Sunday, the Washington Post released the
first of a two-part
report from Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, which has
hosted almost 650 American soldiers wounded in Iraq during the past
4 months. In it we are made graphically aware of soldiers enduring horrific
pain, psychological trauma and never-ending operations. And we understand
how their lives have been impaired forever – ultimately on the orders
of politicians who are never themselves endangered. We read:
Sunday afternoon, the nurse's station on (Ward) 57 gets word that Secretary
of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is coming for a visit. Counters are scrubbed,
a hot rod magazine on the front desk gets stashed and nurses patrol
the halls, making sure patients and rooms are presentable. An hour later,
Rumsfeld cancels. He has a cold."
It All About?
that about sums up the hollow support America's leaders have given throughout
this whole rotten affair. That George Bush can say things like "bring
'em on" and talk about "unbroken resolve" show that he
is not listening to what his troops are saying: they have had enough.
Too many of them have already been killed or crippled; it's time for
the rest to come while they still can. Indeed, the disillusionment of
the "no visitors" soldier above is being felt by not only in hospital
wards, but primarily on the battlefield.
it's true that America's is a professional army, and its soldiers were
aware of the dangers even if they'd never experienced them for real
before going to Iraq. However, it's not the danger that is dragging
down morale: it's instead the question of, "what is the purpose
of this war? And who will it benefit, anyhow?"
pressure of daily attacks and casualties has intensified such nagging
doubts and misgivings. As one soldier in Iraq recently said, "we
have a lot of unanswered questions."
single day, more soldiers die or are wounded. Early on Tuesday, a US
soldier was killed in yet
another grenade attack. On Sunday, two
other soldiers were killed. These casualties brought the "official"
death toll to 153 in just over 4 months.
Editor and Publisher's Greg Mitchell pointed out Thursday that
these tallies only include "combat" deaths, and that the total
number of deaths from accidents, "friendly fire" and even
a few suicides is
actually pushing 230. However, these "non-combat" casualties
are being downplayed provoking irate Americans to demand the truth.
As a follow-up to this piece, Mitchell
revealed yesterday that the article "has drawn the heaviest
e-mail response of any article from E&P in the nearly four years
I have worked for the magazine." Judging from some of the fan letters
he reprints, it's clear that discovering this policy of suppression
has indeed hit a "raw nerve" in the public.
now not just antiwar critics but also concerned family members and the
soldiers themselves are starting to wonder if there is or ever was
any purpose behind all of this chaos and suffering.
all accounts, morale
has hit rock bottom in Iraq. Underpaid
American troops are suffering
from the intense heat, stifling
insufficient water, and the psychological stress of living
in constant fear of an attack, far away from their
loved ones. They are forced to operate on little sleep, and are
constantly on edge: "I
hate these people" is a now-common epithet for soldiers who see
little point in staying where they're clearly not wanted. Waiting
and wishing to go home, troops are stuck holding angry
protesters at bay instead.
disturbing news of soldiers suffering
from mysterious diseases – perhaps caused by their own radioactive
munitions – have been deliberately hidden from the already downtrodden
troops. Is this becoming
a quagmire, like Vietnam? "It
could be (getting) worse" predicts one veteran of that war.
and Fatalities: a Fine Line
football, Iraq seems to be a game of inches. In other words, there is
very fine line between partial and total disaster. Take for example
the US base at Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. Troops there are coming
under daily mortar fire, something which is inflicting "psychological
damage" – but not only that:
the one occasion so far when the mortars struck U.S. soldiers, only
a thin layer of camouflage netting prevented fatalities, soldiers said.
was about 10:30 p.m. at the camp of the 3rd Brigades's 915 Forward Surgical
Team when the mortars began landing. The soldiers were watching 'Major
Payne,' a 1990s comedy about military life, when the mortar struck,
said Lt. Leonard 'Chip' Sell, an Army doctor.
were injured and seven flown to Germany for medical treatment.
camouflage netting is designed to blow shrapnel up and away. 'If the
mortar would have hit the ground in front of us, it could have killed
all of us,' said Sell."
of such a catastrophe only increase the longer they stay. It is clear
that the Bush Administration is only one major attack away from a political
disaster. That said, it seemed fairly reckless of Paul Wolfowitz to
directly contradict top Iraq commander, Gen. John Abizaid, by euphemistically
insisting that no Iraqi "resistance" exists. Wolfowitz
seems obsessed with sugar-coating the situation correcting soldiers
on the ground by calling these well-planned guerrilla attacks mere "forces
of reaction." Perhaps he should go out on patrol with the grunts
and then decide.
