In his fear-mongering September 11th speech, President Bush again invoked the names of the soldiers he sent to their deaths in his Iraq War. He claimed again, as he has so many times before, that the war must go on so that their sacrifice is not wasted.
The President noted, "Every one of our troops is a volunteer, and since the attacks of September the 11th, more than 1.6 million Americans have stepped forward to put on our nation's uniform. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the war on terror, the men and women of our military are making great sacrifices to keep us safe. Some have suffered terrible injuries -- and nearly 3,000 have given their lives. America cherishes their memory. We pray for their families. And we will never back down from the work they have begun."
When he cited the volunteers, he neglected to mention those troops forced back into active duty from the Inactive Ready Reserve. He failed to acknowledge the so-called Stop Loss phenomenon that keeps troops fighting long past the exit date they were offered when they signed up for the service. And worst of all, he ignored the fact that many of those volunteers - along with so many American civilians and even members of Congress - back his war because they believed their Commander-in-Chief when he told them the U.S. needed to invade Iraq to save America.
What do those 1.6 million volunteers think today? We could use a poll that asks them all. In the meantime, I've tallied the feelings of some of them in my book Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq. President Bush should ask these soldiers to the White House and listen to what they have to say. While we wait for the invitations to be sent out, here are some examples.
Meet Joshua Key, combat hardened from his Iraq time, now a deserter in Canada seeking refugee status. He misses his family and he blames the Bush Administration. "I blame them because they made me do it. You can lie to the world; you can't lie to a person who's seen it. They made me have to do things that a man should never have to do, for the purpose of their gain - not the people's - their financial gain."
George W. Bush is culpable for crimes in Iraq, according to Joshua Key. "He'll pay for it one day. On the day he goes to prison, I'll go sit in prison with him. I say if he goes to prison - George Bush - I'll go sit in prison with him. Let's go. I'll face it for that music. But that ain't never going to happen." And Joshua Key laughs a bitter, bitter laugh.
Meet Abdul Henderson, sent into Iraq from Kuwait as the invasion started. Abdul Henderson says he does not oppose the military. "That's one thing a lot of people get mixed up. I'm protesting this war. I'm not really anti-war. Sometimes war is inevitable. I love the Marine Corps. To this day I love the Marine Corps." In fact he credits what he learned from the Marines for his resolve to oppose the Iraq War. "The Marine Corps gave me the strength and conviction to stand up for what I believe in. It changed my life forever."
He says it was Bush Administration politicians who drove him from the service as he watched them misuse the patriotism of his fellow Marines ready to die of America. "They basically lied to us. They told us something that they said was the absolute truth, that, 'We know where these weapons of mass destruction are. They got them. They're here, here, here, and here.' They showed us pictures. We got there and there was nothing," Again a laugh, a mixture of disgust and incredulity. "That place was in shambles."
Meet Steven Casey, still susceptible to recall from the Inactive Ready Reserve after his time fighting in Iraq. He says he'll never put his uniform back on. "You'll see me on the news. I won't be back. I'll be a statistic of a guy who doesn't show up." His voice is quiet as he says it again, "I'm not coming back." Steven Casey says he's going to college, an education he'll pay for with the money the Army guaranteed him when he enlisted. "I did get what I was promised," he says about his benefits package. "I got everything they said I was going to get," he says about the tuition money. "I got a hunk of money for school, and with that I got social anxiety and I got this cool skin rash that I'm never going to get rid of. I've got a social disorder. I yell at my wife. I don't think I won. There are a lot of things that came with this that are irreparable and I'm going to have the rest of my life." He talks about anger and anxiety. He wonders if he's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, if he's facing a lifetime of prescription drugs and psychiatrists. "I wish I could make it all go away, to be honest with you. But I can't. I should have worked at McDonalds and found a way to pay for my tuition."
What a fantasy: A meeting at the White House with these brave soldiers telling their stories to George Bush. It would be a meeting that could be best summed up with the words of another Iraq War combat veteran, Clifton Hicks.
It's a war, says Clifton Hicks, fought for "filthy rich bastards too cowardly to do it themselves" who want more money, fought by "us, the masses of uneducated fools killing each other