Category Archives: Iraq War

Who is a Hero?

Lori Piestawa

Since we have short memories, let us return to 2003, a time when pundits wondered how many American troops might die in the Iraq War before the public rose up in protest. No one imagined that nearly 4,500 Americans would die in the course of the war, or that it would last so long.

One of the early casualties was Pfc. Lori Piestawa.

An hour before the ambush, Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa knew something was wrong. It was just before dawn, only three days into the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and her unit’s slow-moving convoy was approaching a bridge over the Euphrates River. That’s when Piestewa saw it: the heavily fortified town of Nasiriyah, rising out of the sands like a mirage. She stared in disbelief through the dusty windshield of the Humvee she was driving. A city? Shouldn’t they be in the desert?

At the far end of the bridge, Piestewa spotted an Iraqi military checkpoint. She braced for the worst. But as the column lumbered by, the Iraqi soldiers inside waved, beckoning the Americans deeper into the city.

Piestewa turned to her best friend, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was riding in back of the Humvee. They were both thinking the same thing: We’re not supposed to be here.

It was a small error, but a fatal one. The 507th Army Maintenance Company – a support unit of clerks, repairmen and cooks – had taken a wrong turn in the desert, stumbling into Nasiriyah by mistake. Without warning, the company suddenly found itself surrounded, an easy target for Iraqi soldiers and fedayeen paramilitary forces armed with AK-47s, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The ensuing attack proved to be the Army’s bloodiest day of the ground war – and the first hint of the deadly quagmire that Iraq would soon become. Eleven American soldiers were killed and nine were wounded when the 507th came under what the military later described as a “torrent of fire” in Nasiriyah.

The attack made Jessica Lynch famous. U.S. Special Forces later plucked her from an Iraqi hospital and rushed her to safety, and the media seized on the daring rescue to create a tale of American heroism and valor. But the real story of what happened in Nasiriyah that day – and the clear warning it offered of things to come – involves a different soldier, one who gave her life to protect her friends. Lori Piestewa, born and raised a Hopi on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, became the first American woman to die in the war, and the first Native American woman ever to die in combat on foreign soil. Only twenty-three years old, Piestewa saw herself as a Hopi warrior, part of a centuries-old tradition developed by a people who once resisted an invasion and occupation by the U.S. military – much as the Iraqis are today. She went to war, but she believed above all in peace, in doing no harm to others. “I’m not trying to be a hero,” she told a friend just before the invasion. “I just want to get through this crap and go home.”

After a dramatic rescue, Pvt. Jessica Lynch returned home to a media blitz. She was pressured to be the public face of the American soldier going down with guns blazing. Jessica Lynch turned down a chance to be a war celebrity, because she was accountable to her fellow soldiers, and to the truth. She served the American people with her integrity, as much as she did while in uniform.

Lynch was badly injured when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq in 2003. She was later rescued by American troops from an Iraqi hospital, and the tale of her ambush was changed into a story of her heroic resistance.

“It meant a lot, really, it did, especially to come out for the Tillman family,” Lynch told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. “They really need answers. And, you know, they have tons and tons of questions that are just unanswered. And they need that.”

At the hearing, the chairman of the House panel, Henry Waxman, accused the government of inventing “sensational details and stories” about Tillman’s death and Lynch rescue. After she arrived home, Lynch set the record straight in a book called “I Am a Soldier, Too.”

“At first I didn’t even realize … the stories that were being told,” she said. “It was quite a while afterwards, and then I found out. It was a little disappointing. And I knew that I had to get the truth out there because, one, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself … knowing that these stories were portraying me to do something that I didn’t.”

Although Lynch was injured severely, she didn’t suffer any gunshot wounds. Still, recovery is a long process and she said the healing is slow.

Lynch, whose brother also serves in the Army, isn’t sure why the stories were made up because her capture occurred so early in the war. But she was the first POW rescue since World War II, which was big news. She wants America to understand that the real heroes were those who died in the fight and those who risked everything to save her.

“Definitely my friend Laurie, for trying to get us to safety,” Lynch said. “But, you know, she was killed in combat so — but the ones who came in and rescued me, the ones who were in my unit fighting to death, you know, those are my real heroes.”

Pat Tillman was a pro football player who gave up his career to serve in Iraq. He was killed by ‘friendly fire’ in the confusion of war. The truth about his death was only disclosed because his bereaved family would not give up.

