S. L. Cunningham
“The generations of men are like the leaves of the forest.
Leaves fall when the breezes blow, in the springtime others grow;
as they go and come again so upon earth do men.”—Homer, The Iliad
What perhaps started out as a desperate attempt by a mother to call attention to her grief over the loss of her son now seems to have evolved into a shameful act of debauchery. Partly because of the continuous press coverage, but mostly because of the extremist group, United for Peace and Justice, who have embraced Sheehan as their cause. That she has now become the mouthpiece to espouse their agenda as to why we should not be in Iraq, and to paint the President as a failed leader who has led us into an unnecessary and unjust war, shows a disconcerting rift in our moral fabric.
As such I have to wonder, would a Cindy Sheehan have been tolerated during WWII after our troops landed on the shores of France to begin their march toward Germany? I think not. What’s ironic, though, is that the political climate then wasn’t all that vastly different from our time now—considering that WWII was the war that no one wanted, nor even had expected—but once Americans did become committed, however, they also became very clear as to why our armed forces were there, and what was needed to be done to pull together to make sure that as a nation they prevailed, no matter what.
As to Iraq, WWD was the initial argument for invading that country, but it was not the only one. But not finding any WWD’s does not necessarily make our cause unjust. Saddam Hussein was a dictator: a tyrant who ordered the systematic slaughter of thousands of Kurds, the torture and killing of thousands of innocent people and their families perceived to be political enemies, the harboring and training of terrorists groups—whose main intent was and still is to destroy our way of life, and the Food for Oil Program he used to increase his personal wealth while the people of Iraq where left to go hungry and sick.
Dismissing any of those reasons for being committed in Iraq is not only naïve, but dangerous. If Americans had not remained steadfast as to why we needed to be in Europe in 1943, imagine what the outcome might have been. With enough Cindy Sheehan’s, Hitler might have prevailed in conquering Europe and Britain, and if we continue to encourage and embrace her misguided rhetoric that’s being written for her, we are in danger of undermining our reasons for being in Iraq, and worse, demoralizing our men and woman who are serving there. With the fall of Hussein, Iraqis are in the process of reshaping and redefining their country as a democratic nation governed by the rule of law. Our job will not be done until this has happened. Thus to answer Cindy Sheehan, this is why the war is being continued. President Bush does not need to apologize to her or to the UFPJ that has turned her into a mockery of civil disobedience.
Over the weekend I was checking up on Another Man’s Meat
, a blog written and maintained by Phil Dillon. Reading his post of August 9, 2005, I was stunned by his essay, “To the 425th,” which he wrote to the 425th Transportation Company, Emporia, Kansas two years ago as they were preparing to leave for Iraq. It is a cogent, heartfelt plea to the soldiers to be mindful of their call to duty; to the values they represent as Americans, but above all else, a reminder of the “moral imperative” to liberate a nation of people who have lived under a repressive regime so that may experience the gift of freedom. Read it once. Then have a cup of coffee or tea, and read it again. To the 425th
I learned today at church that 48 of my fellow Emporians, members of the Army’s 425th, are being deployed to the Persian Gulf in a few weeks.
Like many Emporians, my wife and I prayed first, that war might be averted. We also prayed, that if it could not, that these brave men and women would go reflecting the best of America, and that, in the end, they would all come home safely.
After church, I reflected on those being called and the task ahead of them. Who are they? What values do they represent? What, if anything, could be just in the cause they may be called on to vindicate in battle?
I reflected, first, on my own experience. I went to Vietnam in the summer of 1964 as a soldier and as a “New Frontier” Democrat. John Kennedy’s words, spoken three years earlier, were fresh and alive in my heart and mind - “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Like many, I went believing that our task was to advance the cause of freedom.
I recall vividly, years later, watching the fall of Saigon. As North Vietnamese tanks rolled down the boulevards of the city, many South Vietnamese desperately attempted to flee. They clawed at the walls of the U.S. Embassy compound. Some attempted to board already overcrowded helicopters on the Embassy roof. Most failed and resigned themselves to their fate. They were being “liberated.”
In the days and months that followed, the media gave us all an occasional glimpse of overcrowded “junks” floating aimlessly in the South China Sea. They carried a desperate human cargo, willing to risk their lives to either flee something or to find something else. “What” I wondered, “are they so desperately trying to escape?” “Freedom?” “Justice?” Equality of opportunity?” “America?” “Where were they trying to go?”
Even now, some thirty years later, I’m occasionally haunted by the memory of what might have been. I’ve been told that I take it all too personally. I’ve been told that I, and my country, can’t cure all the world’s ills. When I hear, I just nod and turn away. Their words bring neither answers nor comfort. I know they mean well, but I’m still haunted by the vision of millions of faces now living in the grip of tyranny. My “comforters” mean well, but two sentences, however well meant or placed, will never be able to overpower those faces.
Why, if my thoughts are with the 425th, am I even mentioning my experience? How could it possibly be relevant to them and the task before them?
I write to encourage them with the knowledge that they go supporting principles Americans have always been willing to give their lives for. They go supporting principles that we have, in a very unique way, embraced since we declared our independence in 1776. In his book, Making Patriots
, Walter Berns notes that “the terms Americanism, Americanization, and un-American have no counterparts in any other country or language.” That is, those principles we Americans treasure – justice, equality of opportunity, and freedom from tyranny – rise above us and call us to act nobly in their support. Being an American, as Berns puts it, “Expresses the conviction that American life is uniquely founded on a set of political principles.”
Why is it so important that you know this as you go?
