National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program attempted on Monday to address the tenth anniversary of the launching of the disastrous war in Iraq. It was their typical line-up of white males, from this guy from the Naval Academy to that guy from West Point to another guy from the American Enterprise Institute. All were in total unity about what "our" interests and what outcome "we" would want in Vietnam -- oops, I mean Iraq. Not an anti-war, anti-empire voice to be heard.
But I'm not even going to write about that. That is a dead horse that has been well beaten.
No, but I have to bring up the jaw-dropping comment by Andrew Bacevich, currently at Boston University and formerly at West Point. Bacevich, you must note, is the liberal on the panel who, while not denouncing the war, averred that it was a mistake. The discussion, however, turned to a response he had given recently when Bill Moyers asked him that, if the Iraq war was wrong, what will we say that all of our soldiers have died for there.
His response, which was then discussed in reverent tones, was: "They died for their country. Soldiers don't get to choose the wars that they fight, they are sent to serve, they are sent with the understanding that they may be called upon to sacrifice. The value of the sacrifice is inherent in the act of sacrifice and is independent of questions about the the merit of the policies that sent the soldier into harms way in the first place."
Is this insane? Are we insane as a nation? We simply cannot bring ourselves to say, "We're sorry, this was an awful, a stupid war. You were slaughtered actually for nothing. Some rich white guys sent you over there from the comforts of their offices. They are still in their offices. And you were killed. For nothing."
The way to end horrible wars is to face what happened, to fess up, to admit what was wrong, even with the shame that goes with it. The liberals are caught in a trap. They oppose the war (now, though there were many liberal hawks ten years ago). But they don't want to dishonor the troops. So they "honor" the troops by inventing this ugly double-speak. Sacrifice is valuable simply because it is sacrifice. It is a cult of death. Death justifies further death.
But this is not true. There are honorable deaths, there may be necessary wars. But this was neither honorable nor necessary. Does telling the truth blame the soldiers? It shouldn't, but it certainly should make the powerful less comfortable.
Look, Germany and Japan had many soldiers in World War II who did not get to choose the wars that they fought. Were they honorable deaths? Good deaths because they were patriotic sacrifices? No, they were miserable, squalid, shameful deaths and the war-makers sent them to these deaths. What about if the German soldiers, the Japanese soldiers, had triumphed? Would this be honorable and a good thing because they were after all doing their duty and did not get to choose the wars they fought? Of course the U.S. soldiers are not the German soldiers, the Japanese soldiers. But they are equally as blameless. Germany and Japan, to their credit, faced the horror of what they did in the process of healing.
It would not be worth railing against this ridiculous illogic except for the fact that it is trotted out every Memorial Day, it is repeated every Veterans Day. Do we feel better for it? No, by not facing the truth we only make the pain more puzzling and the suffering likely to happen again. Then the healing can begin.