Pat Tillman’s younger brother, Richard, lashed back at politicians who said his dead brother was with God. Pat Tillman wasn’t religious, and piety did not console the family.

A tribute to Lori Piestawa is here. She leaves a son and a daughter.

The war continues in Afghanistan. It is being fought by ordinary men and women, our volunteer army. The people of Afghanistan have no choice to opt out as the war is on their own soil. There are heroes, there are survivors, there are cowards and liars in the fog of war.

Unquestionably, we are asking great sacrifice of some Americans while the rest of us can forget altogether, except on days such as Memorial Day. If we are to support our troops we must recognize our service men and women and their families by supporting them in peace, even if that debt takes a generation to pay. When the war is over, we must not fail to include our veterans in the opportunity they so justly earned.

Ending the War in Iraq?

Dear Readers,
Kmareka welcomes our new Mideast expert, Kevin De Jesus,PhD, who sends us this post on the consequences of war and the long road for survivors, both in the US and Iraq. Thank you, Kevin, for looking beyond our war-weariness to confront the reality our veterans and their families face…

Ending the War in Iraq?

Not so simple, as war’s legacies endure through the family.

Media outlets across the globe have reported that President Obama has declared that “America’s war in Iraq will be over by the end of the year”. This is not the first time the Iraq war has been declared “over”. Recall President Bush announced on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that the war in Iraq had ended, in fact some nine years before this war will foreclose by virtue of a full troop withdrawal.

I believe we must rebuff the notion that the Iraq War will in fact be so neatly over – it is indeed this type of mythic conception of war that leads us to be deluded into thinking war, partly due to our ability to fight at such a high-tech capacity from great distances, is so precisely so simple. I argue, rather, that many battles will continue between here and the Euphrates, battles which will be waged through the legacies of war’s reverberations through families, across their everyday social, emotional and relational lives. Can we argue therefore that an ethically-committed politics, particularly among those of us who opposed the war in Iraq here in the US and across the globe, ought to drive a sense of urgency to remain focused on easing and supporting the lives of those whose life will be continually encroached by the long-reach of the hauntings of political violence that share a different sense of time than President Obama, or for that matter of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.

Let us consider some of the evidence for this argument I make. MIT’s Dr. John Tirman’s informative blog, “Iraq: the Human Cost” reveals an array of threats to human well-being across the duration of the war, and in particular, as in the case of many of the displaced, the long-term impoverishment, dislocation and erosion of rights and protections, that are long-standing in effect. Tirman notes that other threats, lethal and devastating in terms of human impact includes the exposure of children to landmines and cluster bombs used in Iraq by both US and non-US military and para-military actors. Fortunately, Iraq has joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2009 , however, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (2011), Iraq remains “massively contaminated” with explosive remnants of war, due to the succession of violent conflicts which have embroiled Iraq for decades, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion. {For the full report, link here. }

What role will the US and other coalition partners play in clearing these munitions, particularly that according to UNICEF and UNDP decades are likely needed to clean up the terrain of Iraq .

How will families of cluster munition injuries secure the resources needed to rebuild their family life, meet the cost of disability, and heal social-psychological wounds, as a part of the Obama-Maliki plan to end the Iraq war? Is, in fact, such a matter of the human legacy of war also legitimate part of ending war?

Central to the family is the matter of the disappeared. According to a recent NPR report (July 20, 2011), Iraqi family members of disappeared persons gather each Friday to alert the world to their plight. It is claimed by NPR that since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “tens of thousands” of new missing/disappeared persons have been reported, with a particular increase in 2006 and 2007. How will Obama and Maliki deal with the matter of secret prisons, enforced disappearances, and the families of the disappeared who live the war in a particular way, day after day?

For American families who have endured the Iraq War vicariously, through their deployed loved one, the risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may be higher than in veterans themselves, one clinician has found. The military family advocacy organization “The Sanctuary for Veterans and Families” details an array of threats to the well-being of veterans from Iraq and their families, including homelessness, supports for women veterans, resources for the children of veterans and the development of community-based psychological supports for veterans and their families. Top on the agenda of The Sanctuary for Veterans and Families is legislative advocacy.

