Just Above Sunset
June 5, 2005 - Final Thoughts













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The sun was out early in Los Angeles last Monday.  There were Memorial Day events, followed by cook-outs and ball games and such.  This is, informally, first day of summer, of course, and the traffic was light, or was until the evening when everyone rushed home.  But I was thinking of my nephew in Mosul and his friends.

A quick review of Memorial Day comment out there –

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in their editorial Praise Bravery, Seek Forgiveness:

 

Nothing young Americans can do in life is more honorable than offering themselves for the defense of their nation. It requires great selflessness and sacrifice, and quite possibly the forfeiture of life itself. On Memorial Day 2005, we gather to remember all those who gave us that ultimate gift. Because they are so fresh in our minds, those who have died in Iraq make a special claim on our thoughts and our prayers.

In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes.

True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.

 

That is followed by a discussion of the May 1 Downing Street Memo and other items, like how four days before the State of the Union address in January 2003, the National Security Council staff "put out a call for new intelligence to bolster claims" about Saddam Hussein's WMD programs.  The call went out because the NSC staff believed the case was weak.  No one in the administration would listen to them.  And on the day before the speech, the CIA's Berlin station chief warned that the source for some of what Bush would say was untrustworthy.  But he said it anyway.  It was fabricated information from one source – that Curveball alcoholic and unstable cousin of Chalabi. O h well.

The Star-Tribune editorial ends with this –

 

As this bloody month of car bombs and American deaths -- the most since January -- comes to a close, as we gather in groups small and large to honor our war dead, let us all sing of their bravery and sacrifice. But let us also ask their forgiveness for sending them to a war that should never have happened. In the 1960s it was Vietnam. Today it is Iraq. Let us resolve to never, ever make this mistake again. Our young people are simply too precious.

 

I suspect we’ll make the same mistake again and again.

On the left?  Smugness, as in this

 

… but it is also the destiny of we patriots, patriots of America the Ideal, as opposed to America the Ass-Kicker, to always be called unpatriotic when we oppose the unjustified use of power; and then be labeled the cause of defeat when we turn out to be correct.

Peace be with those who die in our name, and also to those who want them not to be sacrificed in vain.

 

Somehow, that is offensive.  Grandstanding.  Who was right?  That hardly matters now.

The question is what to do now.  Bob Herbert over at the New York Times doesn’t like the current plan

 

President Bush's close confidante, Karen Hughes, has been chosen to lead a high-profile State Department effort to repair America's image. The Bush crowd apparently thinks this is a perception problem, as opposed to a potentially catastrophic crisis that will not be eased without substantive policy changes.

This is much more than an image problem. The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake. The United States is a country that as a matter of policy (and in the name of freedom) "renders" people to regimes that specialize in the art of torture.

"How," asked Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, "can our State Department denounce countries for engaging in torture while the C.I.A. secretly transfers detainees to the very same countries for interrogation?"

Ms. Hughes said in March that she would do her best "to stand for what President Bush called the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity." Someone should tell her that there's not a lot of human dignity in the venues where torture is inflicted.

The U.S. would regain some of its own lost dignity if a truly independent commission were established to thoroughly investigate the interrogation and detention operations associated with the war on terror and the war in Iraq. A real investigation would be traumatic because it would expose behavior most Americans would never want associated with their country. But in the long run it would be extremely beneficial.

 

There will be no trauma.  There will be no commission.

The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake?  Perhaps so.  But there will be no commission.

 

In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Mr. Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance. It will take a lot more than Karen Hughes to turn that around.

 

And kicking more butt probably won’t do it either.

Nor will holier-than-thou statements from the left like this

 

Deaths in war are about the honor and sacrifice of soldiers for their country, period. But there is no greater dishonor or cruelty than falsely leading these honorable troops into war. History will judge the people responsible for this manipulation and these lies very harshly, and I suspect God will, too.

 

Yeah, well, if there is a God, how did all this happen, unless He, She or It has a nasty sense of humor?

The Saturday before Memorial Day I visited the Los Angeles National Cemetery as the local Scouts were finishing up placing a small American flag on each grave - and Kevin Roderick, who for two decades was a staff writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times, explains the place

 

Plain markers exist for more than 85,000 veterans and family members (plus two dogs and a smattering of widows, children and staff members buried when the cemetery served the National Soldiers Home for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors, which is a whole 'nother story.) Even so, the task of placing the flags goes fairly quickly. Starting Saturday at 7:30 a.m., Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from all over the L.A. area will converge on the Sepulveda Boulevard grounds. After an 8 a.m. ceremony, they will fan out with flags. By 11 a.m., all but the stragglers will have gone. It's an impressive sight, and a solemn and stirring one. The sweeping lawns and century-old trees have stood in for Arlington National Cemetery in numerous movies and TV episodes, but the LANC doesn't get half the tourists that find their way to Marilyn Monroe's crypt a few blocks away. It's too bad. Deep inside the grounds, the hill where Abner Prather, a Civil War blue from the Indiana infantry, became the first burial in 1889 is a great hidden spot to absorb a little history. In 2 Days in the Valley, a suicidal Paul Mazursky looks at all the markers and observes, "There are a lot of heroes buried in this place."

 

Yes.  The photos are here without comment.

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A reaction from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta –

 

I'm not going to beat up on the so-called "smug" left here -- I'm way tired of liberals trashing liberals -- but I think the left does need to rethink the way it approaches soldiers who serve in war zones.

Liberals seem to see warriors as "victims" who deserve our sympathy every time we send them into an unnecessary war, when in fact soldiers are professionals who do what their country asks them to do, and tend to do it without asking too many questions. Just as it would be too much to suppose that doctors pray for diseases to cure, policemen for crime waves to fight, firemen for fires to fight, or journalists for disasters to cover, I'm pretty sure soldiers don't pray for wars to wage. But like the others on this list, I think they do want to do their job well when called upon to do it.

If, on the other hand, we encouraged our soldiers to pick and choose the fights they wanted to fight, then, for one thing, Clinton might not have been able to stabilize the Balkans, a war I think historians will agree had some actual useful purpose. Even worse, enough members of the military, having been coached as independent thinkers in political matters, might on some future day choose to ignore the civilian leadership and seriously consider taking over some place they might think really needs it -- some place like France, or maybe even, say, the United States of America?

Someday, after things have calmed down in Iraq (assuming they ever do) and this whole Iraq thing has faded into our collective memory (assuming it ever does), you may want to ask your nephew if he and his fellow soldiers think their country owes them an apology. I'm willing to bet he'll give you a strange look.

 

My nephew thinks he's doing what he should be doing.  And he is.

In a few years he and I will sit down and discuss the whole business.  We'll see then.  I don't think apologies will come up - just geopolitics.  I suspect he’ll end up back at West Point, where he started, teaching that.































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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