Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Worse than Meaningless

In a way, meaninglessness is the ultimate in the way of death. For the things human do to have meaning, they must have an impact beyond the person who does them. We in the United States worry about whether the service of our soldiers is meaningful, especially those who have died in Iraq. Did the combustible experiences of American soldiers, the hard living and hard dying in Iraq, serve a purpose for the U.S., Iraq, or humankind in general? Is it going to make things better in some way? If not, then the soldiers would have died a kind of double death. Not only will they die, but the last full measure of their devotion will not have meant anything for posterity. In the United States, both sides of the war debate refer somewhat indirectly to this issue. Those who support the war speak of meaninglessness as an implication of a policy they oppose--withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. They argue that the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers, more than 1,800 of them, would be "meaningless" if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq without accomplishing the original mission. The focus is more on protecting the current policy than redeeming the lives of the soldiers. For their part, those who oppose the war worry that the lives of American soldiers are being wasted, but we focus their energy most on the people doing the wasting--on Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. Here, it is no accident that Cindy Sheehan's vigil is at George W. Bush's ranch rather than at the graves and military hospitals spread throughout the country.I'm one of those who opposes the war, but I don't want to focus so much on the failures of the Bush administration here. For this post, it is the implications of those failures for the American dead that spur me to write. What's now happening is that Western Iraq, parts of Baghdad, and areas to the north of Baghdad are becoming strongholds of international jihadis. Neither the Bush administration nor the American military makes much pretense anymore that the U. S. is seeking to eliminate either the international terrorists or the indigenous insurgents aligned with them. We don't expect the nascent Iraqi government to defeat the terrorists either. Much like we hoped that the South Vietnamese government would be able to defend itself before we withdrew in Vietnam, we're now waiting for the Iraqi government to be able to defend itself against the insurgency. The Big Picture is that significant parts of Iraq are becoming key components of the apparatus of global terror. Just like bin Laden and his friends got their initial experience in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, thousands of jihadis are gaining terrorist experience and skills fighting against our military in Iraq. It seems almost inevitable that future 9-11 attacks on the U. S. and Europe will emerge from the wave of jihadis getting hands-on experience in Iraq now. As the situation stands, the American invasion of Iraq has been a tremendous spur to global terrorism. We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificed tens of thousands of our troops, our Iraqi allies, and Iraqi civilians and we've made the terrorist situation worse, probably much worse. As a result, it is necessary to acknowledge that right now, the deaths of our 1,800 soldiers in Iraq have been worse than meaningless. Their deaths have been worse than meaningless because their efforts were part of an invasion that made things worse. Not only has the sacrifice of their lives been part of a process that has created the spectre of long-term civil war for Iraq, it has heightened the danger of terrorism for their homeland in the United States. This is intolerable. It's monstrous, maybe more monstrous than the war itself. It is an insult to our dead (and to the families who grieve their loss) that their deaths should be part of such a horrible failure. None of the soldiers who died wanted to give their lives to raise the chances for more terrorist attacks in the future. It's unspeakably unjust that their deaths should be connected to such a future. More terrorist murders should not be the meaning of their devotion and patriotism.There's a way that all of us are responsible for the deteriorating conditions in Iraq, in particular the lying Bush administration, the delusional neo-cons who came up with the invasion scheme, and the right-wing zealots who form the core of Bush's support. But we shouldn't forget the feckless Democratic leadership, the cringing mainstream media, and see-no-evil moderates. By failing to oppose or failing to oppose with any conviction, they all bear a heavy responsibility as well. I even think that I and my fellow war opponents bear some blame for not being better at opposition, for not figuring a way around the onslaught of invasion propoganda. All this point, however, I believe that the dead call to all of us to rethink the Iraq situation again. And again and again if necessary. We owe to those who have fallen to do a better job of ensuring that the Iraq invasion is not a blight on this country's future for decades to come. The Bush administration and their supporters need to take responsibility for their failures, even in their own hearts if they don't have the courage to do so in public. They need to decide whether their commitment to the conservative cause is more important than their commitment to the national well-being, whether working to head off the next wave of terrorist attacks on the U. S. is more important than preventing Democratic gains in the 2006 elections, and whether they really want to honor the sacrifices of the dead or just use them. Conservatives have control of the U. S. government. They need to start acting responsibly and rethink our government's strategy in Iraq. They must not let the sacrifices of our troops be for less than nothing.


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