Letter to the Friends of a Fallen Soldier

Does it dishonor the memory of a fallen U.S. soldier to argue that he or she was unjustly sacrificed in George W. Bush’s criminal war on Iraq?

That is the accusation I have been receiving from one such soldier’s friends in the wake of an article I published on ZNet earlier this week under the title “Normalizing Evil on the Local News” (www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm? SectionID=21&ItemID=9276).

This article started with an account of how a Rockford, Illinois television station almost cheerfully reported the recent death of a 19-year-old Marine from Byron, Illinois.

The article was not primarily about the soldier in question. It was mainly focused on the terri le way local television tends to make American GI deaths in the war seem simultaneously banal and (yet) noble: a practically routine sacrifice made for a higher good identified with an inherently virtuous nation state.

“It’s bad enough,” I argued, “that Bush’s monumentally illegal, immoral, and brazenly imperialist occupation of Iraq is actually quite bad for the [fallen solider's] country, not to mention the Iraqis and world peace. The really despicable thing,” I elaborated, “is the way local television news makes the maddening loss of American life in the criminal war on Iraq into a routine, acceptable, and practically banal fact of daily experience.”

“Local news authorities,” I concluded, “should be pressured to stop normalizing an unjust and disastrous war that exploits noble love of country to satisfy the failing imperial ambitions of the Bush-Cheney White House. It is unacceptable for broadcasters to fold the deaths of Andrew and other dead GIs into the regular and unremarkable register of the commercialized quotidian.” The essay containing this argument quickly elicited a number of hurt messages from some of the soldier’s friends.

The essential and recurrent message in these communications was that I had “dishonored” the lost marine by painting him out as a victim of the Bush administration.

My critics wanted me to know that the ir lost friend actively and heroically understood and supported “his president’s mission” in Iraq.

Some of the writers seemed enthusiastic about that “mission.” Some did not. But all of them wanted me to understand that their lost Marine was a good young man and a hero: someone who does not deserve to be remembered as a victim of Bush and Cheney and as “fodder for the antiwar movement.”

This is an unpleasant but for me unavoidable subject. I am a parent and an American and I take these comments seriously.

So here is an open letter to those who have taken the time to write me in defense of a lost hero they think I may be unjustly slighting:

Dear Friends of [the Fallen Soldier]:

Please accept my deepest sympathies as you cope with the loss of your friend.

Your tone in most cases has been very respectful. I thank you for that as I know you are very hurt and angry right now.

I am sorry if I seem to have painted your friend in a negative light in the course of criticizing local media coverage of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq.

Let me say a few things about where I’m coming from on this. It might not be where or what your think.

This won’t make you feel much better, but it’s not just about your lost friend. It’s about ALL the soldiers and all the Iraqis who have died so far. It’s about all of those who will die in this terrible war in the future. How many more have passed away even just since your friend was killed in Fallujah?

It’s about the media needing to stop its (I think) terrible role in feeding vicious cycles of war, racism, empire, and inequality.

It’s about who and what we are as a people within and beyond our nation among nations.

I am an American who is deeply concerned about the often unthinking authoritarian nationalism and related militarist ethos that has worked its way into the minds of many of my fellow citizens. I think that ethos threatens our nation’s best moral and political traditions.

Please bear with me while I ask you to consider an analogy. What would you do if you lost, say, a sister to an especially egregious and possibly even criminal medical error? Let’s say that you considered your sister a heroine – a heroine who was also the victim of very bad medical policy carried out by a flawed doctor.

Would it downgrade your sister’s life — would it paint her out as nothing more than a victim —- if you and others among her survivors publicly acknowledged and exposed how and why she died and then worked to take some corrective action against those who killed her?

“No,” I hope you would respond, “not at all. You can’t be serious. In fact,” I suspect you might reflect, “my sister would want the truth to be told — ALL the truth — about what happened to her.”

Why? So that it might become less likely for the same thing to happen to others.

That is a core moral, ethical, and many would say Christian injunction: to save others from future harm.

We very much need to tell the whole truth about the war on Iraq, in the name of all the soldiers and I might add all the civilians who have died for no good reason (yes, sorry, but that is in fact my considered estimation) over there.

Please reconsider your estimation of the current military “malpractice” — and “malpractice” is putting it mildly (see below) — being inflicted on American soldiers and the Iraqi people by the criminal (sorry, but that’s my judgment after five nearly six years of watching the current administration) policymakers in the White House and the Pentagon. You don’t specify but you say that you don’t share my negative evaluation of the war.