Perhaps an ethically-committed politics can begin with taking the lead from The Sanctuary. Recognizing that for so many the war will not be over by the close of the new year, can those of us who were so ardently opposed to the Iraq War, continue to actively engage to ensure that the resources vitally needed to continue to ameliorate the effects of the war on families from both the Iraq and the US, be delivered?

Human Resources

This week an American soldier who had served 3 tours of duty shot and killed 5 comrades in Iraq. One blog asks, ‘What made him snap?’

A humble opinion from a civilian, who remembers the Vietnam War draft, and does not think the ‘Volunteer Army’ makes everything OK.

I’m a pacifist because I think war is dumb. But I think we all owe our country service, loyalty, and active citizenship. Otherwise we will not prevail.

Maybe this man ‘snapped’ because he felt like a human commodity in a political game. Or maybe he was sick, in pain, and no one on the scene had the power to take him out of the despair he felt. Or maybe he was suffering from mental illness and guns were abundant.

Don’t forget that five soldiers who were doing their jobs were murdered without warning. None of them were expendable, they will leave a painful gap in their families, in all they would have been.

It’s very good social policy to take care of veterans. If we treat people like cogs in a machine, who will want to join the ‘volunteer army’? I think that any move towards war by our great democracy should require sacrifice by all. This notion that some of us should be drafted into multiple tours of duty, while the rest of us go shopping is deeply Un-American.

We will be paying for this war for many years.

Colin Powell Supports Our Troops

Religious freedom is one of the fundamental principles of American civic life. We are Americans no matter how we worship, and we obey the law and when the time comes, we sacrifice…

Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan was a 20-year-old Stryker soldier based at Fort Lewis. He was killed last August in Baqouba.

Khan was a Muslim. And Powell made a correlation to the decorated Stryker Brigade soldier and Obama in context of negative Republican campaigning somehow insinuating that Obama is a Muslim.

In a moving statement, Gen. Powell posed the rhetorical question to Meet The Press host Tom Brokaw:

“I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.”

Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.â€?

Politicians and talk show entertainers who like to talk tough from the safety of the US are not walking the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan trying to engage the population in fighting terrorists. When they disparage the religion of people we need to enlist as allies, they paint a target on the backs of our troops. They undermine pro-American Muslims, and they disregard the principles that Americans have lived and died for. They undo the efforts of Christian missionaries over decades and give ammunition to extremists who want nothing better than a religious war.

Colin Powell was speaking as an experienced soldier. When we have been hurt, lashing out blindly is not a strategy. There are violent extremists who have to be stopped. Bigotry against our fellow Americans and against a whole world religion is a dangerous distraction, and not in our best tradition.

First Presidential Decision

The Obama campaign has been known for thinking ahead. Before it was certain that Senator Obama was going to win the nomination, his campaign was setting up organizations in all 50 states in preparation for his race against Senator McCain.

The Obama campaign initiated a vetting process for Vice President that went on for months. With the press ready to jump on anything that could be a liability, the running mate had to have a solid record and high competence. The choice of Senator Joe Biden has been referred to as Barack Obama’s first presidential decision.

Senator John McCain has made his first presidential decision, nominating Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. He has certainly livened up the race, perhaps not in the exact way he would have wished. But he says that in all of the Republican party she is the best one to take that position, a heartbeat away from the presidency. He says that his party’s vetting process was complete, and that there is nothing about the candidate that comes as a surprise to his campaign.

The element of surprise, for some reason, was paramount. According to the Newsweek blog investigations were carried out in extreme secrecy…

Within the past few days, the McCain campaign dispatched a troop of GOP lawyers and investigators to Alaska to pull records on Palin. The move has been interpreted in recent days as a sign at the McCain campaign did not vet Palin as much as aides have publicly suggested. But a senior McCain aide, again refusing to be named because the process was private, insists the campaign is merely following up on what already had been an extensive dig into her background and that aides would have pulled the records earlier had they not been fearful of drawing attention to themselves.

So secure was the operation that Alaskan Republican party members who had served with Palin were not consulted, according to the Anchorage Daily News

Wasilla Mayor Dianne Keller said she had not heard of any efforts to look into Palin’s background, the Times reported. And Randy Ruedrich, the state Republican Party chairman, said he knew nothing of any vetting that had been conducted.

State Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat who is directing the legislative investigation, [into charges of abuse of office] said that no one asked him about the allegations. “I heard not a word, not a single contact,” he told the Times.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor Curt Menard told the Daily News, “I never got called, and I never heard of anybody who got called.” Perhaps, he laughed, “They don’t even know where the Mat-Su Borough is.”

Dan Seamount, who served with Palin and Ruedrich on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, wasn’t contacted, either.

“I was taken by surprise just like everybody else,” Seamount told the Daily News.

Seamount’s observations might be of particular interest since he saw first hand how Palin was drawn into investigating Ruedrich for ethics violations in 2003. The case eventually led to Ruedrich being fined $12,000 and to Palin being thrust into the limelight as an ethics reformer in her own party.

On Sunday, The Washington Post quoted McCain campaign manager Rick Davis as saying the FBI conducted a background check of Palin.

But Monday, the FBI told the Atlantic Monthly no such check took place.

Was it a surprise to the McCain campaign that major newspapers in Alaska were not unreservedly endorsing their own Governor? From a summary of news coverage by Editor and Publisher

The second largest daily, The Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, had editorialized yesterday that Palin was not qualified for the vice presidency. The Anchorage paper also raises questions on this score, while expressing pride in the local “girl.”

Ah, those Alaskans. So independent. None of that political correctness the Republicans so despise.

There is a bizarre sense that the Republicans are running against themselves, trying to distance themselves from the President and the past eight years. But the process by which John McCain chose his running mate reminds me very much of our current president, a man who has a pattern of making last-minute, startling decisions–a man who acts from his gut.

This whole episode reminds me of a president who would not wait, who was driven by a last-minute sense of urgency. This reminds me of the days prior to the start of the Iraq War when I listened to the UN Weapons Inspectors testify. I prayed that they would be allowed to continue to do their job, before we rushed to war only to learn that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Barack Obama on Questioning the Meaning of Patriotism

Here we have another rather tremendous speech from Barack Obama, reflecting on our American struggle with people questioning each other’s patriotism. He has some great historical references and also brings in his personal life in ways that make him so much an average person — that his grandmother worked in a bomb-making factory (mine did too!), that his mother read to him from the Constitution while they were abroad, to make sure he understood what it meant to be an American. It’s wonderful to have a presidential candidate who can think and write and convey meaning from his own experience and from his knowledge of history and government.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
The America We Love, as prepared for delivery
Monday, June 30th, 2008
Independence, Missouri

On a spring morning in April of 1775, a simple band of colonists farmers and merchants, blacksmiths and printers, men and boys left their homes and families in Lexington and Concord to take up arms against the tyranny of an Empire. The odds against them were long and the risks enormous for even if they survived the battle, any ultimate failure would bring charges of treason, and death by hanging.

And yet they took that chance. They did so not on behalf of a particular tribe or lineage, but on behalf of a larger idea. The idea of liberty. The idea of God-given, inalienable rights. And with the first shot of that fateful day a shot heard round the world — the American Revolution, and America’s experiment with democracy, began.

Those men of Lexington and Concord were among our first patriots. And at the beginning of a week when we celebrate the birth of our nation, I think it is fitting to pause for a moment and reflect on the meaning of patriotism — theirs, and ours. We do so in part because we are in the midst of war — more than one and a half million of our finest young men and women have now fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; over 60,000 have been wounded, and over 4,600 have been laid to rest. The costs of war have been great, and the debate surrounding our mission in Iraq has been fierce. It is natural, in light of such sacrifice by so many, to think more deeply about the commitments that bind us to our nation, and to each other.

We reflect on these questions as well because we are in the midst of a presidential election, perhaps the most consequential in generations; a contest that will determine the course of this nation for years, perhaps decades, to come. Not only is it a debate about big issues — health care, jobs, energy, education, and retirement security — but it is also a debate about values. How do we keep ourselves safe and secure while preserving our liberties? How do we restore trust in a government that seems increasingly removed from its people and dominated by special interests? How do we ensure that in an increasingly global economy, the winners maintain allegiance to the less fortunate? And how do we resolve our differences at a time of increasing diversity?

Finally, it is worth considering the meaning of patriotism because the question of who is — or is not — a patriot all too often poisons our political debates, in ways that divide us rather than bringing us together. I have come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail. Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for President. And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged — at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.

So let me say this at the outset of my remarks. I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.

