Barb has written a book review over at G.I. June (Cleaver) on a story set during WWII. The main character is unhappy about the sacrifices being forced upon her on behalf of the deployed soldiers – rationing, I assume, which was a very real part of life in the 40s. Back in September 2001, after the blood donor lines had petered out and the abandoned cars had been towed from the train stations, Americans wanted to know what they could do to help. Many stood around wringing their hands, wanting to take action, any action, but something. It’s like when people make meals for the family who lost a loved one tragically or donate household goods for the neighbor whose daughter-in-law burned down their house. We have a desire to reach out and help. We want to make a small sacrifice to meagerly ease a tiny bit of the pain felt by others.
And the best advice our President could offer? Act as though nothing had happened. Spend money, stimulate the economy, carry on, don’t let the terrorists get you down. Perhaps he was right, in an economic sense, about what our country needed. But it was lousy advice from a heart and soul perspective. And six years later, I think the act-as-though-nothing-had-happened mentality, which comes naturally to us anyway the farther in distance and time from we get from any event, is fueling the inclination among many people in this country to just turn and walk away from the mess we’re in overseas.
It is so easy to turn away from someone else’s problem. Those strangers we read about in the paper, whoever they are, we can’t take every story to heart. We can’t make a meal for the family three states away. We can’t donate used clothing for every family whose house burns down. We can’t give money to every worthy charity. And we can’t even cry for every tragic story – it would kill us. So we pick and choose which stories we read, which ones we take to heart, and which ones we try to do something about. The more involved we get, the more involved we stay, and the more we desire “success,” however that may be defined. If you donate money to the little girl who needs a heart transplant, you naturally desire her health a tiny bit more than any other little girl who needs a heart transplant (much in the same way that you desire your own child’s health and well-being naturally more than another child’s – not that you wish ill-health on another child, but you hold your own child’s health more precious). If you donate that old couch in your basement to a neighbor, you hope that it speeds that nice family’s return to normal. If they end up in financial ruin, divorce or suicide as a direct or indirect result of that tragedy, you would feel worse than if you had never been involved.
So most of the nation went back to life as usual after our initial desire to help out. We made no sacrifice and had nothing at stake in this effort. Two years later, for right or for wrong, we got involved in Iraq, and sent care packages and prayed for the troops, but, really, most of us had nothing to lose in this venture.
Most of us.
But step into my world – the military world. Here, almost exclusively, is where the sacrifices are being made. And here you will find just as active a debate about “what to do” in Iraq and Monday morning quarterbacking about whether or not we should have gone in and whether or not it is a just war or not. But here you will find very few people who want to get out right now. Despite the risks, the costs, the hardships, very few people think quitting is a good idea.
This war has been compared from the beginning to Vietnam. And we’ve done everything we could to turn it into one. We look at the number of soldiers killed in Iraq in four years (over 3500), and we know we can’t cry enough tears for all of them, so we just want to walk away. It’s so much easier.
But in the military world, you can’t walk away. No, I didn’t know any of those 3500 personally (my husband did). But the cost of this war goes way beyond those killed in Iraq. It goes beyond the wounded (at least 25,000 soldiers). It goes beyond the obvious mental or emotional problems exhibited by any soldier who has seen the horrors of war.
I can not describe the sacrifices made on a daily basis by soldiers and their families whether they are deployed or stateside. I can not describe the emotional toll it takes on one soldier to shake the hands of hundreds of fellow soldiers flying off to war and knowing that somebody whose hand she just shaked won’t be coming home. I can not describe the weariness that comes from “holding down the fort” as a single parent without complaint so your husband can go off and do his job without even more stress and anxiety. I can not describe the latent fear deep within a military spouse’s heart that something awful will happen and all their family’s dreams will be shattered in an instant. I can not describe the disappointment felt by a child whose dad can’t be the soccer coach or come to the school play or even give him a birthday hug because he’s working. I can not describe the wistful hopes that next year will be better or the utter delight in the right now because next year won’t be.
Military families are in it deep. When I hear about running away from Iraq, I don’t think, gosh, that’ll make it all better; that’ll take away my fears; that’ll keep my husband home safe and sound. All I think about is that all this sacrifice will be for nothing. I will have donated gray hairs and facial wrinkles, tears and time and money and love, and all I will have to show for it is a broken country (or two) embroiled in civil war and hating America for walking away and leaving them a mess. And what happens in ten or twenty years? They turn that anger towards us and either thousands of civilians die in one day or thousands of soldiers die over the years – and once again, I’m making these same sacrifices either as an Army wife or as a military mom while the rest of the country complains that it’s our own fault for not doing it right the first time and then goes blithely back to their forty-hour work weeks and family dinners and beds warmed by two bodies.
A few days ago, Kathryn Judson linked to this opinion piece by Nouri Al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. He has some scathing criticism of America’s attitude toward Iraq:
Today when I hear the continuous American debate about the struggle raging in Iraq, I can only recall with great sorrow the silence which attended the former dictator’s wars.
We can’t fight every fight, free every slave. We can’t even help out every neighbor who has a house fire. But, for right or wrong, we got involved in Iraq. We were silent, and now we’re not.
The recent deaths in Iraq of Father Ragheed Ganni and three deacons has highlighted the plight of Christians in that country who are now persecuted where once they freely worshipped under Saddam’s regime. It is implied that life was better for Father Ragheed when he lived under the oppression of a dictator. Yes, I suppose that Christians were left alone – as long as they didn’t cross strict political boundaries. As long as they kept their religion to themselves. But being Catholic doesn’t generally involve going to mass on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and then heading off to your government job as a mass grave digger. You can’t live under an oppressive regime and not fear for your own life.
Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Too many in this country are willing to purchase peace at whatever price. They hope, I think, that the price can be paid for on credit and the bill will come due later on to be paid by someone else. Too few are like Patrick Henry (quoted above) and are willing to take death or liberty, but never oppression.
Once again, I quote the Prime Minister of Iraq:
War being what it is, the images of Iraq that come America’s way are of car bombs and daily explosions. Missing from the coverage are the great, subtle changes our country is undergoing, the birth of new national ideas and values which will in the end impose themselves despite the death and destruction that the terrorists have been hell-bent on inflicting on us. Those who endured the brutality of the former regime, those who saw the outside world avert its gaze from their troubles, know the magnitude of the change that has come to Iraq. A fundamental struggle is being fought on Iraqi soil between those who believe that Iraqis, after a long nightmare, can retrieve their dignity and freedom, and others who think that oppression is the order of things and that Iraqis are doomed to a political culture of terror, prisons and mass graves.
It is pure bigotry to think that democracy can only be managed by some people. Our country would never have won Independence without the assistance of foreign countries. I will not second guess our motives for going into Iraq or debate just war theory on a decision made four years ago. It is a moot point, and I don’t have the energy for such philosophical debates right now. Right now, the issue is continuing on or running away. And I think, if we run away, we’ll only get shot in the back.
And now, I’ll leave you with The Clash:
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble…
And if I stay it will be double…
This song will be in my head all day.