The point of such reconsideration has nothing to do with “the honor” of any among the American dead. It’s about preventing further unnecessary and tragic death on all sides.

I think you need to look more into how thoroughly your lost friend and others like him were lied to about Iraq and the “war on terror.” If he’s like ALL of the Iraq war veterans I’ve spoken to, military authorities told him in boot camp and throughout that he could avenge 9/11 in Iraq and that the jetliner attacks and al Qaeda were tied up with Saddam and Iraq.

These were terrible, unforgivable government deceptions that were all-too richly aided and abetted by a media that is supposed to help us protect ourselves against, not advance, state propaganda. Many other and related lies have been told to all of us to get us to accept the White House’s terrible war.

I will be happy to send you a list of sources on what I take to be the real story behind U.S. policy in Iraq and indeed in the world. For a number of (I think) sound reasons, my characterization of Bush’s war in and on Iraq as “illegal, immoral, and brazenly imperialistic” is uncontroversial for the preponderant share of the planet’s people.

To be honest (I hope what I am about to say doesn’t upset you too much), most of the world would tell you that “malpractice” is a gross understatement to describe that war.

After all, when one of us is killed by, say, a bad anesthesiologist, we are at least not being used to terrify and victimize other human beings by illegally and violently invading their sovereign nation, wielding some of the most fearsome weapons known to history. No, we are laying inert on an operating table in our own country and with no capacity to i harm anyone.

Your lost friend was 19 and just three months out of high school when he enlisted. Do you really want me to believe that he had a full comprehension of what exactly is going on in Iraq and the Middle East and how U.S. and Bush administration policy relates to all that? That he was given a legitimate and reasonably comprehensive sense of the real (versus the official) U.S./Bush administration mission in Iraq by his drill sergeant and/or his commanders in the field (whose jobs are to turn young men into trained killers in whatever the [alleged]mission might [supposedly]be)? That his personal mission was in fact perfectly aligned with Bush’s mission?

I get the feeling you know better than that. I wonder if the fact that you know better is part of why some of you are in college and not enlisted in the U.S. military and its terrible war on Iraq?

How many more lost American soldiers should die to “honor the dead” in this miserable, misbegotten war of imperial choice and aggression?

Again, I will be happy to send you a list of sources on what many others and I take to be the real story behind this war: the evidence for my characterization of it in such negative (and to you perhaps hurtful) terms. That characterization is shared by most of the people in the world and by an ever-increasing share of the U.S. citizenry.

Maybe someone can be a hero and a victim at one and the same time.

Maybe people in power can exploit that victim’s heroism, putting that person to tragic use for dubious and deadly purposes.

There’s no blame put on your lost friend in my article. None. I’m sure his motives were noble, patriotic, and freedom-seeking. His death was tragic. I mourn his loss.

But this does not lead me to let the war-mongering (sorry, this is my considered estimation) policymakers —- or their cringing media enablers —- off the hook.

How could it? I am an American who takes seriously the Declaration of Independence’s pronunciation that popular government is subordinate to the will of the people. And right now close to two-thirds of the American people oppose Bush’s Iraq policy.

It’s my duty as an American to subject the Bush administration’s claims and policies to regular critical scrutiny.

Neither patriotism nor heroism should be equated with blind obedience and one-way service to the military and the White House.

Many of you told me that you knew Andy from church. Please beware of false patriotism and also of false Christianity, both of which are rampant in this country right now.

They hold power in the White House, right now, with terrible le consequences both at home and abroad.

The Jesus portrayed in the New Testament speaks clearly and unequivocally against this war and about our primary mission to prevent further harm against the living.

Let us honor the living in the name of those who have fallen. Let us stop the vicious circle of sinful butchery being inflicted by the arrogant, falsely Christian militarists in the White House.

A number of parents and other family of soldiers killed by the U.S. government in Iraq chosen to speak out against this war. Please see:

Military Families Speak Out: www.mfso.org Gold Star Families for Peace: www.gsfp.org

Thank you for taking the time to read my note. You deserve a better response than I am capable of giving right now, but I hope this helps you understand my position and that of others in the antiwar camp.

Please believe me: our issue is with the war masters in Washington, not with your lost friend.

Paul Street

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