Thursday, December 18, 2008

The War in Common

t r u t h o u t | The War in Common
I met a chef from Texas who was like an oak tree with tattoos, and made a mean barbecue sauce. He'd been in the 101st Airborne and was about to be deployed to Iraq, but destroyed his knee in a training exercise and wound up getting discharged. He knew the war was nonsense and thought the Bush guys all deserved to rot in jail, but he still wanted to go to Iraq, and wept whenever a soldier he knew died over there because he should have been there and maybe could have saved that person if his knee hadn't buckled.

I met a woman in Texas who sat down in a fire-ant-infested mud puddle because her son died in Iraq. Everything was "Mission Accomplished" and high approval ratings, but she didn't get it and wanted an explanation from the man who'd sent her son to die for a banner on a ship and a bump in the polls. So, she sat in a mud puddle outside his house and waited for an explanation, and by doing so, began the final and inexorable turning of popular opinion against the war. The mothers of dead soldiers all had a face after this one mother sat in that mud and waited for an explanation that never came.

I met a journalist, a fourth-generation American of Lebanese descent, whose horror and disgust at the mainstream media's insipid cheerleading coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 compelled him to travel to Iraq and do some reporting on his own. Through his unfiltered and most decidedly unembedded perspective, we learned of the Iraqi hospitals overflowing with feces and urine, of villages targeted by Coalition forces for reprisal attacks, about bodies rotting in the streets of devastated towns, about dogs feasting on those corpses as they bloated in the sun, about gas lines lasting two days and about what America's war really looked and smelled like when the media's self-serving airbrush treatment was not applied.

I met a tank driver who had served along the Berlin line during the cold war, who marched next to me at antiwar demonstrations carrying an upside-down American flag. Whenever some outraged patriot challenged him, this man would reel off his service number, his billet, his AO and his record, and then dare his challenger to say something about his love of country. "The flag like this means 'Distress, Send Help,'" he would always say. "This country needs help."

I met a kid from upstate New York who was slinging burgers with this perplexed look on his face because he didn't know what to do with himself, so he was slinging burgers until he figured out what to do. For as long as he could remember, he had wanted to be a soldier and had bent his whole life towards that end. He ran the farthest, worked the hardest and even joined a competitive shooting league so his aim would be the best. He got himself into one of the best military schools in the country, and then Bush and Iraq and everything else happened and he knew it was wrong, and knew he could not devote his life and honor to all that, so he quit the military academy and abandoned his dream of military service, and was flipping burgers until he could figure out what else he could do...

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