A Father Speaks Out

Today’s Washington Post features a powerful op-ed piece by Andrew J. Bacevich, a history professor at Boston University and a veteran of the Vietnam War, who recently lost his son to the war in Iraq, one of the more than 3,400 casualties of this terrible folly:

I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son’s death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging “the terrorists,” opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops — today’s civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.

What exactly is a father’s duty when his son is sent into harm’s way?

Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.

As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush’s response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some — the members of the “the-surge-is-already-working” school of thought — even profess to see victory just over the horizon.

I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. “The long war is an unwinnable one,” I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. “The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We’ve done all that we can do.”

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others — teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks — to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion. [full text]

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2 responses

  1. Take the Pledge

    All Presidential Candidates should make pledges like those below. If they refuse, then you should refuse to vote for them.

    1. No More Oil Wars.

    2. Work for independence from foreign oil on day one.

    3. No more wars for corporate profit.

    4. No more secret deals for $4 per gallon gas.

    5. No more Chicken Hawks promoting wars of choice when they themselves avoided combat.

    6. Make government green–if you can’t make what you have the most control over green, I don’t care about your plans to make the country green.

    7. No more torture.

    8. No more lying about torture.

    9. No more re-defining torture.

    10. No more drunken hunting.

    11. No more secret deals with big corporations to divide up the spoils before the war even starts.

  2. Donald Wolberg

    No thinking person can comprehend the anxiety and emotional stress that parents and loved ones feel for our children in the military serving our Nation in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the hundreds of other posts throughout the world. Dr. Bacovich felt that horror with the the death of his son. The loss of a child or the injuries sustained are hammer-like blows to all the intersecting family lives. Every day is spent with a sense of dread, waiting to hear bad news–the good news of the return of children is always in the future; the dread is second by second and never leaves.

    Long ago, President Washington warned of becoming entangled in foreign affairs, yet his administration expended time and energy balancing foreign involvements, and our Nation resulted from a violent series of entanglement. Ever since then America has tried to balance a sense of isolationism, indeed a longing for “just leave us alone” with the needs of a world dominating power. Most of our involvements were momentarily “popular” in the sense of immediate support from citizens: the Blackhawk Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, and so on. Long wars are not our forte; we are impatient and want a quick end. The war against the insurrectionists in the Philippines never really ended and went on for decades until we defeated the fascists in World War II and granted the islands their independence. But even that war continues, with Moslem terrorists still battling the now independent government.

    And so it is with the Iraq mess, a mess that is much more complex than might be imagined. There are wonderful accomplishments tainted by miserable failures. The Kurds are indeed free and prospering with all the good and bad happening as in any other “modern” society. The Kurdish economy thrives, there are mail services, banking, fast food places, instant cash machines, 80 daily newspapers and colleges with men and women, and a military and police force that works. And there is general safety and less violence day by day then we see in Newark, Caracas or Rio. The Kurds are Sunnis and have not murdered their Shiite neighbors, even though Hussein gassed them, tortured them, shot them, put them into concentration camps and denied them any semblance of civility.

    The Marsh Arabs are again living safe and prosperous lives. The Southern Shiites are doing well and security is reasonable for the Brits, Aussies and Italians and Japanese working there. Of course, it is likely that Iran has a major interest in this area.

    All of this is preamble to the core of my comments. The Iraq situation is miserable. On balance, however, remove the Sunnis Triangle from the equation and the meager accomplishments of the Iraqi government, we could well declare victory IF we further divided Iraq into interest spheres. And we could leave.

    Secondly, the pain of Dr. Bacevich cannot be washed away with any rational excuse for his son’s death or the death of any other children soldiers of America. But I am not so sure that any American parent during World War II could really feel that the loss of their child was “worth” the defeat of Hitler or Tojo. I do not think parents can find such ready salves for their pain.

    Finally, I am moved by the comments made by “Poetry” and understand they are deeply felt. However, I believe the content of those comments reflects emotion more than fact. For example: oil is a strategic commodity and there has always been a balance of economic necessity and national survival for all nations. The Japanese went to Indochina and China for resources, and attacked us to make sure we did not interfere with Japan’s need for resources. The Germans went to Romania for the Polesti oil fields. The balance between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East is a power balance based on oil and the entire world is prisoner. Of course we could find more oil right here. But special interest groups fight more drilling. Of course we can be energy independent, but special interest groups fight the use of Tar Sands and Oil Shales–there is enough oil in these resources to last 800 years! Of course we can build nuclear power plants and 250 are under construction or planned around the world. But special interest groups have prevented the construction of such plants in the U.S. Of course we can liquefy coal and build clean coal plants, but again, politics and special interest enter.

    I will not go through the list of the comments by “Poetry”–I have taken up too much space here, I am sure–but the remainder of the list has responses.

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