Fulcrum Ruminations

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A Fulcrum so Black . . .

My online friend Generik has posted a link in his blog to a website with brutally explicit photos from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and the readers of his blog seem to be surprised that war does bad things to human bodies. They are also expressing dismay with the attitudes of some of the comments that go with the photos. They're concerned with how these soldiers, who have expressed themselves in such barbaric manner, will be able to reintegrate with society when they get home.

This is one of the ways in which people of this particular mindset demonstrate that they don't really understand war.

The soldiers of every war have done the same thing, there just weren't websites for them to express themselves on. When faced with the horror of combat, black humor is one of the defense mechanisms. The soldiers of the "greatest generation" saw the same things and acted in the same way at times, and they came home to no great ill. Korea, VietNam, Panama, Somalia, and all the little actions in between that didn't make the papers have all had their gruesome moments. And those soldiers all came home. Remember the tales of necklaces made of human ears coming out of VietNam? Same deal.

In order for a soldier to overcome the very human tendency against murder, he has to dehumanize his enemy. It's all right to kill them because they're not real people. This aspect of soldiering doesn't get much press . . . or at least not much that gets it right . . . but it's been true since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.

War is ugly. No-one knows that better than the poor bastards who do the actual fighting. But they also understand words like duty, and so they evolve ways to cope with what they experience. One of those ways is such black humor as exhibited on that website.

Is it right? Not by the standards of a placid "think of the children" society where the worst thing they ever see is a traffic accident on the six o'clock news. But it's war. The ancient Greeks said of their war god Ares that his face was so terrible that no man could look upon it. They knew what they were talking about.

We ask these men and women to go into harm's way so that we can have the freedom to bitch about how rotten our government is. Most of us don't concern ourselves overmuch with how they do their jobs, because we're not the ones doing it. We've no time for defending our country, we've got to write our blogs and sip our latte and make another payment on the SUV. We're busy with vacations to places that are safe to visit because men and women of previous generations died to make them so.

When we're shown the true face of war we can express our shock and horror, and cluck our tongues at the impropriety of it all, while quietly giving thanks that it isn't us sitting in that desert, standing on that line, crouching in that hole.

Maybe that's our defense mechanism. Maybe that's how we live with ourselves for sending these youngsters off to do things we won't do ourselves.

Balance this one yourselves, gentle readers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Bread and Circuses, Texas Style

You'd have to have been living on the dark side of the moon to have avoided the Cindy Sheehan story. In a nutshell, Ms. Sheehan is a woman whose son Casey was killed in Iraq some months ago. Casey Sheehan was a soldier in the Army, and had in fact re-enlisted after completing his first tour. Ms. Sheehan, in quite understandable grief over the loss of her son, has gone to President Bush's home town of Crawford, Texas to demand a face-to-face meeting with the President. She says she wants Bush to explain why her son had to die.

In general I agree with and approve of Ms. Sheehan's effort. One of the rights we as Americans enjoy is the right to petition our government for redress of greivances. By going to Bush's home turf and demanding he account for himself, Ms. Sheehan is exercising a Constitutionally protected right. This is proper and just.

However, there are two major problems which also make it perfectly clear why Bush can not meet with her as she wants. First, this would set a terrible precedent. Every future President would face an endless stream of protesters demanding face-to-face meetings to account for whatever unpopular action they had committed. It would never end. And, to be perfectly blunt, Presidents have better things to do with their time than explain themselves to individual Americans every time someone decides they messed up. That's what press conferences and the Sunday talk shows are for. :-P

Secondly, the Make George Look Bad crowd has seized on Ms. Sheehan as a poster child. Everyone from loopy bloggers (Hi Ma!) to Michael Moore has jumped on this bandwagon. Ms. Sheehan's original purpose has gotten overwhelmed. It's no longer "Why did my son die?" it's "George Bush is a poopie-head!"

I think Ms. Sheehan is going to discover that once her utility as a stalking horse is done with, none of these people currently flocking to her banner is going to remember who she was. They'll have MoveOn.org'ed to the next "George Bush is a poopie-head" story.

There is also a backlash gaining traction against her. Her family has apparently distanced themselves from her, her husband either already has or is in the process of divorcing her, and the predictable "George is Our Saviour" crowd is rushing to the attack. There will be much ugliness before the story has run its course.

And all because Ms. Sheehan doesn't seem to understand that her son was engaged in a profession he found to be honorable and just.

The realpolitik of the situation is that we can't pull out of Iraq at this point. The country would dissolve into chaos and civil war, with a bloodbath that would make the last couple years look like a Boy Scout Jamboree. No Arab government or people would trust us again, the jihadists would have a major propaganda victory, and the terrorsts would be emboldened to strike at us even more ferociously. Pulling out before we're done would be the worst possible thing we could do. It would mean that Casey Sheehan really did die for nothing.

That's an unconscionable thing to do to a soldier.

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