In Iraq, as of this writing, the death toll for U.S. soldiers has reached 100—in the month of October alone. So far, 2,813 members of the U.S. Armed Forces have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. At least another 21,266 have been wounded, as reported by the Pentagon. This is a staggering toll, considering that we really do not know why these sacrifices are being made. When queried on this, members of the current administration continually shift their ground. At first, it was because the evil Saddam Hussein was going to nuke us or gas us in our pajamas through the use of advanced drone aircraft. When this was shown to be a lie, other excuses were trotted out and floated in the public media. We were going to turn Iraq into a wonderful democratic paradise. Or perhaps, we were going to fight terrorists over there instead of here, even though we have a criminally inadequate level of border security in our own country. Despite the demonstrable risk of terrorists coming across our poorly defended borders, as highlighted by the destruction of the World Trade Center and a portion of the Pentagon by Islamic immigrants, border security here is a joke. In Iraq, our troops did manage to capture Saddam Hussein, but instead of killing him on the spot (victory), he is getting the benefit of a show trial for propaganda purposes. Even so, a sort of victory has been achieved.
Why, then, are our military forces still occupying a foreign land and getting shot up at a rapid rate? True, our neoconservative leaders tell us to quit complaining about casualties as they are far less than those suffered during World War II. That, however, was a legitimate war. It was declared after our country was attacked. Now, not only are our own casualties mounting, but Iraq is blowing herself to pieces in a violent civil war. It seems that only a tyrant such as Hussein could hold together all these tribes, clans, sects, and nationalities in one set of borders when hatred and lust for revenge run deep among so much of the populace.
This negative news is all ignored, and our rulers now tell us that “we” must “stay the course and not cut and run.” This is said from the safety of a fortified executive mansion. We are told that, if American forces leave Iraq, it will cause chaos. Chaos, however, is already the case. Or, if we do not continue to suffer the continued killing and maiming of our troops, this will dishonor the previous casualties. To this, I reply, using my old set of standards: How might we best prevent future casualties? How can we get the most of our men and women home, safe and sound? Is this cutting and running? Or is it prudence? It would appear that what is now being done by the President and his minions is damage control, so that, when total defeat comes, it will be during the next, probably Democratic, administration. In other words, the deaths and maiming will continue to occur to save the face of the people who sent them into harm’s way. These same rulers rarely hazard themselves by venturing out of safe areas, and they never risk the lives and limbs of their own children. Thus, the notion that “we” should stay the course means that expendable cannon fodder must continue to fight and die, but not the members of the American ruling class.
Some years ago, I horrified one of my academic colleagues and a number of his students at a post-exam get-together at a local pub. One of the graduate students opined that “we” ought to go over there and kick Saddam Hussein’s ass. What was this “we” stuff? Did he have a mouse in his pocket? Why did he not go over there himself on this evidently important mission? In fact, I gave him my standard offer for persons of his ilk: an M1 Garand rifle, a bayonet, and two cartridge belts full of top-quality hand-loaded ammunition. Not surprisingly, he declined my generous offer. I then forcefully suggested that he was sorely lacking in manhood. “We” evidently did not include himself. “We” obviously meant expendable folks, like I was back in the late 1960’s. I explained that victory, as figured by the people in the infantry, consisted in cornering your enemy’s Maximum Leader, killing him (or her), and then proudly exhibiting the severed head held by the hair to admiring onlookers, while saying, “We got the bastard.” Anything less was defeat and not worth pursuing. The result was shocked silence from the assembled multitude. I was not surprised at this, as I was the only combat vet in the bunch.
Now, it is true that I may have lacked a proper “big picture” view of the Vietnam War from my groundpounder vantage point. I was merely trying to stay alive and keep as many of my comrades alive—and whole—as possible. I generally did not know which brigade I was in, nor the province, nor the corps. That was important to the lifers, not to me. Still, my definition of victory remains the only really valid one. From my lowly position, I could see that victory in that “police action” was never really defined, and so I was not surprised that “we” lost. The United States apparently never intended to win that undeclared war.
One major problem with the presidential usurpation of the War Power, ever since that little tin-horn socialist Harry Truman first got us into a major shooting match without a declaration of war, is that we no longer debate what constitutes victory, nor set forth what it is that we seek to accomplish—and why. Even a tyrant such as Franklin D. Roosevelt felt obliged to get a declaration of war. The result is that we sally forth to slay foreign dragons but no longer have a definite stated goal, nor a delineated plan of action that is publicly debated by the peoples’ representatives and passed by them. The result is a breathtaking expansion of executive prerogative to the level of that of kings and emperors. Consequently, our Founders, not excepting Alexander Hamilton, are likely spinning in their graves. Because of the lack of constitutional legitimacy, candor, and debate, public support of modern military actions quickly erodes.
Now, if the neocons are correct that we are no longer a republic but an empire, and that those of us who are reactionaries and oppose this “progress” should put up and shut up, I submit a modest proposal. Let the emperor lead the charge. Alexander the Great was the sort of Great Leader that our President wishes to emulate, and he led the charge, at great personal risk, into the thick of battle. I propose that President Bush and Vice President Cheney personally lead our troops into battle with Al Qaeda and the Iraqi dissidents. After all, neoconservative icon Winston Churchill was also in personal combat in a similar situation. The late Gen. Smedley Butler was in favor of putting those who benefit from war into combat on the front lines. Those who stayed behind would be paid only the wages of a common soldier in order to eliminate war profiteering. With our rulers fighting fiercely, leading, and not merely managing our troops, “we” really would be staying the course and not cutting and running. Or, if the risk of losing our leaders is too great, “we” should just hand off the risks of combat to that mouse in the pocket and save thousands of American lives in the process.