If war comes, so will difficulty. If war comes, voices will bellow from the “seat of the scornful” – “It’s all about oil.” “The administration just wants to make war.” “It’s all about American imperialism.” The voices will rise. They always do.
In his first inaugural speech, Abraham Lincoln pleaded for the preservation of the American union. While he spoke to all Americans, he spoke primarily to those determined to retain the obscene institution of slavery. Many in the American south were well aware of Lincoln’s views on slavery. He was the one who had, years earlier, said that a nation could not endure “half-slave and half-free. Many viewed him as an aggressor out to destroy an institution and a way of life. The voices rose up. If there was to be war, he was going to be the one responsible. Lincoln closed his address to the nation with these words – “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without yourselves being the aggressors.”
Even now there are some who would blame a war, if it comes, on George Bush or Colin Powell or Condaleeeza Rice or Donald Rumsfeld. They believe that if war comes, it will come because of a failure on our part to be reasonable or a failure on our part to act in good faith. It can be averted if we only listen to the voices of reason in our midst. They will, by their superior wisdom, show us the way out. They will mention, in passing, that Saddam is a brutal tyrant, but in the end, if war comes, it will be our fault. They will never agree to the idea that the answer to the grave question of war or peace resides in Baghdad. When the sound and fury begins you will need to rise above the call to abandon the sacred trust set before you. You must oppose tyranny. You must support the cause of freedom and justice.
There are some, even now, who say that war will come only because we want it to come. Here, in our local newspaper, for example, there is an on-line survey with the question “Do you think the U.S. should go to war with Iraq?” There are no conditions outlined in the survey question that would lead to war. The question is simply, “Do you think the U.S. should go to war with Iraq?” The question could just as easily be, “Are you a war-mongerer? A yes response would mean that the respondent just adores war and is itching for a fight. A no would mean that the respondent is a reasonable, intelligent, peace-loving person. Of course, as a member of the military you know all too well that no sane, reasonable person wants war. You understand that you may be called upon to give your life if war does come. You’re not a war-mongerer. You’re someone with a family you love. You have noble goals in life. You want nothing more than to live in peace. And you are, thankfully, someone who is willing to serve so that the principles that guide your life may be afforded to those who are denied them.
Some will tell you that this is all about oil. It’s a very effective myth. What they fail to tell you, though, is that nothing could be further from the truth. If all this was about is oil, then we could just leave Saddam alone to bully the Middle East and brutalize his own citizens. All we’d have to do is just leave him alone and we’d have all the oil he can pump out of the ground. We could leave him alone and we’d have, for a while, the illusion of peace. But, in the end, we’d come to see it for the devil’s bargain that it was. Hopefully our eyes would be opened before it’s too late.
If it’s not about oil, then, what is it about? Some years ago, in the wee hours of the morning, a young woman was attacked by a predator in a lower floor hallway of the New York City apartment building she lived in. She screamed and cried for help, but none came. Neighbors heard the screams. Some put pillows over their heads to muffle the cries for help. Some even turned their radios up to overpower the desperate screams. Some just ignored what was going on, believing it was none of their business. The tragic fact was that no one did anything. No one called Nine One One. No one attempted to help. The assailant even left the scene of the crime for periods of time and came back again and again to continue his assault. Morning came and the woman’s body was found and taken away. When her neighbors were asked why they hadn’t helped the answers ran the gamut. “I was hoping someone else stronger than me would help her.” “It was none of my business.” ‘What was I to do? “He might have killed me too?”
In a matter of weeks the incident was forgotten and life went on.
The people of Iraq today are much like that woman who was brutalized years ago. And, to say that intervening would only be about oil is as obscene as a neighbor saying, “It was none of my business.” We are the neighbors who can hear the desperate screams for help. We are not only citizens of a nation, we are citizens of the world. And, like those neighbors years ago, we have a moral imperative to act. In fact, if we fail to act, we in essence would be abandoning principles we say we cherish. We would be frauds whose only considerations would be our own safety and comfort. We can choose to ignore the screams, but the nightmares will surely follow. If we fail to act, that failure will hang from our collective necks like an albatross. We’ll be haunted by the faces of Kurds whose faces, in death, reflect the brutality of the “justice” meted out to them by Saddam. We’ll be haunted by the screams of Iraqi children being tortured in front of their parents.
You see, there is a moral imperative here. It is the people of Iraq.
In Lincoln’s day some tried to frame the issue of civil war in terms of “states’ rights.” In 1863, though, the Gettysburg Address
and the Emancipation Proclamation
gave the Union cause its true meaning and its proper moral imperative. Thousands of Americans gave their lives to preserve the Union and to emancipate fellow human beings who were treated as property and denied human dignity and freedom. What American, living today, would not be willing to die for such a cause? Who in America would not be willing to gladly lay down their life so that another might live in freedom?
Centuries ago, St. Augustine addressed the issue of whether or not war could ever be justified with the following words (from City of God
) – “For better is it to contend with vices than without conflict be subdued by them. Better, I say, is war with the hope of peace everlasting than captivity without any thought of deliverance. We long, indeed, for the cessation of this war, and kindled by the flame of divine love, we burn for entrance on that well-ordered peace in which whatever is inferior is for ever subordinated to what is above it. But if (which God forbid) there had been no hope of so blessed a consummation, we should still have preferred to endure the hardness of this conflict, rather than, by our non-resistance, to yield ourselves to the dominion of vice.”
To my brothers and sisters of the 425th I close with the words of the sixth article of the American Fighting Man’s (or Woman’s) Code of Conduct:I will never forget that I am an American fighting man (or woman),
responsible for my actions and dedicated to the principles which made my
Country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
May God be with you. May He vindicate your just cause. May He bring you safely home to us.