COLUMBUS, OHIO—Over a year ago, in March 2006, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes published the results of a Zogby poll of troops serving in Iraq. Seventy-two percent said U.S. forces should withdraw within a year. Twenty-five percent thought we should pull out right away. But 85 percent said a major reason they were there was "to retaliate for Saddam's role in the September 11 attacks." These people are confused, to say the least.
Even more confusing is the persistent flow of complaints by Iraq War veterans that Americans on the home front are partying like it's 2009 while their comrades back in Vichy Mesopotamia are getting blown up. Army infantry officer Will Bardenwerper gave voice to this oft-stated sentiment in an October 20 New York Times op/ed. "As I began my 13-month deployment (in Tal Afar, Iraq)," wrote a dispirited Bardenwerper, "I imagined an American public following our progress with the same concern as my family and friends. But since returning home, I have seen that America has changed the channel." He was struck by "the disparity between the lives of the few who are fighting and being killed, and the many who have been asked for nothing more than to continue shopping."
Typical suggestions for fairer distribution of sacrifice and a military draft—the latter to obtain additional manpower and inspire antiwar marchers to fill the streets like they did during Vietnam—follow. At least he left out the usual calls for victory gardens and gas rationing.
The war sucks. On that point, the millions of Americans who were against it from the start (and the many millions more who've come around to agreeing with us) agree with the soldiers serving in it. Forced re-enlistment through the "stop-loss" loophole is placing thousands of lives in suspended animation, destroying marriages and small businesses. Troops aren't getting enough protective gear.
It's also true that Americans have stopped paying attention. I'm a news junkie. And even I flip the page past the same old "2 Dead, 7 Wounded in IED Blast" headline.
But hey, soldier, you volunteered. If not for you, there wouldn't be a war in the first place.
"Supporting the troops means supporting their mission." That's been the mantra of the pro-war right. It's been hard for those of us who oppose the war to argue with them because so many of the troops have repeatedly allowed themselves to be used as propaganda shills for Bush administration officials and the Republican Party in general.
It's bad enough that a majority of soldiers voted for Bush in 2004. Over and over since the war began, American troops have been seen on television applauding Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice and others whose cynical recklessness has sent their buddies to their graves. Sailors cheered wildly when Bush staged his notorious "Mission Accomplished" photo-op on an aircraft carrier. They swooned when he joined them for Thanksgiving dinner in Baghdad.
"The shocked and elated soldiers jumped to their feet, pumped their fists in the air, roared with delight and grabbed their cameras to snap photographs," reported CNN about Bush's visit. A "standing ovation" followed. "It gave us a little extra oomph," said a member of the 1st Armored Division. "It really boosted my morale," said another.
No one heckled or booed the imposter president. No one threw tomatoes. No one told him where he could stick his plastic turkey.
Even after soldiers get killed, their parents promote the war so their dead kids won't be lonely in heaven. At Fort Benning, Ga., Bush met Deb Tainsh, whose son was killed by a roadside bomb near the Baghdad Airport. She presented Bush with more than 100 e-mails from parents of soldiers who have died or are presently serving in Iraq. "Every one of these letters says, 'Mr. President, we support you,'" she said. "The consensus is that they ... want him to do everything he can to win this war and that our prayers are with him."
"Bush, 61, has so far met with more than 1,500 relatives of the 4,255 American troops who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Bloomberg News wire service reported last week. "In most of the meetings, [Bush's] aides say, he hears support for his policies, hardening his resolve to stay the course in Afghanistan and Iraq." Few Gold Star mothers tell him off. Those who do are polite to the man who murdered their children as surely and as viciously as if he'd shot them himself. Why don't they spit at him?
Four years after the WMDs and liberation flora failed to turn up, people still enlist. After soldiers die, their parents insist that theirs was a noble sacrifice. Tell me again: Why should I care about the war? Why shouldn't I go shopping?
Soldiers who want antiwar Americans to march to demand that they be brought home should take a cue from Vietnam veterans. They marched with peace protesters and threw their medals at the Capitol. Soldiers serving on the front refused orders. Some fragged their officers. Vietnam Veterans Against the War claimed more than 50,000 members by 1971. That year saw numerous dramatic acts of dissent by U.S. troops, including 50 veterans who marched to the Pentagon and demanded that they be arrested as war criminals. Fifteen vets took over and barricaded the Statue of Liberty for two days. These acts swayed opinions and helped convince lawmakers it was time to withdraw.
Some soldiers in Iraq have offered resistance. After being denied conscientious objector status, Petty Officer Third Class Pablo Paredes went AWOL in 2004. He was sentenced to two months in the brig and three months hard labor. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada refused to be sent to Iraq in 2006, telling the media that the war's illegality would make him a party to war crimes. Army Specialist Darrell Anderson, faced with a second tour of duty after being wounded by a roadside bomb, deserted and fled to Canada. "I went to Iraq willingly," said Anderson.
"I wanted to die for my country. I thought I was going to go there and protect my family back home. All I was doing was killing other families there." The Army decided not to prosecute him. Several other deserters have applied for political asylum in Canada, but they're only a fraction of the thousands who went there during the 1960s and 1970s.
When Bill Clinton was president, Republicans said he should be afraid to speak at military bases. That should go double for Bush. The next he shows up to use you as a TV prop, soldiers and fellow Americans, boo the crap out of him. What's the worst he can do? Kill you?
Ted Rall is the author of the new book Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?, an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.