President Bush Is A Liar And A Coward
On Thursday, President Bush decided to offer some encouragement to the troops in the war Afghanistan (a war he has often neglected in favor of his disastrous vanity project in Iraq) by offering this bon mot on his personal feelings about the mission and the service rendered by our armed forces:
I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed. It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.
Often this is the sort of wistful atta-boy mentality one will find stated in any number of mediums…old war movies, recruiting posters, articles by crappy journalists, pro-war speeches by notable personalities, etc. I’ve heard it myself a few times, usually whenever somebody I’ve recently met who’s never served in the military finds out that I’m a veteran and they’re trying to stretch a polite compliment into personal bonding. Usually it’s not so much offensive as it is thoughtless, but it never ceases to grate on me nonetheless…partly because it smacks of sucking up (a character trait I can’t abide); partly because if you ask the follow-up question of why they didn’t follow through on their desire to serve their response is either an awkward silence or a string of transparent rationalizations that boil down to “I wasn’t actually considering it.” (exposing them as rather crappy and dishonest suck-ups); but mainly because I tend to have little patience with or respect for people who wholeheartedly rah-rah the idea of jumping quickly into any war so long as people other than themselves are the ones getting shot at.
While part of that attitude is obviously due to my belief in the benefits of individual choice and my libertarian distrusts of the idealism of politicians and the wisdom of government planning, part of that dislike is very much a factor of realizing, from a personal perspective, just how destructive and long-lasting the damage of wars are…particularly wars that have little or no coherent purpose any more. When Bush talks about the “fantastic experience on the frontlines” I don’t envision WWII Rangers scaling the cliffs of Normandy on D-Day or John Wayne gunning down swarms of Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, I think about what happens to those men and women Bush “envies” after the “glory” of combat is a distant memory to the uninvolved bystanders. I think about one of my former soldiers whose marriage was falling apart after he re-deployed because his post-traumatic stress disorder made it almost impossible for him to relate to his wife and his nightmares of having to shoot a 12-year old kid in the face in Afghanistan wouldn’t let him sleep more than an hour or two a night, but who was scared of seeking psychiatric help because his previous unit punished people for doing so. I think about my best friend Tom who’s racked with guilt because he, while trying to do a counter-fire mission in reaction to an insurgent attack, ended up dropping artillery rounds on an Iraqi family thanks to receiving a bad set of coordinates and a freakish wind change. I think about the time that an officer who didn’t know anything about intel, and wasn’t in the mood to hear one of her NCOs point out that she was factually mistaken, cherry-picked one of my reports to authorize an A-10 strike that killed nine little kids and zero insurgents because she thought taking decisive action would look good on her rating. And I look at the fact that, almost seven years down the road, we’ve still yet to accomplish the one primary goal we went to Afghanistan to accomplish, or to put forth any realistic strategy for “victory” Iraq (besides stalling tactics) and I wonder, “What was the point?”
I also think about the injured or disabled vets who come back from this war who will end up needing the assistance of the often substandard military medical system, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Or the vets who will go undiagnosed for psychiatric problems and end up on the streets once they’re out of the service and aren’t the government’s “problem” anymore. Or my cousin Mike, an infantryman in Vietnam, who, 40 years after serving, still struggles with a case of PTSD so severe that he can’t discuss what happened to him back then without having nightmares for a week now and which has made him the proud recipient of a couple of heart attacks. And I wonder if that’s what the current generation has to look forward to in 40 years and whether it will all have been worth it for what we’ll have actually accomplished. Somehow, I doubt it.
War is hell, and not just for the people who “deserve” it. People like Bush, who has some rather odd impressions of combat and actually ducked the chance to serve in his generation’s “romantic” war (which would make his comment slightly less than honest) never seem to figure that out. But then, why should they? They’re rarely the ones with something to lose. The same principle that Milton Friedman once applied to other peoples’ money also applies to other peoples’ lives…nobody will spend what’s yours as carefully as you do. And nobody is as willing to avoid an unnecessary war as much as someone who understands what it actually costs. Sadly, that’s wisdom rarely found among the ranks of the chickenhawks.