Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Memorial Day Reflection: Patriotism And The Iraq War

As I posted about a month ago, John Kerry recently gave an address in which he stated that
Americans have a duty to speak out against a war that is sacrificing lives on the ''altar of stubborn pride." (Emphasis added.)
I thought that was a very honest statement, the first such I have heard from Kerry since 1971.

I am not making any comment at all about anyone's patriotism. There's been too much of that. But I do think some honesty about the war is in order.

It's not unpatriotic to say that a war is mistaken and that neither American soldiers nor innocent civilians should be losing their lives in it.

It was not unpatriotic when Kerry said, in 1971, "How do you ask someone to be the last man to die for a mistake?" I think he was sadly and outrageously mistaken, but not unpatriotic.

At least he had the courage of his convictions and said something that was very unpopular, and which has haunted him, as it should, to this day. Words matter, after all, and we should all be willing to be held accountable for what we say-- especially formal public statements about weighty matters.

I think the liberal anti-war view is honorable and easy to state:
The war is a mistake and these young Americans' lives are being wasted. I honor their commitment to duty and their willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We should bring them home and not risk their precious lives again until we have a worthy cause.
If the Democrats in Congress, and Democrats who want to be president, would take that position, we could have a real debate in this country over what we ought to be doing. Instead all we are getting is invective on both sides, but primarily from frustrated liberals.

I think many of the anti-war liberals lack the courage of their convictions. Those liberals fear that if they say, as Kerry did, that soldiers are dying for nothing but "stubborn pride," that the soldiers' lives are being wasted, they will suffer politically.

Maybe they will (and I think they certainly should), but an open debate on the war would be useful for the country.

I went to the Los Angeles National Cemetery last Saturday and was with about 1,000 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who were placing flags on the 82,000 graves there. (Photo above.) I stood at graves of men who were killed in action in their 20's and wondered if any of them had died on a mission that was a dumb mistake, or from friendly fire.

There are two approaches one could take to such tragedies: That those mens' lives were wasted for nothing; or that they died doing their duty and are heroes. Both are honorable views of the situation, I think-- even though I disagree with the first view with all my heart and mind.

I'd just rather see those two views debated openly and honestly, instead of hearing endlessly that the war is just an exercise in "stubborn pride," or about Halliburton; or about Abu Ghraib speeches on the floor of the Senate that compare American soldiers to the operators of Soviet gulags; the apparent atrocity of Haditha and claims of a cover-up (coming from people like Congressman Murtha, who should know better).

Such a debate might even be healing, in a way. Whether it is or not, it would certainly better than all the ad hominem invective we've been subjected to for the last three years.

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