White House Squirms
wonder that White House spinmeisters can do nothing but gape in horror
as the troops on the ground start to tell it like it is. Antiwar.com's
Mike Ewens has collected last week's most
embarrassing quotes from the field. They show that, in the unforgiving
chaos of Iraq today, all decorum is going out the window:
aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul
Wolfowitz,' (one US soldier) said.
Donald Rumsfeld were sitting here in front of us, what would you say
to him?' I [ABC reporter Jeffrey Kofman] asked a group of soldiers who
gathered around a table, eager to talk to a visiting reporter.
he was here,' said Pfc. Jason Punyahotra, 'I would ask him why we're
still here, why we've been told so many times and it's changed.'
the back of the group, Spc. Clinton Deitz put up his hand. 'If Donald
Rumsfeld was here,' he said, 'I'd ask him for his resignation.'"
the Campaign – Throw the Critics Off the Trail
election war chest is now tipping
the $40 million mark. For campaign planners, it is imperative that
nothing go wrong which might disturb his carefully-cultivated image
even though he's obviously bit off more than he can chew in Iraq, our
fearless leader recently
laid into 6 other "rogue states": Myanmar, Belarus, North Korea,
Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe. Presumably, the Commander-in-Chief is planning
to go in and personally topple all of those nefarious regimes – 'cause
his soldiers sure as hell ain't.
Bush has perhaps other young recruits in mind, at least for "mopping
up" in Iraq. Desperately striving to limit the damage to morale and
American lives, the White House is accepting anyone and everyone– including
real live mercenaries – in a clearly disingenuous effort to limit
to use Iraqi militias as cannon fodder against their own people.
Barely a week after arresting and expelling 11 of them from Iraq, the
US also wants Turkish
troops back to help out. Like France and Germany, India
was asked for troops, but sensibly turned down the request. Perhaps
the Indians were thinking of how the British once used
them as cannon fodder in the 1917 attack on Baghdad.
when everything else has gone to hell, the US now displays the sickening
temerity to contemplate
asking the UN for help, after spurning and bullying it for so long.
Voracious American contractors thought that the unilateral approach
meant more riches: to the victors belong the spoils. Yet, as the US
is now finding out, to the victors belong only the casualties.
Bottom Line: Give Respect Where Respect is Due
past few months, American soldiers in Iraq have endured things beyond
the average person's comprehension. While most will live to tell about
it, they will never be free from the long-term shock and trauma of their
experience. Yet many others will return with life-changing impairments
– amputations, burns, mysterious diseases, probably even cancer. And
hundreds more won't come back at all.
Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Co. really believe in the vaunted ideals
allegedly justified all of this bloodshed and misery, then by all
means, let them change places with the soldiers on the ground – they'd
be only too glad to come home.
reason why the politicians are so terrified when soldiers open up to
the press is because they know that the soldiers – and not themselves
– possess the moral authority in this case. For all of the president's
empty words about noble sacrifices, undaunted resolve and whatnot it
is clear that he has no right to speak – much less punish those who
do. Especially so, considering that the moral case for the whole war
seems to be unraveling daily.
into a chaotic, hellish situation for reasons only murkily understood,
America's soldiers have exhibited bravery, tenacity and in many cases,
plain heroism. They should be honored and respected by the rest of us.
The same cannot be said for their political leaders cozily ensconced
out of harm's way in Washington. If, as seems more
and more likely, their stated case for war turns out to have been
based on lies,
enlist, above all, to protect their country. Yet what if, in the case
of Iraq, it turns out that they've been sacrificed for purposes having
nothing to do with national defense? Will the architects of this disastrous
war be willing to step forward then?