Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sacrifice in wartime
Mike Dunford is a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Hawaii. He's also a military husband. In the beginning, he supported the war in Iraq. For five years he has tried to give the administration every benefit of the doubt for this adventure. Recently, he has lost that ability.
My wife missed our son's seventh birthday because she was in Iraq. She missed his sixth birthday because she was away training for the Iraq deployment. She missed his fifth birthday because she was in Afghanistan. She will probably be back in time for his eighth birthday, but that is far from certain. That is part - a small part - of the sacrifice that she has made. It is part - a small part - of the sacrifice that the rest of our family has made. Similar sacrifices have been made by tens of thousands of military families over the last few years, and those sacrifices are nothing, nothing compared to the sacrifices of the families of those who have lost their lives in this conflict.

Mike feels that the word "sacrifice" has been misused by the leaders of the free world.
It is rare that I find myself at a loss for words. Anyone who knows me can tell you that. Right now, though, I'm having a very, very hard time coming up with family-friendly language that covers the way I feel about President Bush right now. Why? Because I just saw that half-witted, sneering little lower primate say this:
MR. LEHRER: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said - and you've said it many times - as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military - the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.

Yes, they serve too, who watch TV then go get another beer.

Let me see if I can explain. Bush clearly sees a hierarchy here.

At the top are those who actually sacrifice their lives.
Then there are those at risk who haven't died.
Then there are those who have lost a child, parent, spouse, sibling, or friend.
Then there are those who have a child, parent, spouse, sibling, or friend at risk.
Then there are those who have seen an ugly image on teevee.
Then there are those who know there are ugly images on teevee, but choose to protect their beautiful minds.
Then there are the pro-war bloggers.
Then there are the clinically brain dead.

Somewhere in that list--fairly high--should be those who might make actual financial sacrifices for the war. Bush thinks they belong at the very bottom; they should be the last to feel the cost of this war. So far he has had his way.

That might seem like a shallow and cheap shot. Really, there is no way to explain Bush's decisions using traditional political analyses. His actions are not explained by economics, geopolitics, or ideology. He is an Oedipal-basket case and nothing except deep psychology can explain why he does what he does. Mike, and all of the other people in his position, deserve better than that, but I can't give it to them.

Mike further explains his frustration:
Sadly, though, that's not the worst part of this episode. Earlier in the day - the same day - the White House Press Secretary used "the troops" in an attempt to shield the president's ill-conceived "surge" "strategy" from congressional criticism:
Q: Okay. The sense in the Senate, this non-binding resolution, perhaps, that's going to move forward this week -- can you give a White House take on what that means, if the votes are there, that --

MR. SNOW: Well, look, they're claiming the votes are there. Again, the question you have to ask yourself is, do you understand what possible ramifications are? In an age of instant and global communication, what message does it send to the people who are fighting democracy in Iraq? And, also, what message does it send to the troops?

That's right. It's OK for the president to send the message that the sacrifice that the troops are making can be compared to the sacrifice that the TV-watching public is making, but it is A Bad Thing for the Senate to send, in a non-binding resolution, the message that they think that the president is out of what little there is of his mind to want to send more troops into the hellhole he has created in Iraq.

I can explain Tony Snow's message, but it is only by invoking one of the ugliest political metaphors of the past century.

After centuries of seesawing conflict, the Great Powers of Europe reached a position of stasis in the last quarter of the Nineteenth century. The Great Powers all saw growth and expansion as necessary to their survival, but they had reached a stalemate wherein all directions of growth were blocked by the ambitions of the other Powers. The small powers all correctly saw their future existences tied up in maintaining that stalemate by allying themselves with one or another of the alliances of Great Powers.

During this time of stasis the industrial revolution attained its maturity. The Great Powers all found themselves possessed of populations of surplus labor and the surplus wealth necessary to convert those labor surpluses into gigantic standing armies. Seeing this, the military thinkers of the age all realized that victory in a war among the Powers depended on being the first to move their armies into the position for a strategic victory. What they did not realize was that this meant that they would be predisposed to ignore diplomacy in favor of a military solution in the case of a major confrontation.

That confrontation came in the summer of 1914. A minor terrorist event on the periphery of the continent led to a chain reaction of states declaring war on each other. The major Powers all had confidence in their plans to move their enormous armies into position for a quick decisive victory before Christmas. Every Power was sure that they would reap vast rewards with a minimum of sacrifice; all that would be required would be a massive show of strength and, perhaps, a single decisive battle.

All of their plans failed. The logical course would have been to stop at that point and call a peace conference to negotiate their differences. That was not what they did. Every Power, and power, cited their sacrifices so far as a reason for not stopping or negotiating. A negotiated settlement would not gain great enough rewards to pay for the sacrifices thus far suffered. The war went on. As the sacrifices on each side rose, their demands rose faster, so as to justify those sacrifices. The war only ended when one side was unable to continue the escalation of goals.

This hideous game of escalation had two primary results: a massive and unnecessary level of casualties and a deep sense of bitterness over unredeemed losses among even the winners. The Bush administration--and Tony Snow is only the latest heir to this vile message--is trying to foist this murderous attitude off on the American people. They tell us we must stay in Iraq and continue to die or we betray those who have already died. We can't criticize the decision to send more to die or we betray those have answered their duty and faced death. The only answer to past sacrifice is more sacrifice, regardless of the possibilities of success.

The passage of ninety years has not made the lie more true. The idea that only more blood can redeem blood spent was a lie when my grandfather volunteered for the war in 1917. It was a lie before either George Bush was born. It is a lie now. I hope Mrs. Mike Dunford comes home with body and mind intact and I hope the people who took her away from her husband and son suffer nightmares for the rest of their days.

Politicians love to invoke the lessons of history. Those who really understand history should join me in that curse.

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