Posts Tagged ‘patriotism’

Mistakes Were Made — Again

The last U.S. troops have been pulled from Iraq. To all the folks who served in that country, thank you. I’ll never know what you went through, but I’m certain it wasn’t pretty. I hope you’ve at least made it home safely. And to those who’ve lost a spouse, a family member, or a friend in that country, I am truly sorry, and very much appreciate the sacrifice you’ve made. So thank you, all of you.

Instead of saying “thank you”, however, I really should be saying “I’m sorry”. It certainly seems much more appropriate, and much more honest. What I really should do is paraphrase terrorism expert Richard Clarke’s famous opening statement to the 9/11 Commission: your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and the people of these United States – all of us – failed you, too. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to invade Iraq. It was off-purpose, off-policy, off-mission and incredibly stupid, and should never have been done in the first place.

I wonder what you, the Iraq veterans, think when you hear or read comments like this.  It probably pisses you off something fierce. You went halfway around the world to some Godforsaken country, fought a ruddy complicated insurgency, avoiding exploding garbage cans and roadside trash all the while, and hopefully made it back home in one piece, all to hear jerks like me say stuff like “it was all a mistake”. But I can’t say anything else about it. It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and a mistake that didn’t need to be made.

Now, I could write paragraph after paragraph about the manipulated intelligence, the fabricated link between Saddam Hussein & al Qaeda, and the lack of WMDs. I could write about the theoretical Neocon conspiracy to commit fraud upon the country and the world for their own political (or perhaps financial or perhaps retributional) gain. I could discuss at great length all the strategic and tactical blunders that occurred: dropping the ball in Afghanistan; letting bin Laden go; not providing adequate body armor; poor Humvee design; aggravating international relations; trusting the advice of an ex-pat Iraqi playboy. But all of these things have been talked about ad infinitum, and by people far more knowledgeable. I will say that all of these things, put together, are enough to convince me that we owe you all a tremendous apology for all we’ve put you through.

From the viewpoint of an amateur historian, here’s the real reason why we owe you an apology: it seems we all forgot what “war” really meant. Which was completely idiotic, we’ve been in enough wars that we should definitely have known better. But in the days leading up to the invasion, I heard almost no one in power talk about war in realistic terms. No one talked about the inevitability of American casualties. No one talked about the inevitable impact on families. No one talked about the certainty some veterans would suffer disabilities, brain damage, or PTSD. No one talked about the inevitability of massive civilian casualties, and the immense amount of guilt good soldiers have when they kill civilians. No one talked about friendly fire, prisoner abuse, and other ugly facets of war that I will not speak of here, but all of these things are (and here’s that word again) inevitable in wartime. We basically forgot history and repeated it, which is sacrilege to a historian (even an amateur like me), and man am I sorry for that.

I do want to be clear on one thing: I have no illusions that we live in some “cuddly, fluffy” world where there is no real evil and war is pointless and we should all plant daisies in our gun barrels. No, not at all. War has been and will continue to be necessary in certain situations. But before you go you have to weigh the reasons for the war (including the accuracy of the intelligence), the benefits of the victory, the risk of a defeat, versus the damage it will cause, and THEN make a decision whether war is necessary. With all the unreliable intel and shady connections (not to mention MUCH bigger fish to fry, namely al Qaeda & the Taliban), there is no way that such an analysis, done sanely, would result in “yes, let’s invade Iraq”. But a sane analysis was not done, so we invaded, and the entire country owes you an apology for that.

So why am I the one apologizing? I didn’t sign any declaration of war. I’m just some schmuck with a homemade soapbox. Well, it’s simple: I am a citizen of this country, which happens to be a democracy. According to the law of the land, I have a say in government equal to every other citizen. I am 1/300-millionth responsible for everything that happens in this country. And every other American citizen is equally responsible, and they also need to be accountable for the nation’s failings.

We all like to sit on our fat asses in our Lazy-Boy recliners and piss-and-moan about the government. But you know what? The sh*t that happens here, like the fatally flawed invasion of Iraq, is our fault. We’ve allowed this to happen to our country, through our sloth and our focus on rash consumerism and our willingness to vote for people “we’d like to have a beer with” rather than paying attention, voting soundly, and fighting for what’s right. We can all whine and cry that “we’re all powerless” but you know what? We are powerless because we allow ourselves to be powerless. All we want is Monday Night Football and Wal-Mart and 3-D movies and Starbucks. We don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to take a stand, we don’t want to take our country back. Even with this recent wave of activism from both ends of the political spectrum, how many people are actually involved in movements like the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street? 1%? I seriously doubt there are 3 million people actively involved in these or other movements intent (rightly or wrongly) on fixing our country. The real 99% just doesn’t give a damn.

