties from Iraq reported on the news, or when photos of their flag-draped caskets leak through the Pentagon's wall of secrecy, I realize I know nothing about the young men and women who have been sacrificed in this war.  Where they good soldiers, who served their country well despite everything they were forced to endure?  Or were they monsters, who killed or tortured or stole from the people they supposedly came to liberate? 

I don't know - I'll never know.  But I remember my father's war diary, and the things it taught me about him, and I realize I owe these men and women the benefit of the doubt.  However they lived and however they fought, they died in my service, and in the service of my country.  And for that I am eternally in their debt. 


Of course.    

And I couldn’t be more proud of the family member I mention.  I went to his graduation from West Point.  I see him several times a year, for deep discussions of international politics – well, they seem deep – and he reads widely and thinks well.  We disagree on many things.  But he’s a good man.  And I wish him well.  He has my respect. 

But it’s not him where I see problems. 

Everyone sees the problems. 

This is a good summary. 

A Foreign Policy, Falling Apart
Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post, Sunday, May 23, 2004; Page B01
Syndicated elsewhere as The applause is fading; it's time to change the Iraq script
Monday, May 31, 2004

It’s long, but convincing. 


We have come to a delicate moment in an absorbing drama.  The actors seem unsure of their roles.  The audience is becoming restless with the confusion on stage.  But the scriptwriters keep trying to convince the crowd that the ending they imagined can still, somehow, come to pass. 

The authors stick to their plotline even as its plausibility melts away, and why not?  For months the audience kept applauding; many of the reviewers were admiring, while many others kept quiet. 

No more.  Senior military officers, government officials, diplomats and others working in Iraq, commentators, experts and analysts have all joined a chorus of doubters that is large and growing.  And the applause - in this case, public approval as measured in polls - is fading. 


Already, some of the authors' friends are grabbing them by their rhetorical lapels.  "Failures are multiplying," wrote George Will, the conservative columnist, yet "no one seems accountable."

The original script included parts for American soldiers and diplomats, Iraqis, Arabs and Europeans, but many declined to play along or refused to perform as directed.  No matter - the authors promised to "stay the course."  A quick look back at the list of promises made and then abandoned demonstrates how little the play now conforms to the original scenario.  And by the way, just what is the "course" we are staying on? 


Yeah, well, who knows? 

Well Kaiser notes that Americans are hopeless romantics – "...we're always looking for the triumph of the good guys and happiness ever after."

Indeed so.  Particularly on this Memorial Day. 

But it’s hard to be hopeful –


… the success promised by the Bush administration both before and after the war has eluded us. 

We have not made a "a crucial advance in the campaign against terror," the words US President George W.  Bush used when he declared victory in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" on May 1, 2003. 

Instead, we have stimulated new hatred of the United States in precisely the regions from which future terrorist threats are most likely to arise, while alienating our traditional allies.  By embracing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza, we abandoned the "honest broker" role that US governments tried to play for four decades in the Middle East, and we confirmed the conspiratorial suspicions of every anti-American Arab.  Our credibility has been battered. 

We set out to put fear into the hearts of our enemies by demonstrating the efficacy of a new doctrine of pre-emptive war.  Instead, we have shown the timeless nature of hubris.  Last week we announced the transfer of 3,600 troops of the overstrained US Army away from the border of what might be the world's most dangerous country, North Korea.  They will be sent to help with the war in Iraq, for which we now acknowledge we had inadequate resources. 

Contrary to the Bush administration's stated and implied promises - "we will be greeted as liberators" was Vice-President Dick Cheney's famous version - we did not achieve a relatively low-cost triumph in Iraq.  Instead we have a crisis of still-growing dimensions.  Our occupation policy has changed as often as the color of Madonna's hair.  Ominously, as became clear with last week's assassination of Iraqi Governing Council President Ezzedine Salim, we cannot even protect the Iraqis who have agreed to work with us. 

The war has damaged the good name of the United States in every corner of the globe, has cost unanticipated scores of billions of dollars (all of it borrowed) and now threatens long-term damage to our army and the National Guard.  War has already disfigured the 3,500 American families whose sons and daughters have been killed or seriously wounded in Iraq, and countless Iraqi families as well. 


This man is not looking on the bright side. 

Read the whole things and you’ll see why there may be no bright side. 
And there is history:


The events of the last few weeks recall the trauma of February and March 1968, when Americans were absorbing the impact of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.  Tet was a brilliant military campaign that won no lasting military benefit for the Vietnamese communists who executed it, but which humiliated an ignorant, over-confident America and destroyed political support for the war in the United States. 

Dean Acheson and Clark Clifford, two principal architects of "containment" - the basis of American foreign policy toward Soviet and Chinese communists from Truman to Johnson and beyond - told their friend and president, Lyndon B. Johnson, that the jig was up.  The costs of war in Vietnam were too high to justify its continuation. 
Soon afterward Johnson announced he would not seek re-election and asked the Vietnamese communists to negotiate peace. 


No, don’t even think it. 

Bush doesn’t waver.  Moral clarity and all that…

And Bush has a plan, at least a plan to stay in office. 

See From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity
Scholars Say Campaign Is Making History With Often-Misleading Attacks
Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei, The Washington Post, Monday, May 31, 2004; Page A01

The facts? 


Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts.  Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising. 

Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry.  Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising.  Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total.  The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets.  Both campaigns said the figures are accurate. 


The facts are not good in Iraq, and not much better in Afghanistan, and the economy is going great, but only if you own a business or stock in one – not if you are one of the unlucky few, if you’re what is quaintly called a “worker.”

So, if events are such that they are hard to spin too terribly positively, why this hyper-negative blitz of campaign advertising full of distortions. 

A Republican explains -


Scott Reed, who ran Robert J.  Dole's presidential campaign that year, said the Bush campaign has little choice but to deliver a constant stream of such negative charges.  "With low poll numbers and a volatile situation in Iraq, Bush has more hope of tarnishing Kerry's image than promoting his own."

"The Bush campaign is faced with the hard, true fact that they have to keep their boot on his neck and define him on their terms," Reed said.  That might risk alienating some moderate voters or depressing turnout, "but they don't have a choice," he said. 


And it will probably work. 

Four more years.  Four more Memorial Days.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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