My concerns here aren’t simply personal, however. After all, throughout our history, men and women of far greater stature and significance than me have had their patriotism questioned in the midst of momentous debates. Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule. Likewise, even our wisest Presidents have sought to justify questionable policies on the basis of patriotism. Adams’ Alien and Sedition Act, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans — all were defended as expressions of patriotism, and those who disagreed with their policies were sometimes labeled as unpatriotic.

In other words, the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic. Still, what is striking about today’s patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s — in arguments that go back forty years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned the wisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic. Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself — by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views — these caricatures of left and right. Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America’s traditions and institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments — a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.

Given the enormous challenges that lie before us, we can no longer afford these sorts of divisions. None of us expect that arguments about patriotism will, or should, vanish entirely; after all, when we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America’s common spirit.

What would such a definition look like? For me, as for most Americans, patriotism starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories. I’m not just talking about the recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance or the Thanksgiving pageants at school or the fireworks on the Fourth of July, as wonderful as those things may be. Rather, I’m referring to the way the American ideal wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me as a child.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders and watching the astronauts come to shore in Hawaii. I remember the cheers and small flags that people waved, and my grandfather explaining how we Americans could do anything we set our minds to do. That’s my idea of America.

I remember listening to my grandmother telling stories about her work on a bomber assembly-line during World War II. I remember my grandfather handing me his dog-tags from his time in Patton’s Army, and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his greatest sources of pride. That’s my idea of America.

I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That’s my idea of America.

As I got older, that gut instinct that America is the greatest country on earth would survive my growing awareness of our nation’s imperfections: it’s ongoing racial strife; the perversion of our political system laid bare during the Watergate hearings; the wrenching poverty of the Mississippi Delta and the hills of Appalachia. Not only because, in my mind, the joys of American life and culture, its vitality, its variety and its freedom, always outweighed its imperfections, but because I learned that what makes America great has never been its perfection but the belief that it can be made better. I came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that belief that we could be governed by laws, not men; that we could be equal in the eyes of those laws; that we could be free to say what we want and assemble with whomever we want and worship as we please; that we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs.

For a young man of mixed race, without firm anchor in any particular community, without even a father’s steadying hand, it is this essential American idea — that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will — that has defined my life, just as it has defined the life of so many other Americans.

That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America’s ideals — ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one. It is the application of these ideals that separate us from Zimbabwe, where the opposition party and their supporters have been silently hunted, tortured or killed; or Burma, where tens of thousands continue to struggle for basic food and shelter in the wake of a monstrous storm because a military junta fears opening up the country to outsiders; or Iraq, where despite the heroic efforts of our military, and the courage of many ordinary Iraqis, even limited cooperation between various factions remains far too elusive.

I believe those who attack America’s flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America.

Of course, precisely because America isn’t perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that’s occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

The young preacher from Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr., who led a movement to help America confront our tragic history of racial injustice and live up to the meaning of our creed — he was a patriot. The young soldier who first spoke about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib — he is a patriot. Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country’s name; insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution — these are the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best in America. And we should never forget that — especially when we disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with their words.

Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice — to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. For those who have fought under the flag of this nation — for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country — no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides.

We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period. Indeed, one of the good things to emerge from the current conflict in Iraq has been the widespread recognition that whether you support this war or oppose it, the sacrifice of our troops is always worthy of honor.

For the rest of us — for those of us not in uniform or without loved ones in the military — the call to sacrifice for the country’s greater good remains an imperative of citizenship. Sadly, in recent years, in the midst of war on two fronts, this call to service never came. After 9/11, we were asked to shop. The wealthiest among us saw their tax obligations decline, even as the costs of war continued to mount. Rather than work together to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and thereby lessen our vulnerability to a volatile region, our energy policy remained unchanged, and our oil dependence only grew.

In spite of this absence of leadership from Washington, I have seen a new generation of Americans begin to take up the call. I meet them everywhere I go, young people involved in the project of American renewal; not only those who have signed up to fight for our country in distant lands, but those who are fighting for a better America here at home, by teaching in underserved schools, or caring for the sick in understaffed hospitals, or promoting more sustainable energy policies in their local communities.

I believe one of the tasks of the next Administration is to ensure that this movement towards service grows and sustains itself in the years to come. We should expand AmeriCorps and grow the Peace Corps. We should encourage national service by making it part of the requirement for a new college assistance program, even as we strengthen the benefits for those whose sense of duty has already led them to serve in our military.