Well, I don’t give a damn if they don’t care. If someone’s a citizen of this country, then they are 1/300-millionth responsible for it anyway. And the least they can do for you, the Iraq war veteran, is walk up to you and, as sincerely as they possibly can, say “I’m sorry”.


UPDATE: another good post on this topic: http://themoderatevoice.com/132701/gratitude-wont-pay-the-bill-for-returning-iraq-afghan-war-veterans/

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An Independence Day Essay

This is going to come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, or to anyone who has read a few pages of this blog, but I love American history. Care needs to be taken, however. I am not a rabid “rah rah” American, parading myself around swathed in red, white & blue, attacking all critics and keeping myself oblivious to the dark side. I love American history because American history makes a great story.

Let’s take a look at what makes a great narrative. In my view, a great story revolves around a flawed main character. Typically, this is a person who constantly wrestles with any number of personal weaknesses. The story is the struggle, the struggle by a troubled soul to accomplish something meaningful in a troubled world. Sometimes the story ends happily, sometimes the story ends badly. The thrill is in the story. Can Joe Malfunction make it to his goal without destroying himself in the process?

Gadsden Flag

America is the perfect Joe Malfunction. It was founded on great principles: that absolute power is bad; that the people deserve a say in their government; that people, all people, have a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This was a wholly novel concept, especially applied on a scale as large as the original thirteen colonies. Never before have just principles such as these been applied across an area as wide and a population as large.

Betsy Ross Flag

But this character, the United States of America, is a flawed character. Right off the bat, America, our hero, had a slave problem to deal with. How does one proclaim one’s liberty whilst enslaving an entire race of man? With hypocrisy, that’s how. Slavery was the drunken, abusive father of Our Hero. Slavery would keep the country down, keep it weak, keep it from coming into its own greatness. The pressures of this chronic abuse would fester, and fester, until, like a teen-ager finally fighting back, America would explode during the great Civil War, leaving disastrous carnage in its wake. The old America would go through a painful puberty, beat the abusive father into submission, and become an honorable man.

Confederate Flag

But that was not the end of the story. Our hero struggled to get on his feet. America faced the difficult task of Reconstruction which, although horribly flawed and poorly implemented, would end with America facing the historic 1890s. This was adulthood, this was America finally trying to live up to the ideals on which it was founded. It made a lot of mistakes, including native American genocide and Jim Crowe, but blacks would vote, women would vote, economic prosperity would be wide-spread, and America would venture into the Great Unknown: the Industrial Age and the era of global influence.

38 Star Flag

Soon, our hero would face two great challenges. Like Scylla and Charybdis from The Odyssey, twin wars, one spawned from the other, would test the nation in ways not seen before. The horror of war, and inner reflections known as isolationism, proved to be a tremendous strain on the nation and the people within. But, like Odysseus, our hero would emerge from these trials almost unrecognized. America would emerge as a great superpower, a juggernaut both military and economic. Some would try to break America’s dominance, but none would succeed. In fact, most would, in the end, try to emulate Our Hero in any way they could.

48 Star Flag

But, like some great Shakespearean play, superiority begets arrogance, arrogance begets stagnation, stagnation begets weakness, and weakness begets defeat. Unchallenged, our hero turns slothful. He forgets there are still challenges out there, some of them even created by his own misdeeds. His actions (both just and unjust, for he is undoubtedly imperfect), come back to haunt him. New enemies are determined to bleed him in any way possible. He also has forgotten his own roots. He is slowly becoming the bullying father he shrugged off all those years ago, but his conscience, the voice of the people, still gnaws at him.

50 Star Flag

Today, that Great American Narrative continues. We know the story so far, but there are so many great unknowns. What will happen to Our Hero in the next chapter? Will America remember those principles on which it was founded, and reclaim its honor? Or will it become paranoid, trusting no one, damaging its friends and citizens until it falls at the hands of its enemies? Will it struggle through energy and economic hazards and emerge stronger than ever? Or will it succumb to its own unwillingness to change, and die a cruel death?

Future Flag?

Putting all metaphors aside, I think America has its problems. Some of its past is horribly dark and disturbing, and would make children weep if they knew the truth. But the United States was founded with the best of intentions, and its core, being the U.S. Constitution and its attendant Bill of Rights, is sound and noble and has set an example for democracies worldwide (even ones now better than our own). For that fundamental reason, even with its flaws, I love this country and am proud to be an American. I want the story to end well, I want our hero to succeed and live happily ever after.

So wave your flags and light your fireworks this weekend. Come Monday, help write the next chapter, guide Our Hero back on the right path, and maybe the story will have a happy ending.

Happy Independence Day, America!!

Independence Hall

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