They die so easily, disappear so completely
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned yesterday that "moral and intellectual confusion" over the Iraq war and the broader anti-terrorism effort could sap American willpower and divide the country, and he urged renewed resolve to confront extremists waging "a new type of fascism."Now, to be clear, Rumsfeld suggested that those who don't see the threat clearly suffer from a moral or intellectual confusion, not those who oppose him, although that's a distinction without a difference in that the timing of the speech leaves no doubt its main objective is to taint the Democrats as weak on defense and prop up the GOP's chances in November. Here's what he said to the 88th Annual American Legion National Convention:
The implication in that, of course, is that Rumsfeld sees clearly what is right and what is wrong, and his opponents don't. But as this is only one in a series of orchestrated speeches the Administration is unleashing on the public for their holiday weekend enjoyment, it's fair to say Rumsfeld is speaking for the Commander in Chief (you know, the Decider) here, and therefore the implication is that the man making the decisions (you know, Cheney) sees clearly what is right and what is wrong...that his moral compass is functioning fully, and that the decisions being made are morally sound.
You know from experience personally that in every war there have been mistakes, setbacks, and casualties. War is, as Clemenceau said, “a series of catastrophes that result in victory.”
And in every army, there are occasional bad actors, the ones who dominate the headlines today, who don't live up to the standards of the oath and of our country. But you also know that they are a very, very small percentage of the literally hundreds of thousands of honorable men and women in all theaters in this struggle who are serving our country with humanity, with decency, with professionalism, and with courage in the face of continuous provocation. (Applause.)
And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.
Which brings me to the
Bush: This is a global war on terror. I repeat what our major general said -- or leading general said in the region. He said, "If we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here." I strongly agree with that. And if you believe that the job of the federal government is to secure this country, it's really important for you to understand that success in Iraq is part of securing the country.I am amazed (and quite thoroughly embarassed) at how many times I hear an American offer that excuse as their rationale for supporting the war in Iraq. The "it's better to fight them there than fight them here" rationale. When I press them to account for the fact that fighting them "over there" places innocent Iraqi men, women and children in harm's way, they counter either that they deserve it because of 9/11 (which of course makes my head explode) or that (I swear, one of my relatives said this to me) those people are more used to that kind of thing than we are. I won't reveal which relative, as the shame is far too painful.
I came across this passage in an essay by the always brilliant Dorothy Allison the other day:
The first time I heard, "They're different than us, don't value human life the way we do," I was in high school in Central Florida. The man speaking was an army recruiter talking to a bunch of boys, telling them what the army was really like, what they could expect overseas. A cold angry flash swept over me. I had heard the word they pronounced in that same callous tone before. They, those people over there, those people who are not us, they die so easily, kill each other so casually. They are different. We, I thought. Me.So I guess I should confess to some degree of confusion. I'm totally confused how a nation that claims to be the "Home of the Brave" could stoop so low as to let other people in a far away land die in proxy, and for the temporary illusion that it makes us safer (our invading Iraq has coincided with an increase, not decrease, in the number of terrorist attacks worldwide, and as the bombings in Madrid, London, Bali, etc. demonstrate, not all of those joining the terrorists feel compelled to fight in Iraq, where most of the fighting now is between Iraqis, not terrorists...and...sigh...why are we still at this point in the dialog?).
When I was six or eight back in Greenville, South Carolina, I had heard that same matter-of-fact tone of dismissal applied to me. "Don't you play with her. I don't want you talking to them." Me and my family, we had always been they. Who am I? I wondered, listening to that recruiter. Who are my people? We die so easily, disappear so completely....I did not know who I was, only that I did not want to be they, the ones who are destroyed or dismissed to make the "real" people, the important people, feel safer.
Dorothy Allison, "A Question of Class," from Skin 1994, Firebrand Books.
The answer of course is that it's easy to let the Iraqis die in our place. We never met them, we can't distinguish one mangled body on the TV from another. They die so easily and disappear so completely, there's nothing to it really. That is, unless you believe you have a soul, or you're averse to cowardice.
Now, I'm not noting all this to conclude we should immediately withdraw from Iraq (we most certainly should have NEVER invaded it, but an immediate pull-out would do more harm than good, IMO, and I'll address what I think we should do in another post), but I will not suffer some cranky old fool lecturing his opponents on moral confusion when he clearly doesn't have the humanity to value the lives of innocents over his own theories of a leaner, meaner war machine (Rumsfeld was repeatedly told that to secure Iraq he would have to send in far more troops, but he was too hellbent on using Iraq to prove his lame-ass hypotheses about contemporary warfare to listen, and tens of thousands have died directly because of his arrogance and total incompetence).
"It's better to fight them over there than over here" is a morally and intellectually bankrupt position. They will still come over here, and we don't have a right to the lives they're taking in fighting us over there.