We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.

As we begin our fourth century as a nation, it is easy to take the extraordinary nature of America for granted. But it is our responsibility as Americans and as parents to instill that history in our children, both at home and at school. The loss of quality civic education from so many of our classrooms has left too many young Americans without the most basic knowledge of who our forefathers are, or what they did, or the significance of the founding documents that bear their names. Too many children are ignorant of the sheer effort, the risks and sacrifices made by previous generations, to ensure that this country survived war and depression; through the great struggles for civil, and social, and worker’s rights.

It is up to us, then, to teach them. It is up to us to teach them that even though we have faced great challenges and made our share of mistakes, we have always been able to come together and make this nation stronger, and more prosperous, and more united, and more just. It is up to us to teach them that America has been a force for good in the world, and that other nations and other people have looked to us as the last, best hope of Earth. It is up to us to teach them that it is good to give back to one’s community; that it is honorable to serve in the military; that it is vital to participate in our democracy and make our voices heard.

And it is up to us to teach our children a lesson that those of us in politics too often forget: that patriotism involves not only defending this country against external threat, but also working constantly to make America a better place for future generations.

When we pile up mountains of debt for the next generation to absorb, or put off changes to our energy policies, knowing full well the potential consequences of inaction, we are placing our short-term interests ahead of the nation’s long-term well-being. When we fail to educate effectively millions of our children so that they might compete in a global economy, or we fail to invest in the basic scientific research that has driven innovation in this country, we risk leaving behind an America that has fallen in the ranks of the world. Just as patriotism involves each of us making a commitment to this nation that extends beyond our own immediate self-interest, so must that commitment extends beyond our own time here on earth.

Our greatest leaders have always understood this. They’ve defined patriotism with an eye toward posterity. George Washington is rightly revered for his leadership of the Continental Army, but one of his greatest acts of patriotism was his insistence on stepping down after two terms, thereby setting a pattern for those that would follow, reminding future presidents that this is a government of and by and for the people.

Abraham Lincoln did not simply win a war or hold the Union together. In his unwillingness to demonize those against whom he fought; in his refusal to succumb to either the hatred or self-righteousness that war can unleash; in his ultimate insistence that in the aftermath of war the nation would no longer remain half slave and half free; and his trust in the better angels of our nature — he displayed the wisdom and courage that sets a standard for patriotism.

And it was the most famous son of Independence, Harry S Truman, who sat in the White House during his final days in office and said in his Farewell Address: “When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task. But through all of it, through all the years I have worked here in this room, I have been well aware that I did not really work alone — that you were working with me. No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save the people helped with their support.”

In the end, it may be this quality that best describes patriotism in my mind — not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular love for, and faith in, the American people. That is why our heart swells with pride at the sight of our flag; why we shed a tear as the lonely notes of Taps sound. For we know that the greatness of this country — its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and cultural achievements — all result from the energy and imagination of the American people; their toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor and quiet heroism.

That is the liberty we defend — the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek — not an equality of results, but the chance of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build — one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America’s happy and singular creed.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Sorry About That — Pass the Grey Poupon

An amazing interview with Rep. Dennis Kucinich by Meg White is at Buzzflash. Kucinich recently introduced articles of impeachment against President Bush for lying us into war. This would have gotten press coverage, except that Angelina Jolie was doing something last week and the press has to prioritize. Luckily, you can go to Buzzflash and read this–

“Where’s our heart here? What is going on that we can’t connect with the suffering of other people?” he asked. “We can’t say, ‘Oh, yeah, we went into a war, they didn’t tell the truth and all these people died. Sorry about that. Pass the Grey Poupon.’ We can’t do that. We cannot become so callous that we don’t care that innocent people are killed. This is what’s driving me.”

Check out the rest of the interview for details of the impeachment, who else signed on, and what the next step will be.

Just Wondering… (for May 26, 2008)

• …how President Bush and Senator McCain can in good conscience honor the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this nation (including the 4,082 American service members killed in the Iraq War) and yet continue to oppose a new GI Bill that has strong bipartisan support.

• …why the United States maintains the unusual practice of allowing the electorate to decide who should dispense justice (“87 percent of all state court judges face elections, and 39 states elect at least some of their judges”), despite concerns that “you’re not going to get fair and impartial judges that way.”

• …what it says about the United States and the policies and priorities of our so-called leaders that we were recently ranked an embarrassing 97th out of 140 nations on the Global Peace Index (edging out Iran and Yemen but falling short of Rwanda, Syria, and China).

• …whether Barack Obama might consider selecting a South American pack animal carrying a large Hostess snack cake as a running mate, just to give Americans the entertaining option of voting for a ticket of Obama Llama Ding Dong in November. (Hey, it’s just a thought.)

Jesus Would be Really Mad

Jesus was no fan of people who use religion as a cover for bad actions, and he was known to get pretty ticked off at the self-righteous. So if Jesus is the guy we see when we leave this vale of tears I would not want to be Fred Phelps. He’ll have a lot of ‘splaining to do. Phelps, (nicknamed ‘The Rotting Cryptkeeper’ by Pam’s House Blend) is the cult leader who has driven states to pass laws against a behavior he pretty much invented — disrupting funerals to get attention for his anti-gay views. In the past few years he and his tiny band of followers (most of whom are his family) have been harassing the bereaved families of Iraq War soldiers.

While it is a great strength of our democracy that we allow freedom of religious practice within the boundaries of law and respect for others, there are some who have no respect and use religion as a cover for bigotry and disgraceful behavior. Fred Phelps may have reached the end of his free ride

A federal judge in Maryland on Thursday ordered liens on the Westboro Baptist Church building and the Phelps-Chartered Law office…

The $5 million penalty is the result of a lawsuit filed against three of the church’s principals by Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, whose funeral was picketed by church members.

The senior Snyder contended the picketing caused emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

For several years the Phelps clan have been spewing hate and persecuting people who deserve privacy and respect. It’s a shame that anyone was ever so disrespected as the grieving families Phelps preyed on in his greed for attention. I have often wondered where a guy like that gets the money to travel from state to state. Maybe now that a brave family won a lawsuit we will find out who’s financing him and his disciples.

Dr. King’s Speech, Beyond Vietnam

Forty years since we have heard his voice, forty years since the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King was murdered. If he had lived, he would not be the sainted figure who ‘had a dream’. He would be reviled and slandered now just as he was when he was alive.

Common Dreams has posted a long excerpt from Dr. King’s speech, ‘Beyond Vietnam’. The speech could be mined for sound-bytes on Fox quite effectively. King’s stand against the Vietnam War won him many enemies and lost him friends.

‘Beyond Vietnam’ is a long speech and a complex one. In the last twenty years the American public has chosen leaders who make it simple for us. At the same time, the percentage of people who bother to vote at all has dropped to a shameful low.

In 2005 the Iraqi people waved purple fingers for the cameras in what was supposed to be the beginning of democracy in Iraq. But the goal of real political order, established by the Iraqis themselves, is always the receding light at the end of the tunnel. The words of Dr. King, during the Vietnam War, have a resonance now…

“How do they judge us when our officials know that their membership is less than 25 per cent communist and yet insist on giving them the blanket name? What must they be thinking when they know that we are aware of their control of major sections of Vietnam and yet we appear ready to allow national elections in which this highly organized political parallel government will have no part? They ask how we can speak of free elections when the Saigon press is censored and controlled by the military junta. And they are surely right to wonder what kind of new government we plan to help form without them, the only party in real touch with the peasants. They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant.

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and non-violence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know of his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

If we persist in looking for simple answers, ‘they hate us because of our freedom’ or ‘they are evil’ or ‘they are islamofacists’ then there’s only one final solution: kill them all. We are not going to untangle the ‘good Iraqis’ vs the ‘evil Iraqis’ because with every mis-step, we are making enemies faster than we can kill them. If we can learn from Vietnam, I hope that we can construct an exit strategy that will not leave Iraq prey to the mass murders and dislocations that took place after the US withdrew our troops from Vietnam. I hope the terrible genocide that took place in Cambodia will never be repeated again in history. The way out won’t be easy or simple. It won’t break down into inspirational sound bytes.

Dr. King’s speech, ‘Beyond Vietnam’, doesn’t break down into quotable, feel-good phrases. It’s long, hard and complicated. It’s reality-based. It’s being heard more and more today, forty years later, as we ask ourselves again how we got to this place again.

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